Understanding Agency Culture: Findings from the Engaged Government Project, Queensland, Australia
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 support, and hinder, 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, Australia
Professor of Sociology, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland