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8. Across-boundary innovation

8.1 Further challenges and opportunities

Applying the principles to foster innovation in work that crosses boundaries

The discussion to date has largely been about innovation by and within a government organisation. However, in an increasingly complex environment and to meet government and community expectations many issues can only be effectively tackled in an across-boundary manner (for example across portfolios, jurisdictions, sectors and even national borders). The innovation challenge is to draw on the combined experience and expertise of multiple departments and jurisdictions so as to take things forward to a higher level, thereby raising performance across government and across the nation. The same principles that facilitate innovation discussed earlier apply equally, although with more emphases on seeking common objectives, leveraging areas of influence, negotiating to achieve win-win outcomes and managing overlapping relationships within and across jurisdictions and stakeholder groups.

In 2002, the Management Advisory Committee published a report in response to Australia’s priority challenges. The report emphasised:

Often the real challenge of whole of government work is not the large scale, high-level multi-lateral exercise so much as the day-to-day realities of trying to work across boundaries to make sure that outcomes are achieved.[12]

The report was supplemented with ‘Good Practice Guides’ to assist in cross-agency activity. The ANAO has also published a Better Practice Guide on Cross-Agency Governance[13] and common themes include:

  • agreed cross-agency approach;
  • documented roles and responsibilities of government departments, along with reporting arrangements;
  • coordination of organisational effort in developing national immigration health screening guidelines and procedures;
  • risk management, protocols for prioritisation and defined timelines and targets for managing queries;
  • timely and accurate technical/policy advice;
  • cross-agency coordination activities with defined liaison contacts; and
  • review and renewal.

The challenge is for such across-boundary arrangements to permit the people concerned to engage and to work together effectively and to understand the operating environment. Public sector leaders have a key role in influencing the behaviour and attitudes of staff towards collaboration and innovation across organisational boundaries. They are ideally placed to model collegiate behaviour and ensure that there is practical support for those involved in whole of government activities. This includes developing systems and procedures to support better information-sharing and the adoption of common information systems, standards and protocols across departments to improve interoperability, and assist in identifying information management needs early in the planning process for whole of government initiatives.[14]

8.2 Cross–portfolio coordination

The increasingly complex environment in which the public sector works and the nature of the problems that the government and community expect to be addressed, can only be effectively dealt with by utilising the combined experience and expertise of multiple departments and jurisdictions. Effective consultation and coordination across portfolios, including central agencies is not only essential to ensure all relevant considerations are identified and thought through but also as a means of stimulating debate, exploring other perspectives and avoiding unintended consequences. Cross-fertilisation of ideas will facilitate lateral thinking and innovative ideas.

Look for win-win solutions

Cross-portfolio and inter-jurisdictional work does of course require additional effort and more complex development and implementation processes but also offers the possibilities of streamlining roles and responsibilities. Obtaining early buy-in and commitment to high level aspirations, objectives, strategy and process is an effective way to avoid becoming distracted by detail or bogged down in lowest common denominator approaches.

Cross-portfolio coordination is a key function of central agencies such as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but can just as effectively be lead by line departments and agencies drawing on their particular areas of expertise. Effective coordination can be enhanced at the working level between departments through formal mechanisms such as inter-departmental committees but also less formal and ad hoc arrangements developed to deal with particular issues. As part of organisation innovation strategies, officers at all levels should be encouraged to consider the broader implications of their work and the interests of other portfolios, readily exchange information and establish and review the effectiveness of consultation and coordination arrangements.


Cross-portfolio coordination

The establishment within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet of a Strategic Policy and Implementation Group reflects the increased emphasis being given to whole-of-government, high level, forward looking policy development and program implementation.


Keep ministers in the loop

It is crucial that portfolio ministers and their offices endorse and remain appropriately informed of cross-portfolio activities. Sensitivities can arise where portfolio priorities may need to be traded off to achieve a greater goal or unexpected issues arise which may have portfolio implications. At the highest level such issues may need consideration by Cabinet but ministers have considerable discretion to settle contested issues as work proceeds. It is incumbent on departments and agencies to minimise issues in contention and to provide well-rounded advice to ministers which is focussed on the national interest, reflects contested positions fairly and looks for win-win and innovative solutions.

8.3 Whole-of-government dimensions

Whole-of-government processes are often challenging but offer great opportunities for reform. In complex areas involving multiple portfolio interests a whole of government approach is the only realistic way forward. The dynamics are different from within portfolio work often because of the leadership roles usually taken by central agencies. A good example are the Intergenerational Reports prepared by the Treasury, which have had a very significant influence on policy thinking across Australia in considering how best to address the long-term impacts of fundamental issues such as our ageing population.

Understand the dynamics

Due to the nature of Australia’s federal system, much high level policy development occurs through Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministerial Councils and their various working parties and expert advisory groups. Major national issues are pursued through or under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The processes around such work can be quite complex and demanding and require strong leadership, secretariat and policy support, determination and commitment.

Issues on the COAG agenda are by definition national in scope, complex and demanding. Innovative solutions that are acceptable to all jurisdictions require high level skills to negotiate. However substantial reforms have and can be achieved through COAG processes.


COAG reforms

In 1992, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was established, inter alia, to improve efficiencies in the delivery of services between Commonwealth and State governments. Over time, COAG reforms have focussed on: roles and responsibilities; national competition policy and other aspects of micro-economic reform; and in 2008, steps to modernise Commonwealth–State financial relations.

See Appendix A.7 for more detail.

