Evaluation of the Multi-Tenant Service Centre (MTSC) Pilots Project

Final report prepared for the Department of Communities,
Queensland Government
August 2008 (updated February 2010)


I acknowledge and sincerely thank everyone who took part in the evaluation. Thank you to everyone who provided valuable feedback on the case studies, an earlier version of the guidelines included in this report, and other documents. Particular thanks are due to Irene Baker from Inzpire for her detailed feedback on an earlier draft of the two guidelines documents. Some of her suggestions are included in the guidelines presented in this report. Many thanks to all of the participants at the Mackay, Caboolture and Toowoomba Multi-Tenant Service Centre Pilots Project sites. I greatly appreciated your input, feedback and ideas, and the time you gave, especially when you were all so busy. Thanks are also due to all the staff of the Department of Communities staff who provided excellent support, materials, feedback and advice during the evaluation and in the preparation of this report.

Particular thanks go to Michelle McNamara and Debbie Dow in the Mackay office, Brian Smith and Therese Donnelly, formerly in the Caboolture office, Denny Brain in the Toowoomba office, and to the following current and former staff of the Strengthening NGOs Unit/Sector Development Unit in Brisbane: Glenda Sacre, Heidi Trobbiani, Cate Bell, Amanda Shipway and Ken Butler. 

Dr June Lennie
26 August 2009

Executive summary

This report presents learnings, case studies, guidelines and resources for non-government organisations that are planning to implement shared or collaborative arrangements with other agencies. It summarises results from an evaluation of the implementation phase of the Multi-Tenant Service Centre (MTSC) Pilots Project, which was completed in June 2008. This evaluation shows that developing and implementing shared and collaborative arrangements is a complex process that presents many risks, challenges and barriers to success, but can have many potential benefits for non government organisations. As this report makes clear, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this process.

The MTSC Pilots Project was conducted by the Department of Communities (DoC), Queensland Government, as part of its Strengthening Non-Government Organisations strategy. The objective of the MTSC Pilots initiative was to co-locate separate service providers in an appropriately located centre, operating with effective and transparent management, which enabled service providers to improve client services. Three MTSC consortiums in Mackay, Caboolture and Toowoomba were selected as the pilots over a four year period from 2006 – 2010.

Part 1 of this report presents Learnings and Case Studies from the evaluation. The methodology used in the evaluation was user-focused, responsive and collaborative, and used multiple methods, including questionnaires, group discussions, interviews, case studies, and a literature review. The evaluation participants included consortia members and DoC staff in each pilot site and DoC staff in Brisbane.

An overview of models of shared service arrangements is provided. This shows that collaborations between NGOs can include a very wide range of activities and arrangements, from partnerships between large and small NGOs, to full amalgamation or merger. The colocation model has been successfully adopted by a number of not for profit organisations around Australia and overseas. Examples of various co-location models are given.

Case studies of the three pilot projects in Mackay, Caboolture and Toowoomba are then presented. They detail the development of the different collaboration and governance models used in each site, the challenges and issues that emerged, and the strategies used to address them. Each of the co-location models that were developed involved a number of risks, challenges and barriers which included:

  • Managing relationships and other human factors.
  • Reaching agreement on the vision and the collaboration and governance models.
  • Securing adequate funding, support and resources.
  • Sustaining commitment and energy.
  • Managing change and loss of leadership.
  • Managing the building selection, development and design process.
  • Managing communication and information sharing.
  • Negative effects of the establishment process on normal service delivery.

The MTSC concept was clearly not well understood or supported by some local NGOs, and some staff and management committees of the consortiums in the pilot locations. Some pilot project steering committees found it challenging to foster understanding and ownership of the concept, and to encourage others to focus on the ‘big picture’ of cultural change towards collaboration and cooperation, and the long-term benefits they anticipated.

A key issue for each site was the size of the MTSC building, since this dictated the amount of space available and the number of agencies that could be co-located. Differences between the size of the partner agencies was an issue in the Mackay pilot site but not in the other two sites. Some of the factors in the Mackay site included ‘fear of takeover’ and ‘fear of loss of identity’.

Group discussion participants in the pilot sites suggested that, to be most effective and efficient, organisations that are co-locating in a MTSC need to meet the following criteria:

  • Be complementary and have synergies between each other.
  • Have a similar client base and demographics.
  • Not be competing with each other.
  • Have a similar philosophy and a common vision, goals and focus that brings them
  • together.
  • Have a community development focus.
  • Have a community service focus and adopt a client-focussed model of service delivery.
  • The ability to self-evaluate and to shift to a model of sharing information and reflecting on process.

These outcomes were similar to that found in the literature and other case studies. Several benefits from their collaborative arrangements were anticipated by participants in the pilot sites, including:

  • Better accommodation and space.
  • Improved financial savings and ‘economies of scale’.
  • Access to more funding and capacity to take on larger projects.
  • Organisational and governance improvements.
  • Development of a ‘seamless’ referral process.
  • Improved service delivery and client access to services.
  • Increased skills and capacity building of staff and committee members.
  • New or shared knowledge, understanding and learning.
  • Broader perspectives and attitudes.
  • Building strong relationships and linkages and improved support.
  • Stronger capacity to advocate for clients and negotiate with government.

Several of these benefits had already been experienced by the consortiums in the three pilot sites.

In addition to the many sustainability and success factors identified in an earlier literature review (Lennie, 2007), specific success factors identified in the Pilots Project included:

  • Involvement of credible and consistent local departmental staff in some regional areas.
  • The strong commitment of many of those involved.
  • Building good relationships and cooperation between the various parties involved.
  • The active involvement and support of key departmental staff and agencies.
  • Energy, flexibility and ability to embrace the new.
  • When communication was clear and information sharing was effective.
  • Holding visioning workshops, planning at the regional/consortium level, and use of ‘fair’ decision-making processes.
  • Providing resources and training to support the consortiums.

The timeframe for the establishment of the MTSC pilots was much longer than anticipated. Delays in implementing the project created frustration, uncertainty, and loss of energy, commitment and confidence among many consortia members. However, the outcomes of the project show that taking the time to work through the change process during the establishment phase is vital to the success of MTSC initiatives. This requires motivation, strong commitment and leadership, open communication, and the maintenance of good relationships and trust between all those involved.

A significant barrier to small NGOs involved in developing shared service arrangements is the lack of information about how to proceed, the expertise to carry through the change process, and a need for support and guidance (NCOSS, 2007, p.20). Based on learnings from the evaluation and literature review, and feedback on the draft guidelines, Part 2 of this report provides Guidelines and Resources for Establishing Shared and Collaborative Services. These are divided into Guidelines for Non Government Organisations and Guidelines for Project Managers and Coordinators. They include details of the steps in the establishment process, resources, tips, checklists and other practical information that aims to support and assist NGOs, government staff, and others involved in planning and implementing shared and collaborative service initiatives.

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