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Department of Premier and Cabinet

What is collaboration?

There is no universally accepted definition of collaboration and a range of terms, such as whole-of-government, joined up government, cross-cutting or integrated government have all been used to refer to this work.[1] These terms are often used interchangeably.

The Australian Government uses the term ‘whole-of-government’, which was defined for the Australian Public Service in 2004 as:

“…public service agencies working across portfolio boundaries to achieve a shared goal and an integrated government response to particular issues. Approaches can be formal and informal. They can focus on policy development, program management and service delivery.”[2]

Whatever the term used, the essential features of collaboration include:

  • agencies working across traditional portfolio boundaries;
  • developing an integrated approach to a complex or cross-cutting issue; and
  • sharing responsibility for an outcome, including the risks and rewards associated with the project.

Two concepts have been described which are useful in considering collaboration. These are ‘collaborative advantage’ and ‘collaborative inertia’. To gain real advantage from collaboration, something has to be achieved that could not have been achieved by one agency. This concept provides a useful ‘guiding light’ for the purpose of collaboration. The second concept, collaborative inertia, captures what happens very frequently in practice: the output from a collaborative arrangement is negligible, the rate of output is extremely slow, or stories of hard grind are integral to successes achieved.[3] The critical factors outlined in section 7 of this paper can be used to avoid collaborative inertia.

Collaboration can involve different tiers of government (local, state, Commonwealth) and external stakeholders (eg NGOs). This paper focuses primarily on collaboration between State Service agencies as a priority, but the critical factors identified in section 7 of this paper apply to all collaborative situations including working with Government Business Enterprises, statutory authorities, ministerial staff and the Commonwealth Government.


[1] Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government: Whole of Government responses to Australia’s priority challenges, p4.

[2] Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government, p4.

[3] Huxham, C and Vangen, S “Doing things collaboratively: Realising the Advantage or Succumbing to Inertia?” in O’Flynn J and Wanna J (Eds), 2008, Collaborative Governance: A new era of public policy in Australia, ANU E Press < http://epress.anu.edu.au/collab_gov_citation.html>, p 29-30.

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