What is collaborative governance?
Governance refers to the structures, processes and relationships that enable work to be organised
and decisions to be made. Collaborative governance describes the cooperation between various stakeholders to plan, implement and monitor the place-based initiative.
For a place-based initiative, collaborative governance can be seen as “a formal or informal process where partners representing different interests make decisions together, share resources and strategically align to solve problems” (Weaver, 2021)
In the same paper, the Tamarack Institute outlined key collaborative governance principles:
- transparency and accountability – decisions take place in the public eye
- equity and inclusiveness – all interests who are needed and willing contribute to solution
- effectiveness and efficiency – solutions are tested to make sure they make practical sense
- responsiveness – public concerns are authentically addressed
- forum neutrality – different perspectives are welcome; the process itself has no bias
- consensus-based – decisions are made through consensus rather than majority rule.
Why is it important?
Due to the complex nature of place-based approaches, good governance is critical to success. The Victorian Public Service Commission describes good governance as “the processes by which public entities are directed and held to account” (Victorian Public Sector Commission, 2015). This is important because it makes government and non-government stakeholders accountable for their roles.
How it works
Choosing a governance structure
Governance structures will naturally be different and locally adapted – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you are working with a place-based initiative on a collaborative governance structure, think about the unique strategies and goals:
- its scale
- the organisations and communities involved
- the local context.
A governance structure should account for each stakeholder’s existing roles and strengths. It should also set a foundation for collaborative action.
Collaborative governance is a critical element of a place-based initiative. Governance influences how policy and operational decisions are made, but also changes policy and provides a framework for cooperation and implementation.
The Tamarack Institute’s Collaborative Governance outlines key principles for and core elements of a collaborative governance structure.
The Indigenous Voice Co-design Process: Final Report to the Australian Government provides specific guidance in the context of First Nations governance.
Key elements of governance structures
Every place-based initiative needs a unique governance structure, which may include many of the following elements:
Backbone functions can be undertaken in a stand-alone organisation or distributed across partner organisations depending on the size and scope of the collective effort and its specific context. The backbone organisation(s) is a key governance mechanism for place-based initiatives.
The Tamarack Institute’s resource on different approaches for backbones infrastructure has further information. You can also refer to Chapter Two: Working with local communities and government agencies.
A strategic governance group
This decision-making body could be a board, council or steering committee. It is responsible for the overall direction and strategy of the place-based approach.
Membership could include all key stakeholders with decision-making authority including community representatives who will represent the views and interests of the local community.
A place-based initiative may also create a separate, more local advisory group to gather and report community views to the strategic governance group and communicate decisions back to community members.
An operational governance group
This is a second form of governance to oversee the practical implementation. It could include subgroups (for example, subcommittees, action groups, reference groups, working groups) that address different goals or aspects.
Each subgroup could regularly contribute information and ideas to the operational governance group and escalate issues or risks as needed. Members could include representatives from service providers, the department and other partners with detailed knowledge of, and responsibility for, program implementation and operations, such as program or operations managers.
See the Go Goldfields ‘Collaborative Table’ model of governance case study at the end of this chapter for an example.
It takes time and resources to build strong and effective governance
Dedicate adequate time and resourcing to properly engage with stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of the challenges and a common agenda. The governance structure should reflect this approach.
Governance structures should build on existing mechanisms and relationships
The governance structure should be purposeful, efficient and straightforward. If appropriate, consider building on an established governance mechanism to maximise opportunities through existing networks, connections and structures. You may have to tailor the structure depending on the context. Always consider local history, relationships and power dynamics within and between the sector and the community.
Try to ensure that governance structures link into broader governance mechanisms as appropriate, including the Victorian Regional and Metropolitan .
Governance should balance flexibility with set processes
Governance arrangements need to provide structure and stability, but be flexible, responsive and a reliable source of guidance, decision-making and accountability for resourcing decisions. This can be created through clear and thorough processes, well-organised systems and good communication.
A place-based initiative may need to amend its governance arrangements if it is not achieving its outcomes, not meeting the needs of the initiative, or if a there is conflict.
It can be helpful to map stakeholders to ensure diverse representation
Stakeholder mapping can help you consider what level of representation and involvement is required, and from who. Think about what position people hold, and what they can offer in terms of resources, knowledge, connections and authority, as well as who they will represent. For example, it may be relevant to include an organisation’s chief executive officer for strategic insight and resourcing authority and their position on other governance groups, an operations manager for operational considerations, or a program leader for knowledge on program implementation.
Refer to the ‘Stakeholder Mapping’ section in Chapter Two: Working with local communities and government agencies for more detail.
The Victorian Government Diversity on Victorian Government Board Guidelines, ensuring appropriate representation on governance bodies.
Aboriginal people as decision-makers is central to the principle of self-determination. This should guide all aspects of the Victorian Public Sector’s relationship with Aboriginal Victorians.
Self-determination is central to self-governance. When working with Aboriginal Victorians, a governance structure that is representative of the community is critical to its legitimacy.
It is important to be aware of existing Aboriginal governance groups and engage early with local Aboriginal elders when seeking to engage Aboriginal communities in your place-based initiative. What Aboriginal self-governance looks like may differ depending on the focus and nature of each initiative, and you should always seek advice from local Aboriginal community and organisations.
Refer to Chapter Three: Working with diverse communities to learn more about working with First Nations communities.
Case study: Go Goldfields (Victoria)
Go Goldfields is a community-driven, place-based partnership which recognises that intergenerational poverty and disadvantage continue to have a profound impact on many people in the Central Goldfields community.
Using the principals of Collective Impact and authentic engagement, Go Goldfields has focussed on positive change through innovation and collaboration. This has involved working with a range of organisations from different levels of government, philanthropy, services providers, community organisations and researchers to improve outcomes for the community.
Go Goldfields approach
Go Goldfields uses a collaborative approach to drive long-term social change for children and families under its new strategic direction ‘Every child, Every chance’. It works towards five priority change areas: healthy and supported pregnancies; confident and connected new parents; safe and thriving children; valued early years’ education and care; and a great start to school for all kids.
Go Goldfields governance structure
Go Goldfields draws on the Collective Impact approach to guide their collaborative work with diverse partners including government, service providers, community members and advocates, and business. Figure 7.1 shows this in greater detail.
New Leadership and a new initiative
In 2019, the Go Goldfields Collaborative Table engaged with the community, and service, local and State government partners, to understand the most pressing issues facing the Central Goldfields community - and where collaborative, place-based action would make the biggest impact.
After robust discussion, it was agreed to adopt a refined focus on children and their families.
In 2020, the Collaborative Table endorsed a new initiative focussing on children and their families. It employed and built on the rich experience of the Go Goldfields approach and was underpinned by a comprehensive strategy. This included:
- a commitment to the ‘Every Child, Every Chance’ initiative
- a comprehensive community engagement program
- development and monitoring of an early years change plan
- a revised governance structure to reflect the renewed focus including a new Leadership Table.
The Leadership Table plays a critical role in providing strategic direction, engaging in joint decision-making and problem solving, and facilitating greater information sharing between partners. It was set up recognising the importance of cross-sector collaborations and partnerships to address intersecting and multifaceted issues affecting the local community.
- local community advocates, including a community member who is the Chairperson
- Executives from:
- three Victorian Government departments
- local government
- health and family service providers
- community organisations.
The collaborative work of Go Goldfields is underpinned by a set of guiding principles, set out in Figure 7.1.
Figure 7.1: Go Goldfields guiding principles
- We lead through actioning our belief that we can bring about change
- We bring the right people around the table to build and share power
- We authentically engage and co-design solutions with those whose lives are impacted
- We achieve action through alignment, coordination and resource cohesion
- We invest where we see a block or a project action is needed
- We learn and innovate to solve a problem when needed
- We advocate by using our collective voice to influence policy development
- We build capacity and capability to increase knowledge, skills and confidence to implement change
- We measure impact and use data to drive the change that is needed
Go Goldfields governance structure
Go Goldfields draws on the Collective Impact approach to guide it’s collaborative work with diverse partners including government, service providers, community members and advocates, and business. Figure 7.2 shows this in greater detail.
Members of the Leadership Table work together to influence service systems and policies by using their capabilities and organisational influence to maximise impacts for the community.
Outside the Leadership Table, the Victorian Government also contributes to the initiative in many ways including:
- resourcing – funding for the community driven approach towards its priority change areas, including funds to support backbone functions and staffing
- achieving influence – generating buy-in across sectors, including government, to support the implementation of priorities and to enable joined-up ways of working
- capacity building – advisory support and guidance on the initiative’s strategic direction and measurement framework
- shared learning – increasing understanding of how government can work more effectively with communities to better support community-led priorities.
Figure 7.2: Governance structure of Go Goldfields
Our enablers - Leadership Table:
- Independent chair
- Community members with lived experience
- Executive representation from:
- Anglicare Victoria
- Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative
- Central Goldfields Shire Council
- Centre for Non-Violence
- Committee for Maryborough
- Department of Education & Training
- Department of Families, Fairness & Housing
- Maryborough District Health Service
- Department of Health
Our executive - Executive
- Major Funding Partner - Regional Development Victoria
- Auspicing Partner - Central Goldfields Shire Council
- Go Goldfields Leadership Table - Chair
- Go Goldfields Backbone – Manager
Our collaborators - Priority Area Partnership Groups
25+ Organisations and Individuals across 5 priority areas:
- Healthy and supported pregnancies
- Confident and connected parents
- Safe and thriving children
- Valued early years education and care
- A great start to school for all kids
Measuring our Work:
Community Check-In, Evaluate the Change Plan, Harvest and Share Outcomes
How we Work:
Collaboration, Communication and Community Participation
Informing our Work:
Research and data, Community Engagement Practice
Backbone functions are auspiced by the Central Goldfields Shire Council. The backbone plays a critical role in convening key stakeholders, facilitating collaboration, communication and knowledge, and reducing risk of innovative solutions through demonstration. The Victorian Government has provided a series of grants since 2011 to support the backbone functions. This has enabled Go Goldfields to make substantial progress and adapt their local work to be responsive to emerging needs.
