Decision Making Processes in Interagency Projects
A functional social service system plays a key role in creating socio-economic wellbeing. The social service systems in the developed countries are well established. In such systems, the government and non-governmental agencies collaborate to provide people with various services and incomes. In history, the services provided have undergone evolution in ethos, program approach, policy, and service orientation. The agencies are usually funded using specific approaches to funding, which focus on their operations and not the cross-cutting issues. From the 1970s, it became difficult for single organizations to provide services effectively. This led to calls for inter-agency collaborations. The collaborative approaches act as vehicles that facilitate the achievement of an integrated provision of services and the establishment of holistic policy goals. The main objective of the inter-agency collaboration is to overcome power concentrations, improve outcome for service beneficiaries, and promote the resolution of complex issues that arise in the process of service delivery. The collaboration of agencies in specific projects results in the emergence of key issues, challenges, and opportunities based on the decision-making approach used.
One of the critical research findings on interagency collaboration is that communication plays a key role especially in the building of relationships in interagency collaborations. The studies in this field have revealed that when all stakeholders are communicating effectively, the client-worker relationship becomes enhanced. Therefore, effective communication eliminates the need for the clients to keep the agencies updated with issues at hand. For the decisions made to have a meaningful foundation, it is important to let clients know the role played by every agency in a project. Staying updated with the services provided by the agencies is also essential for the members of large organizations to ensure effective response to questions and the needs of clients (NSW, 2010).
When communication shows the perception of the leading agency in interagency collaboration, the relationship between workers from the collaborating agencies becomes enhanced especially in the implementation stage of the joint initiatives. The reason is that effective communication ensures that the explicit discussions of practices are held to outline the philosophical differences, which leads to the finding of a common ground of operation. Therefore, the role of communication is more than just the sharing of information about clients. For communication to be considered effective, it must include practice difference discussions and the approaches to be used for the agencies to develop a shared understanding. Also, agencies must know the role of other service providers as this eliminates the need for clients to consider those services as sources of information (Friedman, Reynolds…& Kaufman, 2007).
Effective communication is important because it improves the decision-making process, leads to realistic expectations from staff, and promotes the adoption of easy to understand rules. This results in effective collaboration between agencies. In addition, communication facilitates the sharing of ideas, the joint reviewing of goals, and the highlighting of approaches. This ensures that the responsible agencies take measures against staff turnovers, budgetary constraints, and policy reforms. The measures taken are usually in a way that cannot threaten collaboration among agencies. To prevent staff turnovers, it is important to adopt an approach that garnishes the views of clients and collaborating with the clients on the development of initiatives capable of addressing the issue (Friedman, Reynolds…& Kaufman, 2007).
Agencies should take the role of implementing efficient case reviews to staff and the identification of cases that have not been addressed for a longer time. This enables agencies to ascertain whether additional interventions are needed. Such measures ensure that workers perceive the interagency effectiveness positively. It also makes the employees believe that even though the task is complex, it is workable (NSW, 2010).
Different partners need to work together in different ways, depending on what they are trying to achieve. The task at hand, which the collaborating agencies are to handle, dictates the nature of leadership adopted. The context of task also plays a major role in determining leadership. Different contexts require a specific set of skills in addition to the adaptability of the collaborating agencies and their employees. Therefore, leadership in interagency relationships can be shared, distributed or even practice. This means that leadership in interagency collaboration is different from the traditional styles of leadership. From the agency collaboration perspective, leadership should be shared among all the units of agencies working on a project (Darby, 2014).
The shared leadership is usually established based on the circumstances determined by the interactions between agencies and situational contexts. Therefore, leadership does not just involve one person single-handedly developing a vision that other members must follow. Interagency collaboration primarily involves the sharing of leadership where every member of the collaborating agency should participate in (Darby, 2014). For a collaboration to have effective leadership, interactions between individuals and networks must exist. The differences in the skills of each member are what ensure that the roles at hand are handled effectively.
The shared leadership requires certain precautions to be taken. When leadership is shared without necessary precautions being taken, several humanitarian problems can arise. The research on the interagency collaborations involving the UN has revealed that there is usually lack of understanding of integration between the staff involved. Most organizations that the UN collaborates with, believing that integration can distort the differentiation between the military, humanitarian, and political actions. From their perspective, it can result in political demands being satisfied while humanitarian aid is put at risk. In most cases, this leads to the establishment of a mistrust climate and biased approaches by the staff (Darby, 2014).