Remote Service Delivery National Partnership

In order to ensure the citizen is at the centre of service delivery in remote priority locations, the COAG Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement puts in place new coordination arrangements for the delivery of Commonwealth and State and Territory government services in those locations. This new governance model is designed to ensure that all governments are held to account for the delivery of agreed reforms. The governance arrangements involve the following elements.

In each community, an Indigenous Engagement Officer (IEO) supports the Government Business Manager, who oversees local business on behalf of the Commonwealth and the State/Northern Territory Governments. IEOs are recruited from within the Indigenous communities in the priority locations and assist in communicating information between their community and government workers. The IEO must be a member of the community (or acceptable to the community), and have an understanding of the key stakeholders and the broad physical, social, historical, cultural and political aspects that make up the community.

Government Business Managers report to the Regional Operations Centre (ROC) Manager in their region. The ROC Manager chairs a regular service delivery working group to oversee Remote Service Delivery National Partnership implementation at the regional level and to support Government Business Managers. The ROC Manager also reports to a jurisdictional Board of Management (a whole of government management group) on progress and issues within the priority communities in their regions.

Overall progress of implementation is overseen by the Coordinator General for Remote Indigenous Services who has direct links to national program coordinators within Commonwealth and State government agencies to ensure that any issues affecting the implementation of reforms can be addressed. In addition, the Coordinator General will report directly to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and to COAG.


8.4 International collaboration and standards

In an increasingly globalised world, international engagement and collaboration are important to pursuing and safeguarding Australia’s national interests and international standing. Participation in international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forums, can be rich sources of information and ideas. While it is relatively rare for an overseas model to be directly applicable to Australia, there are many that can be productively adapted to Australian circumstances. For information on overseas models and practices, see the supplement to the Guide entitled Public Sector Innovation: A Review of the Literature, available at the ANAO website:

Engage with the world

At a different level, the negotiation of bilateral and multilateral international agreements provides opportunities for Australia to learn from other countries’ experience and expertise as well as contribute its own. It is important to take a broad view of Australia’s national interests, to understand the level of commitments that

may be entered into (there is a substantial difference between entering into a memorandum of understanding with a counterpart agency and a binding, treaty level agreement) and to consult closely within and across jurisdictions and the stakeholder and community groups whose interests may be affected.


International cooperation

As one of 15 founding member nations of an international intergovernmental body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), established by the G-7 Summit in 1989 to coordinate action against money laundering, Australia is committed to adherence to international standards and collaboration. As a member of the FATF Australia introduced the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 and AUSTRAC’s role was expanded in order to implement the FATF recommendations and demonstrate it was meeting international standards through the mutual evaluation process. [See Appendix A.3 for more detail.]


8.5 Non-government expertise

Explore the opportunities

Clearly there is a depth of experience and expertise within the private sector, not-for-profit and community-based organisations, including those that operate in a multi-national environment, that can contribute to finding solutions to complex problems as well as offering innovative solutions in their own right. Working with non-government organisations can help build a case for change and facilitate agreement across jurisdictions. For example, many business and not for profit organisations are active proponents of national and international reform ranging from technical issues such as accounting standards to moral causes such as human rights.

There are also opportunities for innovation across the public–private sector interface which can result in better outcomes for all sectors. Such innovations can be actively encouraged through appropriate policy and program initiatives and incentives.


Public–private synergies

The ATO’s e-tax facility has facilitated considerable business process re-engineering among tax agents, through being able to access client information electronically. The Standard Business Reporting initiative offers streamlined processes and cost savings for business. Both these initiatives are underpinned by developments in information and communications technology developed largely through the private sector. [See Appendices A.2 and A.9 for more detail.]


Although it is often not easy to find the resources, careful seeding of innovations can encourage new initiatives both within and outside the public sector. This can include using procurement opportunities to elicit new innovations from the market, rather than overly-specifying the solutions sought.


Facilitating provider innovation

As part of the recent Employment Services Tender for 2009–12, an Innovation Fund was established to provide funding for projects to overcome barriers to employment for the most disadvantaged job seekers, including Indigenous Australians, people with mental health conditions, the homeless or those at risk of homelessness, and people from jobless families or who are living in areas of entrenched disadvantage. Over three years $41 million has been provided for Innovation Fund projects.


8.6 Key lessons


In an increasingly complex environment and to meet government and community expectations, many issues can only be effectively tackled in an across-boundary manner (across portfolios and jurisdictions, sectors and national borders). Key issues for innovation in this context are:

  • understand agendas and look for mutually beneficial outcomes;
  • ensure ministers endorse and are closely involved in cross-portfolio work as the broader agenda may raise sensitivities in relation to their portfolio policies, programs and stakeholders;
  • develop a forward and outward looking and collaborative culture to ensure a holistic, national view is taken of challenges and opportunities;
  • establish consultation and coordination mechanisms across portfolios and State and Territory jurisdictions to take advantage of other perspectives, skills and expertise;
  • engage with other countries and international organisations;
  • appreciate that significant cross-portfolio reforms can be driven by domestic imperatives or by international developments; and
  • learn from other organisations in the private and community sectors, and form valuable partnerships.


[12]Management Advisory Committee, MAC Report 4, Connecting Government: Whole of Government Responses to Australia’s Priority Challenges, 2004, pp. 2 and 9.

[13] Australian National Audit Office, Better Practice Guide: Cross-Agency Governance, Guidance Paper No. 7, 2003.

[14] Australian Public Service Commission, Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective, November 2007.



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