Joined-up ways of working within a place-based context

Joined-up work is already undertaken daily throughout the VPS, including through existing partnerships with place-based initiatives. However, government’s centralised approaches, including centrally determined targets and top-down performance management, can sometimes present barriers to joined-up work (O'Flynn 2011).

Real and lasting system change will require agencies to shift priorities to embrace the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that ‘system trumps agency.’
(Davison 2016)

This chapter outlines the supporting elements needed for better joined-up work so that government can meaningfully partner with communities to drive sustainable outcomes for local communities.

Supporting conditions for joined-up work

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to joined-up work. There needs to be variety of mechanisms and processes to facilitate collaboration (Shergold 2004). However, the research confirms that there are key supporting conditions capable of supporting good practice joined-up work.

Supporting conditions and mechanisms for achieving them

The framework in Figure 1 identifies three interconnected elements that are necessary conditions for joined-up work, as represented in the inner triangles of the pyramid:

  • An enabling and flexible operating environment that supports new ways of working
  • Supportive authorisation to undertake joined-up ways of working
  • Capabilities of VPS staff to confidently engage in joined-up ways of working.

The remainder of this report is structured around these supporting conditions and will touch on the mechanisms required to achieve them. These are represented in the outer boxes of the pyramid in Figure 1 below, and are:

  • hybrid forms of governance and collective leadership
  • resources and skills development
  • shared accountability and role fluidity.

Finally, the central triangle indicates that an enabling culture, values and ethos is essential for enabling joined-up ways of working to flourish.

A diagram with 'an enabling culture, values and ethos' at its centre; the three necessary conditions for joined-up work as triangles; and the supporting conditions for place-based work connecting all the elements together. Figure 1: A framework for joined up work – supporting conditions and how to achieve them (Adapted from Shergold 2014)

An enabling and flexible operating environment

As outlined above, joining-up across government and communities can occur to various degrees and in various ways.

A supportive and flexible operating environment is necessary for effective cross-collaboration as it can re-shape incentives and enable behavioural change in the VPS (Marsh 2017). As illustrated in Figure 1, collective leadership, hybrid forms of governance and adequate resourcing accompanied by skills development (for collaborative ways of working) are needed to create a flexible environment for better cross-collaboration within government and with community stakeholders.

Inflexible top-down structures can constrain the capacity of staff to respond effectively and in a timely manner to changing community needs.

Factors that contribute to an enabling and flexible operating environment include:

  • tailored and flexible funding that facilitates opportunities for VPS to develop sustainable relationships with stakeholders
  • careful balancing of horizontal accountabilities (joint action, common standards, shared systems) with vertical accountability for individual agency performance
  • supportive communication and information sharing infrastructure
  • new accountabilities and incentives for staff to engage in joined-up ways of working across government and with communities (e.g. ensuring that cross-agency targets are equally as important as agency-specific targets)
  • introducing performance measures that recognise the value of relational and collaborative work undertaken by VPS.

While top-down approaches are important to set priorities and push through joined-up ethos, cooperative relations on the ground may prove to be more important in the long-run. (Keast, 2011 p.229)


As illustrated in Figure 1, authorisation is initiated through hybrid forms of governance and collective leadership as well as shared accountability and role fluidity. An overview of each – and how they link to effective authorisation – is provided below.

Without careful attention to, and investment in, creating [supportive] architecture, most attempts at joining-up government are doomed to fail, as the power of embedded ways of doing things restrains innovation and undermines cooperation. (O’Flynn 2011, p.11)


Governance is built on factors such as accountability, obligations, authorisation and delegations in decision-making, effective risk management, and values among others (Victorian Public Sector Commission 2015).

There are two important and inter-related aspects of governance that impact on the effectiveness of place-based approaches: the governance structures of the PBIs themselves, and the ‘governance of government’ in the context of place-based approaches (Australian Social Inclusion Board, 2011).

Place-based approaches require governance mechanisms that (Marsh 2017):

  • are collaborative
  • share accountability
  • are tailored to local context
  • enable genuine power sharing
  • enable meaningful community involvement in decision-making.

There also needs to be flexibility to evolve over time to reflect different stages of work, new learnings, shifts in context, and changes to membership (Byers 2011).

Despite the well-known barriers encountered by place-based approaches partnering with government, little attention is paid to the role of the governance of government and how it influences outcomes of place-based approaches (Alderton 2022).

Effective joined-up work within government requires multiple horizontal efforts (sometimes also including place-based initiatives) that are supported by strong vertical mechanisms (Christensen 2007). However, a key challenge associated with such hybrid forms of governance is the tension between multiple and conflicting accountabilities—horizontally across partners and vertical accountabilities of staff within their agency (Ferguson 2009).

Partners must negotiate between multiple accountabilities, priorities, constraints, interests and manage risks across departments, sectors and the community who share responsibilities for decisions and outcomes within place-based initiatives.

Reaching consensus and deciding what is feasible will require navigating and negotiating with existing systems through intermediary processes. ‘Navigating the middle’ (see Figure 2 below) between top-down and bottom-up processes involves shaping top-down issues so that they are context sensitive and systemically tapping into local knowledge on the ground and feeding them back up to the centre (McKenzie 2020).

Balancing these tensions requires performance measures and accountability structures that support and reward horizontal and vertical targets including shared outcomes, instead of outputs (State Government of Victoria State Services Authority 2007).

Diagram showing two arrows pointing towards a circle which reads 'navigating the middle'. The top arrow, pointing down, reads 'centrally driven incentives and mandates to facilitate cross-collaboration' and 'joining-up work at various levels'. The bottom arrow, pointing up, reads 'bottom-up autonomy and control needed to break down silos' and 'forming partnerships between stakeholders at the same level'. The diagram also shows how 'authorisation through strong leadership' underpins the whole structure. Figure 2: Hybrid governance structure

Key factors to consider when setting up collaborative place-based governance arrangements (Emerson 2012):

  • Contextual factors
    • political dynamics and power relations, within communities and across government
    • degree of connectedness and relationship maturity and quality among stakeholders
    • levels of trust and impacts on working relationships across stakeholders
    • resourcing conditions
    • policy/regulatory/administrative frameworks and procedures
    • prior failure, to address issues through traditional/standard processes and mechanisms.
  • Drivers of collaboration
    • incentives, such as resourcing needs and opportunities, situational/institutional crises that require joined-up action/solutions and stakeholder interests
    • inter-dependence, when organisations are unable to achieve objectives on their own
    • addressing uncertainty, addressing challenging social problems that require groups to collaborate to reduce, diffuse and share risk
    • collective leadership, for influencing, securing of resources and solution brokering.
Case study: The Geelong Aboriginal Employment Taskforce

Example of a model of collaboration between government and community

As part of the Geelong targeted employment plan, the Geelong Aboriginal Employment Taskforce (the Taskforce) brings together senior Aboriginal, community, public and private sector leaders to drive positive change in the region. DPJR supports the work of the Taskforce by facilitating strategic opportunities to improve employment and career development for Aboriginal people living in Geelong.

The Taskforce is providing a model for how government can come to the table in a collaborative way to build stronger accountability in delivering inclusive economic outcomes based on the needs of local communities

To date, this includes identifying ways to optimise Jobs Victoria services in the region and to support Aboriginal people, business and wealth creation through the Victorian Aboriginal Employment and Economic Strategy, Yuma Yirramboi. A priority of the Taskforce is the development of a Geelong Aboriginal Public Sector Employment Strategy. The strong partnership between DJPR and the Taskforce is driving robust accountability through senior executive representation from Geelong-based public sector employers and across the VPS.

Moving forward, DJPR intends to actively engage the Taskforce to ensure that the local Aboriginal community and business sector derive strong economic benefits from an unprecedented period of investment in Geelong. This includes leveraging opportunities through the Social Procurement Framework as part of Victoria’s Big Build and in the lead‑up to the Victoria 2026 Commonwealth Games.