Therefore, in interagency collaborations, it is the responsibility of each agency to ensure that there is effective integration. Furthermore, each should ensure that issues such as politics do not come into play in the process of communication. The reason is that such obstacles create cooperation barriers. Politics also result in a disjointed leadership which can hinder or stop the achievement of the goals of the collaboration. In addition, it is important for the staff of the organizations to interact with each other to ensure the achievement of project objectives (Darby, 2014). Distributed leadership is a facilitator of effective management, improved capacity building, and increased collaboration.
Even though most research primarily focus on the behaviors of leaders and followers in addition to the interrelationships amongst them, it is arguable that leadership catalyzes organizational learning and as such, it improves the effectiveness of interagency collaborations. This linkage supports the finding of various studies that leadership is correlated with organizational learning system elements, which are also correlated with improved performance. The studies on interagency collaborations that focus on learning have revealed that knowledge management between the collaborating organizations plays a key role in improving effectiveness. A major finding is that reputation building, relationship management, and the sharing of the operational value plays a major role in improving the effectiveness of collaboration (Kempster, Higgs, &Wuerz, 2014).
Knowledge plays a major role in the success of agencies. It also plays a key role in interagency collaboration effectiveness by ensuring that effective approaches are used to interagency projects. A series of research has shown that leveraging the skills of staff enables agencies to improve their knowledge and competencies. In the context of interagency collaboration, it is the responsibility of each organization to leverage the skills of the staff working on a project by adopting the relevant knowledge transfer mechanisms. Learning because of knowledge transfer can be a difficult challenge (Kempster, Higgs, &Wuerz, 2014). Therefore, each agency should adopt the necessary measures for overcoming the challenges.
The effectiveness of collaboration is primarily dependent on the clarity of various issues of the context. Even with effective leadership, lack of clarity can compromise the ability to have common goals; thus, hindering successful collaboration. Working to have a common goal stems from the team reasoning theory in which those that reason in terms of teams prefer the establishment of a common goal in which each member plays a role to ensure that the common goal is achieved (Rose, 2007). This reasoning is important for effective collaboration. In the absence of clarity, individual team members cannot understand their roles and how each of them fits the provision of a specific service.
The specification of resources and time to each agency can affect collaboration effectiveness. Less bounded collaborations have positive and negative aspects. The positive impacts include a wide scope for the identification of needs, the selection of the right actions, and a wide collaboration scope. The negative ones include lack of clarity, uncertainties, and ineffective lines of communication. Therefore, when an interagency collaboration is deficient of clarity in approach and strategy, organization leaders can assume that the involved staffs have the same goals in mind; thus, working in one direction (Rose, 2007). Therefore, clarity is important because it eliminates such assumptions and ensures that inflexibilities are overcome.
Clarity can be ensured by ensuring the continuity of personnel in the collaboration process by addressing issues that can result in staff turnover. With continuity, staffs develop constructive relationships, which ease the management of teams. As employees develop the relationships, they can explain roles to each other, which improve clarity. Organizations that have a history of collaboration should be allowed to work together because their experience with each other enables them to build collaborative protocols, which aid in promoting the clarity of roles (Rose, 2007).
Lack of clarity is caused by the weak leadership of teams. With a weak leadership, developing a common theme becomes impossible. This leads to ambiguity of roles and lack of a clear direction, leading to the emergence of gaps in the provision of services to clients. In addition, it is difficult to balance between team membership and profession of staff, especially when the line between collaborative roles and roles under ordinary jobs become blurred (Sloper, 2004). Clarity ensures that the separateness between team members is recognized and this helps in maintaining professional identities. It is important for individuals to have time dedicated to their skills in the process of the collaboration.
Clarity plays a key role in ensuring that good lines of communication are established. It ensures that team members share concepts and dialogue amongst themselves to establish a clear definition of perspectives. This is essential in ensuring that a common goal is developed besides facilitating the establishment of differences in professionalism as a positive outcome that leads to the provision of cohesive services to the beneficiaries. The absence of clarity makes it difficult to address the problems that arise from the differences in professions (Sloper, 2004). Such problems include the tensions arising from the feelings of marginalization by some team members because of their profession.
In interagency collaboration, various factors can lead to the need to have trade-offs for the collaboration to be effective. One of the challenges is the inadequacy of resources between the collaborating firms. The best way of addressing this challenge is the trading-off of the missions, values, and objectives of individual companies. This trade-off is a unifying approach that makes organizations to forget the differences existing between them and adopt the relevant policies that enable them to collaborate effectively. The trade-off enables the identification of duplicative roles, which can result in the wastage of resources besides compromising the achievement of a common objective (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008).
