by Mark Elliott
Project name: Inner Melbourne Action Plan (IMAP)
The challenge: Inter-organisational collaboration
Collaboration scale: Multiple government departments (10-100)
Organisations, like people, have unique goals, interests and visions for the future. This poses significant challenges when there is a need for a number of organisations to come together around a specific challenge. When these obstacles can be overcome and a collaboration formed, the advantages of being able to draw upon the networks and experience of several teams can provide significant benefits in efficiency, effectiveness and ultimately the quality of a delivered outcome.
Collabforge was approached to assist with forming one such collaboration in 2008. The intention of the collaboration was to create a plan to orient several local councils around a vision to strengthen the liveability, attraction and prosperity of the region. This would have the benefit of coordinating the efforts of the multiple agencies and delivering a cohesive approach to improving the area for residents and visitors.
In order to lay the groundwork for effective collaboration, the project’s representatives and Collabforge first reviewed existing strategies related to the area, the current planning scheme policies and implemented a series of stakeholder forums to explore common issues. Once a shared mental model was mapped, the project team worked together to set out regional strategies and actions that could be implemented in a 5-10 year period.
It was intended that, in order to gain a level of commitment from each of the organisations, the shared plan would be developed online via a wiki. Collabforge had confidence in this approach through the experience with a public engagement process with Future Melbourne, and this was the reason for being brought in to advise the project.
Centralising the various groups around a shared online plan in the form of a wiki proved to have a number of challenges. There was a low understanding of how to use the software and how to collaboratively engage in planning through an online medium. In review of the project, the cause for a significantly different outcome from the Future Melbourne project was found to be two-fold:
- Lack of investment in capability building for the project team, and
- Low level of use of the technology by those seen to be in authoritative roles.
Ultimately the project team reached their desired outcome for the engagement through multiple direct consultations and workshops, with results published by the project team via the online wiki. The low engagement with the shared online plan meant that the level of genuine collaboration and participation was lower than desirable and a small contingent had to do the bulk of the legwork to achieve the project’s outcomes. For Collabforge, this was a learning experience with implications for a need to understand the collaborative capability of participants and build this early in combination with ensuring support and engagement with the process comes from multiple levels in the organisation.
The project was successful in bringing together players from the different city councils around a shared vision of ‘Livability’ which all councils agreed aligned with their desired future for the region. The set of planned activities and methods for tracking have seen a number of cross-council projects implemented across the area. The ongoing project has now been running for 6 years, with many of the early projects now under review and improvement.