Cross-boundary governance models

There are various governance models or arrangements that can be adapted to place-based ways of working. These models align both vertical and horizontal structures while providing a degree of flexibility required to tailor collaboration at the local level to meet localised needs. The models or arrangements include:

  • multilevel governance, which is a form of ongoing partnership dialogue and a strategy that enables different partners to work together (Miren 2019)
  • network and collaborative governance which invests new degrees of power and influence in communities to enhance learning (feeding into policy design) through relationships and partnerships across public, private, community and third sectors (Wolfe 2018)
  • distributed governance, which involves combining resources of governmental and non‑governmental actors in the forms of horizontal networks (Wolfe 2018).
  • The Constellation Model, action-driven and ideal for groups that need to mobilize quickly around emergent issues and opportunities (Surman 2006).
  • Coordinated Project, Campaign Coalition, and Ongoing Partnership models: developed by the Institute for Conservation Leadership. These models range from simple information networks to complex organizational structures (Byers 2011).
Shared accountability

For place-based approaches, accountability is based on locally‑driven outcomes tailored to local circumstances and shared between all stakeholders and government engaged in place-based work (Marsh 2017). Shared accountability, tied to outcomes, is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in joined-up work. Shared accountability is guided by a clear shared vision driven by outcomes, jointly developed objectives, and trust between partners.

Case study: Community Revitalisation

A practice example for shared learning and accountability

Community Revitalisation (CR) is a community-led place-based initiative that operates in five communities in Victoria. The initiative brings together communities, their local leaders and government to design approaches to improve economic inclusion that are responsive to local needs and aspirations. Several learning activities have been used to support effective implementation of CR including:

  • Quarterly Learning Forums with all CR sites to support collaborative design and decision‑making and drive effective CR delivery. DJPR staff co-develop the agenda and are active participants in the forums.
  • Reflection points at different levels of frequency (weekly, fortnightly, monthly) to identify and respond to enablers, challenges and risk, and ground learnings to inform policy approaches.
  • Interviews with stakeholders to surface initial learnings which informed the guiding model of CR, while also allowing for an iterative review of the model underpinning CR’s systemic focus.
  • Collaborative design process alongside CR sites (including community members and other stakeholders) to inform theory of change and co-develop tailored impact and learnings plans for each site to track progress towards outcomes.
  • Participation in peer-to-peer learning forums on a national scale – DJPR staff participated in online workshops and shared experiences about CR with the Federal Government’s Department of Social Services Place-Based branch, ensuring that valuable insights are shared across contexts on a national scale.
Role fluidity

Effective joining-up requires role fluidity, and not restricting to formal roles and responsibilities. ‘Role fluidity’ is the ability to move around multiple roles (e.g., diplomat, advocate, negotiator) to mobilise local actions, challenge systems and initiate change for enhanced collaboration across government and with local communities (McKenzie 2020).

Collective leadership and other key roles

Collaborative initiatives are often instigated and driven by the personal dedication and energies of a few individuals; and changes in leadership can affect momentum. Therefore, effective joined-up work requires a shift away from the dependence on the leadership of a few individuals to broader ‘collective ownership’ across multiple levels ranging from strategic, managerial, and local levels (Davison 2016).

Senior leadership has a role to play in supporting interagency collaboration and activity and setting the cultural tone and ethos for collaboration within their respective agencies. In the joined-up context, effective leaders will display ‘craftmanship,’ by using smart practices to step outside of formal structures or rules to facilitate joined-up working (Carey 2015). In this sense, strong leaders can break down existing patterns of working and entrenched practices.

Collective leadership has a critical role in nurturing the right skills and attitudes amongst staff and in finding workarounds for structural issues. They play a central role in developing, promoting, and strengthening a joined-up culture, values, and ethos.

Leadership is also needed establish a shared vision and strengthen horizontal linkages between agencies. Leaders as ‘purposive practitioners’ who can leverage opportunities for inter-agency collaboration, engage in joint problem‑solving and overcome obstacles to success (O'Flynn 2011).