The establishment of an effective collaboration requires time and effort. As such, the collaborating organizations must trade-off time to ensure that quality time is dedicated to the establishment of structural elements of interagency collaboration such as the formation of functional units at the service and supervisory levels. The collaborating firms should always dedicate quality time for the review of the progress achieved and the revision of ineffective strategies (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008). Such efforts strengthen trust among the agencies besides deepening the commitment to ensure that a common goal is achieved. Besides, they enable the agencies to know the agency-specific elements that can lead to the ineffectiveness of the collaboration and come up with effective strategies for overcoming the challenges brought by those elements.
Another trade-off that must be made is the retention of key positions in the collaboration to prevent employees with the needed expertise from developing the intentions to leave. When there is a turnover of strategic employees, the achievement of objectives can become difficult (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008). Thus, the collaborating agencies and organizations usually should come up with approaches and measures for preventing their employees from resigning. The approaches that can be used to ensure this are assigning the employees’ leadership roles that are aligned with their expertise and the use of effective employee remuneration.
Interagency collaboration requires resigning authority of lead agencies to other agencies to get the benefit of the responsibility of all agencies. Giving up power eliminates hierarchical differences between agencies. Efforts should be made to ensure that the members of each agency are provided with maximum input (Dougherty, 2013). This can increase collaboration success. The use of language among the involved agencies should be consistent to minimize the chances of misunderstandings, which can result in the lack of role clarity. One way of achieving this is the use of a strategic planning approach, which determines who performs a particular role and how the role will be performed. Trade-offs ensure the sharing of physical space, communication mechanisms, collaborative decision making, and organizational support (Dougherty, 2013). All these factors play a key role in ensuring that interagency collaboration is successful in its mandate.
It’s important that agencies are comfortable with each other and eager to share their skills and expertise to reach the common goal. This has various benefits in the collaboration process. The first benefit is that it fosters a common understanding, which is considered one of the elements that lead to success in collaboration. Studies have revealed that consensus is the major predictor of the effectiveness of interagency collaboration. In this context, a consensus is defined as the extent to which the collaborating agencies agree on needs and methods (Atkinson, 2007). The consensus that results in success has various elements such as clarity of strategy, the commitment levels, and objectives. With consensus, the process of selecting a lead agency is simplified. In addition, the allocation of roles and responsibilities becomes easy.
Performance monitoring is another benefit accrued when agencies are comfortable with each other. Performance monitoring, by definition, is the ability of agencies to monitor and evaluate progress based on the clearly set objectives. This also results in the success of the collaboration. Even though collaboration has become the main approach used by governmental and non-governmental agencies to achieve their objectives, lack of performance monitoring can inhibit the achievement of the goals (Atkinson, 2007). Effective collaboration enables organizations to design approaches for effective monitoring of progress, which results in the change of strategies whenever needs arise.
Organizational culture is believed to be the predictor of commitment at the organizational level. In the context of interagency collaboration, commitment arises when agencies are comfortable with each other. It facilitates the easy movement of staff within the partner agencies besides creating an environment where the staff can openly talk about the problems they have encountered to ensure that effective solutions are found (Aarons, Fettes & Chaffin, 2014). Because the agencies are comfortable with each other, they usually provide managerial support to the staff, which further promotes staff commitment. The supportive environment encourages staff to strive to ensure that the outlined goals are achieved. This ensures the success of interagency collaborations.
When agencies are not comfortable with each other, collaboration fatigue can easily emerge. The fatigue can create an environment where staffs from one agency are not willing to work with other staff. Consequently, collective participation in the decision-making process becomes impossible. In such circumstances, problems such as the redundancy of roles, mismanagement of resources, and the design of ineffective strategies can arise. Agencies become active participants in collaboration only when they are comfortable with each other (Aarons, Fettes …& Chaffin, 2014). In absence of the comfort, they become inactive participants, which results in collaboration ineffectiveness. Discomfort arises from the collaborative initiatives being too many leading to organizations lacking time for other organizational activities.
Communication is a key element that facilitates interagency collaboration, in which the governmental and non-governmental agencies assume various roles in a single project. All the elements of successful interagency collaboration, which lead to effective decision making, are based on the effectiveness of communication. It is through effective communication that effective relationships are established. Such relationships ensure that collaboration has a common purpose, the development of purpose with high levels of clarity, and the clear trading off between the equally legitimate and competing demands. Communication ensures the understanding of various elements of collaboration together with integration which assists the collaborating agencies to design an effective arrangement that facilitates the effective delivery of services through joint efforts.