Understanding Agency Culture: Findings from the Engaged Government Project, Queensland, Australia

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Government agencies in Western societies are being required to be more responsive to public demands for enhanced service delivery. Under neo-liberal settings, however, there has been a general contraction of funding to agencies - at the very time their operations are coming under scrutiny in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. This places them under increasing pressure to deliver services in new ways, including ‘joined up’ and ‘whole-of-government’ modes. The question being raised is ‘how might government agencies work more collaboratively in the delivery of public services’?
In 2004 a major, three-year, interdisciplinary research project commenced in Central Queensland, Australia, to examine how government agencies in the region could enhance public sector outcomes through collaboration. Known as the Engaged Government Project, the research involved the Australian Research Council, the Queensland Government, the Local Government Association of Queensland, and social scientists and postgraduate students from four universities. One of the findings of the study was that the ‘cultures’ of particular agencies strongly influenced the extent to which their interaction, through collaborative ventures, produced favourable outcomes. The study also suggested ways that their collaborative performance could be enhanced.
This paper will present empirical findings from the study, identifying the elements of agency culture that both supported, and hindered, cross-agency collaboration. It will discuss the settings that can promote positive interactions between agencies. Finally, it will briefly describe a decision-making tool that was created as a direct result of the project. This can be used by agencies to help decide, in an objective fashion, if and when inter-agency collaboration should be attempted. This tool – the Issue, Context and Stakeholder Analysis (ICASA) system - has stimulated worldwide interest.


Keywords: Government Service Delivery, Agency Culture, Inter-agency Collaboration
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Understanding Agency Culture


Geoffrey Lawrence

Professor of Sociology, Head of School, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Geoffrey Lawrence is a leading sociologist whose work spans the areas of regional development; agri-food restructuring; globalisation and localisation; and, social aspects of natural resource management. In 2003 he was appointed by the Federal Government to the Scientific Advisory Panel of the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum. For his research work in Central Queensland, he was awarded Emeritus Professor status from Central Queensland University in 2002, and became a Life Member of the Fitzroy Basin Association in the same year. With co-researchers he has been the recipient of over $8 million in research grants from bodies such as the Australian Research Council, Land and Water Australia, Rural Industries R and D Corporation, and the Queensland Government. He has published 25 books, and over 500 book chapters, refereed journal articles, conference papers and research monographs. For more than six years he has been head of The School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.

Barton Loechel

Doctoral Student, School of Social Science, University of Queensland
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Doctoral student in sociology

Dr. Lynda Cheshire

Senior Lecturer in Sociology, School of Social Science
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Senior Lecturer in Sociology

Dr. Peter Oliver

Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Senior Social Science Researcher, Department of Natural Resources and Water, Queensland Government

Ref: I08P0377