Go Goldfields approach
Go Goldfields uses its collaborative approach to drive long-term social change for children and families under its new initiative ‘Every child, Every Chance’. It works towards five priority change areas: Healthy and Supported Pregnancies; Confident and Connected Parents; Safe and Thriving Children; Valued Early Years’ Education and Care; and A Great Start to School for all Kids.
The initiative uses a variety of methods to ensure community voice and perspectives drive the strategic vision and are reflected in the initiative’s priorities and work plan. For example, in 2015 the backbone team ran a series of community engagement events, called HATCH, with over 300 community members, service leaders, and decision-makers to ‘hatch’ ideas about what was needed for long-term change. A shared plan of action was developed with input from participants to guide the design and work of the initiative which in turn fostered community ownership of the initiative. In mid-2021, Go Goldfields engaged with over 200 parents and carers of children aged zero to eight years to better understand the Central Goldfields community experience, views of raising children, and what could make it easier. This input is directly informing the local work under the five priorities of ‘Every Child, Every Chance’.
Improving outcomes for children and families through cross-sector collaboration
Under ‘Every Child, Every Chance’, Go Goldfields brings together its diverse partners to identify a common and coordinated approach to enhance service accessibility and flexibility. This is informed by feedback from local families including the need for better community connections; a focus on early prevention rather than delaying to a point of crisis; better access and awareness of available services; options for less formal supports in the community; and services that are welcoming, flexible and understanding.
The priorities under ‘Every Child, Every Chance’ complement Victorian Government investments – in Enhanced Maternal and Child Health, Orange Door services, School Readiness Funding, funding for the Shire’s early learning infrastructure planning, and free three and four-year-old kinder for 2021 onwards – by ensuring these services are better coordinated and more flexible in responding to the needs of local families and children.
The initiative is also partnering with Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to be the first regional Victorian town to deliver an evidence- based, peer-led parenting program called Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities (EPEC), developed in the UK.
This focus on driving increased coordination and links across services and sectors has contributed to positive outcomes particularly in the areas of child literacy, family safety and stronger communities including:
- improved childrens’ readiness for literacy at school by introducing a new speech pathology service
- improved awareness of the importance of early communication, literacy and numeracy skills among parents and early years providers, with many incorporating these skills into their interactions with children
- improved social connections, confidence and skills in parenting through increased opportunities for vulnerable families to be involved in social and capacity building activities
- empowering and activating the local community to contribute to the Central Goldfields Literacy Strategy consultation by holding 255 Literacy Conversations across the Shire in 2018.
Case study: Flemington Works
Flemington Works is an initiative of the Moonee Valley City Council (MVCC) to address the employment barriers of women and young people living on the Flemington housing estate. Residents are predominately from refugee and migrant backgrounds with constrained employment opportunities. The initiative works with residents to identify bespoke pathways to employment and economic participation.
MVCC and DJSIR partnership
Flemington Works is funded through the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions’ (DJSIR) Community Revitalisation initiative (CR).
Flemington Works Approach
Since its establishment in 2018 to June 2022, Flemington Works has achieved a broad range of economic outcomes for women and young people from the Flemington public housing estate:
- 200 paid employment outcomes for 127 women and 73 young people who reside at the Flemington housing estate
- 40 micro-enterprises established in social change, hospitality and creative industries
- five social procurement outcomes
Creating social enterprise for migrant women with limited employment options
A Flemington Works co-design process identified that women had cultural knowledge and aspirations to work in the food industry. Following the codesign process, Community Revitalisation funding enabled Flemington Works to provide bespoke food entrepreneurship training that included business mentoring and coaching through the Food Business Boost initiative.
The training culminated in the establishment of 11 micro-catering businesses. These businesses delivered over 42 catered events between mid-2019 and early 2020, generating $40,000 in revenue, and developed four food products for retail sale. The Food Business Boost initiative also supported the women to identify additional distribution channels for their products.
Key outcomes include:
- East African Sisters now runs a stall at Kensington Market
- local café Icecream Social sells a sauce developed by participant pies across its three outlets
- all women sell their products weekly via wholesale food distributor Wholefoods Unwrapped Collective.
The women who participated reported increased confidence and connection to their community:
“We never would have developed a catering business if we didn’t have this support – running this business has made us more confident.” (Participant – Food Business Boost initiative)
Social procurement driving change
Flemington Works has also driven a significant change agenda to reform the social procurement processes of MVCC. Through the MVCC’s Social and Sustainable Procurement Guidelines and Policy, social procurement has been embedded in the practices of MVCC.
Specific employment targets to employ residents living in social housing have been included in service contracts awarded by MVCC. These contracts have resulted in 23 employment outcomes for local residents. Additionally, the women who have developed their own micro-catering enterprises have been promoted as preferred suppliers and engaged by MVCC, in line with the revised policy and guidelines, further unlocking social and economic benefits for them and their families.
Additional tools and resources
- Aboriginal governance and accountability framework, Victorian Government,
- Community services quality governance framework, Victorian Government, 2018
- Maranguka Cross Sector Leadership Group case study, Maranguka Community
- VPSC Governance
Reviewed 08 March 2023