Exploring the meaning of joined-up work

Definition of joined-up work

Although there is no universally accepted definition of joined-up work, the term is broadly used to describe ‘collaboration of public, private, and voluntary sector bodies across organisational boundaries towards a common goal’ (UK National Audit Office 2001).

The distinguishing characteristic of joined-up work is that there is an emphasis on objectives shared across organisational boundaries as opposed to working solely within an organisation (Victorian State Services Authority 2007).

Joined-up work can occur through formal and informal partnerships or through carefully and strategically structured governance arrangements. It also represents different ways of working, from interpersonal interactions to formal and interdependent arrangements based on mutual benefit and common purpose (Buick 2012).

For the purposes of this report, ‘joined-up work’ is defined as:

The coordination and collaboration of work by the VPS to support place-based approaches, and the authorisation to do so, both within government and with non-government partners, including communities.’

The terms ‘coordination’ and ‘collaboration’ have varied meanings depending on the context in which they have been used.

Continuum of horizontal engagement

The continuum below distinguishes the various forms of horizontal engagement that can occur among stakeholders: varying from informal and ‘lighter’ forms of engagement such as networking and cooperation, through to deeper forms of coordination and collaboration (Szirom 2014).

The depth and breadth of these engagements differ depending on how power, decision-making and resources are shared between stakeholders. While networking and cooperation can be considered as a form of joining-up, in line with the definition above, this report prioritises coordination and collaboration as most relevant for government when working with place-based initiatives.

Continuum of horizontal engagement (Halligan 2011)
  • Characterised by informal relationships
  • Information sharing for mutual benefit
  • Minimal time and commitment
  • No turf sharing
  • Characterised by short-term informal relationships
  • Information is shared as needed
  • Authority is retained by each organisation
  • Resources and rewards remain separate
  • No turf sharing
  • Characterised by formal relationships and mutually compatible missions
  • Common planning and joint decision‑making
  • Clear division of tasks and roles
  • Formal communication channels
  • Stakeholders retain authority
  • Resources shared between stakeholders
  • Shared benefits and risks
  • Characterised by formal, intensive, and longer-term arrangements
  • Requires organisations to share power
  • Shared resources, risks, benefits, and rewards in the pursuit of a common purpose
  • Organisations operate inter‑dependently
  • Joined-up structure, shared responsibility and mutual authority and accountability.

The way that stakeholders (from government and the community) approach collaboration (e.g. degree of formality, and level of collaboration) is influenced by various factors including (Weaver 2021):

  • context of the community
  • pre-existing relationships, connection, and trust between the partners
  • history and experience with collaboration
  • complexity of the problem or issue being addressed
  • availability of resources to support the collective effort.

Organisational culture is fundamental to collaboration as it influences the willingness and readiness of staff, and how collaborative efforts are incorporated into organisational practice.

What is the purpose of joined-up work and when is it suitable?

Joined-up approaches have been promoted by various governments to overcome government silos and address competition between departments (Christensen 2007). At the same time, governments are increasingly adopting place-based approaches to address locational disadvantage in communities.

Attempts to join-up government have achieved some successes often in the areas of disaster management such as bushfires, cyclones, food relief efforts in response to COVID-19 lockdowns, and local initiatives that draw on the collective impact framework (e.g. GROW21 Geelong Regional Alliance, Logan Together, Hands up Mallee).

Joined-up work has been used in multiple contexts (Shergold 2004) - ranging from top-down decisions that require a cross-portfolio approach; local agencies working together to achieve shared goals for a community; or work spanning any or all levels of federal, state/territory and local governments in Australia.

Joined-up ways of working are not a panacea for all problems and may not be appropriate in all circumstances. However, joined-up work approaches can be used for the following purposes (State Government of Victoria State Services Authority 2007):

  • to address complex, intersecting, and long-standing issues at the local/community level using place-based approaches/initiatives
  • to improve outcomes for specific cohorts through multi-pronged strategies and an integrated approach across policy areas (e.g., health, housing, employment, justice)
  • to improve accessibility, responsiveness to service user expectations, and improve efficiency of government through integrated service delivery
  • to deliver cross-cutting policy solutions by working across portfolios and jurisdictions (local, state, and federal).

Why does joined-up work matter?

Joined-up ways of working can help governments to overcome unhelpful ways of working when partnering with place-based initiatives, including:

  • A programmatic focus
  • 'Top-down’ ways of working
  • Lack of collaboration and information sharing with local communities
  • Lack of authorisation to engage as an equal partner with a place-based initiative.

Case study: Hands Up Mallee

Taking a relational approach to emergency food relief

Hands Up Mallee (HUM) is a place-based initiative in Mildura that supports local responses driven by what the community needs and wants. During the initial lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, HUM quickly created a joint approach to emergency food relief in response to the community’s food scarcity challenges.

HUM drew on their existing relationships to convene more than 16 organisations to pool resources. They strengthened the state funded food relief efforts by ensuring that support needs were tailored to the needs of culturally diverse groups.

By the end of the lockdown period between March and November 2020, 3,354 people were supported through nearly 900 immediate food parcels, 171 activity packs, and 194 referrals between organisations.