The role of boundary spanning

Boundary spanning is a key means by which VPS staff and leadership can engage in joined‑up ways of working across government and with communities. Staff who act as boundary spanners traverse and build bridges across organisational, cultural, jurisdictional boundaries for the realisation of shared goals. Boundary spanning roles are described in various terms including networker, collaborator, conduit, ambassador, civic entrepreneur depending on the institutional context, the quality of relationships and their individual characteristics and skills (Williams 2002). Key functions of boundary spanning include (Barner-Rasmussen 2010):

  • Linking
    • connecting/linking different people and processes across organisational boundaries
    • building sustainable and effective relationships and networks, including through:
    • information sharing and exchange
    • translating across boundaries (bringing together two world domains, speaking different languages and functioning according to different principles, routines, and procedures)
    • marshalling expertise across portfolios and building social capital.
  • Facilitating
    • creating and establishing new or innovative cooperative arrangements between local community, local government and/or professional organisations
  • Intervening (actively intervene to create positive outcomes)
    • solution brokering
    • negotiators.

VPS capabilities

The culture and capability of the VPS is critical for successful joined-up efforts.

In the context of capability building, factors that promote a joined-up culture of working are:

  • investment in a learning culture that facilitates collegiate behaviour and opportunities for cross-fertilisation, information-sharing and the development of strong networks across the VPS
  • commitment of time for VPS capacity building
  • commitment to sufficient budget, time, and resources to develop, manage and support engagement and collaboration processes and practices with community and other stakeholders
  • skills, training, and leadership support for the VPS to authorise and engage in joined‑up work
  • development of appropriate tools and resources to facilitate stakeholder collaboration and engagement in place-based initiatives.
Skills, training, and support required for effective joined-up work

Joined-up approaches require skillsets and capabilities, and as noted above, these need to be complemented by supportive systems and processes as well as an enabling culture that promotes better collaboration across government and communities. Inadequate training for staff can weaken efforts to facilitate joined-up ways of working (O'Flynn 2011).

The following key skills and capabilities have been identified as fundamental to effective joined-up work (Shergold 2004; State Services Authority 2007; Halligan, Buick & O’Flynn 2011; Carey & Crammond 2015).

Key capabilities:

  • capacity to balance the tension between short-term and long-term goals
  • readiness to think and act across agency boundaries
  • knowledge of both how to work with community and how to obtain information about community (demographics, needs and so on)
  • the capacity to build strategic alliances, collaboration, and trust
  • flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances
  • capacity among public sector staff to engage in cross-sector, co-creation efforts.


  • willingness to undertake emotional labour associated with relational working
  • relational skills to foster trust, reciprocity, empathy and mutual accountability towards commitments and shared outcomes
  • coordination
  • effective knowledge management
  • creative conflict resolution
  • inter-agency project management
  • cultural and solution brokering (seeing what needs to happen)
  • community engagement
  • technological know-how (e.g., data sharing platforms).

Tools and resources for the VPS that enable better joined‑up ways of working in place

As illustrated in this report, effective joined-up work is enabled through supportive organisational systems and processes coupled with appropriate skills, mindsets and cultures.

While joined-up work is fundamental to place-based approaches, it is also highly relevant to how government can effectively address complex and cross-cutting policy challenges and build a more responsive public service.

The Place-based Agenda has developed a suite of resources and tools to support VPS to enable better place-based and joined-up ways of working, including:

  • The Place-Based Guide: provides advice on working with communities to design and implement place‑based approaches including collaborative ways of working
  • The Funding Toolkit: in-depth guidance on agile and adaptive funding
  • The Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Toolkit: in-depth guidance on designing and implementing MEL in place-based contexts with communities
  • The Place-based Capability Framework: developed in partnership with the Victorian Public Service Commission defines and describes clear, concise, observable, and measurable capabilities that are needed when working with place-based approaches. It can be used throughout the employee lifecycle, from recruitment and selection to performance, team, and career development.