Decision Making Processes in Interagency Projects

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A functional social service system plays a key role in creating socio-economic well-being. The social service systems in developed countries are well established. In these systems, government and non-governmental agencies collaborate to provide people with various services and incomes. Historically, the services provided have undergone an evolution in ethos, program approach, policy, and service orientation. The agencies are usually funded using specific approaches that focus on their operations, not cross-cutting issues. Since the 1970s, it became challenging for single organizations to provide services effectively.

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This led to calls for inter-agency collaborations. These collaborative approaches act as vehicles, facilitating the achievement of integrated service provision and establishment of holistic policy goals. The main objective of inter-agency collaboration is to overcome power concentrations, improve outcomes for service beneficiaries, and promote the resolution of complex issues arising in service delivery. The collaboration of agencies on 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 inter-agency collaboration demonstrates that communication plays a key role, especially in the building of relationships within these collaborations. Studies in this field have revealed that effective communication enhances the client-worker relationship. As such, communication eliminates the need for clients to constantly update agencies about ongoing issues. For decisions to have a meaningful foundation, it is vital that clients understand each agency’s role in a project. Staying updated with the services provided by the agencies is also crucial for members of large organizations to ensure an effective response to questions and the needs of clients (NSW,2010).

When communication reflects the leading agency’s perspective in inter-agency collaboration, the relationship between workers from these collaborating agencies is enhanced, especially during the implementation phase of joint initiatives. This is because effective communication ensures explicit discussions of practices, outlining philosophical differences and finding a common ground of operation. Consequently, the role of communication extends beyond the sharing of client-related information. To be considered effective, communication must encompass discussions about practice differences and the approaches that agencies will use to develop shared understandings. It is also imperative that agencies know the roles of other service providers. This knowledge ultimately eliminates the need for clients to use these services as sources of information (Friedman, Reynolds & Kaufman, 2007).

Effective communication is significant as it improves the decision-making process, sets realistic expectations for staff, and encourages the adoption of comprehensible rules. This cultivates effective collaboration between agencies. Furthermore, communication facilitates the sharing of ideas, joint reviewing of goals, and the highlighting of approaches. This ensures that the responsible agencies take preventative measures against staff turnovers, budgetary constraints, and policy reforms in ways that do not threaten inter-agency collaboration. To prevent staff turnovers, it is crucial to adopt an approach that garners the views of clients and involves their collaboration in the development of initiatives geared towards addressing the problem (Friedman, Reynolds & Kaufman, 2007).

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Agencies should take on the role of implementing efficient case reviews for staff and identifying cases that have not been addressed for a long time. This enables agencies to ascertain whether additional interventions are needed. Such measures ensure that workers perceive interagency effectiveness positively. It also fosters the belief among employees that even though the task is complex, it is manageable (NSW, 2010).

Different partners need to work together in various ways, depending on what they are trying to achieve. The task at hand, which the collaborating agencies are to handle, dictates the nature of the leadership adopted. The context of the 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 practiced. This means that leadership in interagency collaboration differs from the traditional styles of leadership. From the perspective of agency collaboration, 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 (Darby, 2014). For a collaboration to have effective leadership, interactions between individuals and networks must exist. The differences in the skills of each member ensure that the tasks at hand are managed effectively.

Shared leadership requires certain precautions to be taken. When leadership is shared without taking necessary precautions, several humanitarian problems can arise. Research on interagency collaborations involving the UN has revealed that there is usually a lack of understanding of integration among the staff involved. Most organizations that the UN collaborates with believe that integration can distort the differentiation between 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 climate of mistrust 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 interfere with the process of communication. The reason is that such obstacles create cooperation barriers. Politics also result in 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 facilitates effective management, improved capacity building, and increased collaboration.

Even though most research primarily focuses 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, 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 operational value play a major role in enhancing the effectiveness of collaboration (Kempster, Higgs, &Wuerz, 2014).

Knowledge plays a significant role in the success of agencies. It also plays a pivotal role in interagency collaboration effectiveness by ensuring that effective approaches are applied to interagency projects. A series of research has highlighted that leveraging the skills of staff enables agencies to enhance 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 could present a significant challenge (Kempster, Higgs, &Wuerz, 2014); therefore, each agency should adopt the necessary measures to overcome these challenges.

The effectiveness of collaboration is primarily dependent on the clarity of various contextual issues. Even with effective leadership, a lack of clarity can compromise the ability to pursue common goals, thereby hindering successful collaboration. As per the team reasoning theory, working towards a common goal involves team members each reasoning in terms of their team. They prefer the establishment of a common goal in which each member plays a role to ensure that the common goal is achieved (Rose, 2007). In the absence of clarity, individual team members can’t understand their roles and how each of them fits into the provision of a specific service.

The allocation of resources and time to each agency also affects collaboration effectiveness. Less bounded collaborations have both positive and negative impacts. The positive impacts include a broad scope for identifying needs, selecting appropriate actions, and establishing extensive collaboration. The negative aspects include a lack of clarity, uncertainties, and ineffective lines of communication. Therefore, when an interagency collaboration lacks clarity in approach and strategy, organization leaders may assume that the involved staff have the same goals in mind and are working in the same direction (Rose, 2007). Thus, clarity is essential because it eliminates such assumptions and ensures that inflexibilities are overcome.

Clarity can be ensured by maintaining continuity of personnel in the collaboration process and addressing issues that can lead to staff turnover. With continuity, employees develop constructive relationships, which eases the management of teams. As employees develop these relationships, they can explain roles to each other, which enhances clarity. Organizations with a history of collaboration should be allowed to work together because their mutual experience enables them to build effective collaborative protocols, thereby promoting role clarity (Rose, 2007).

Lack of clarity is caused by weak leadership in teams. With weak leadership, developing a common theme becomes impossible. This leads to ambiguous roles and a lack of clear direction, resulting in gaps in service provision to clients. Additionally, it’s difficult to balance between team membership and staff’s profession, especially when the line between collaborative roles and ordinary job roles becomes blurred (Sloper, 2004). Clarity ensures recognition of separateness between team members, which helps in maintaining professional identities. It’s crucial for individuals to have time dedicated to their skills during the collaborative process.

Clarity plays a pivotal role in establishing good communication lines. It ensures that team members share concepts and engage in dialogue to establish a clear definition of perspectives. This is essential for developing a common goal and facilitating the establishment of professionalism differences as a positive outcome, leading to cohesive service provision to beneficiaries. Without clarity, addressing problems arising from profession differences becomes challenging (Sloper, 2004). Such problems may include tensions resulting from feelings of marginalization among some team members because of their profession.

In interagency collaboration, numerous factors can necessitate trade-offs for effective collaboration. One challenge is inadequate resources between collaborating firms. One way to address this challenge is by trading off individual company missions, values, and objectives. This trade-off is a unifying approach that encourages organizations to overlook their differences and adopt relevant policies to effectively collaborate. The trade-off enables identification of duplicative roles, which can lead to resource wastage and compromise achievement of common objectives (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008).

Establishing effective collaboration requires time and effort. Therefore, collaborating organizations must allocate time to ensure quality time is dedicated to establishing interagency collaboration structural elements such as formation of functional units at service and supervisory levels. Collaborating firms should consistently dedicate quality time to review the progress achieved and revise ineffective strategies (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008). Such initiatives strengthen trust among agencies and enhance commitment to ensure a common goal is achieved. Furthermore, they enable agencies to identify agency-specific elements that could lead to collaboration ineffectiveness and devise effective strategies to overcome the challenges presented by those elements.

Another significant trade-off is the retention of key positions in the collaboration to deter employees with the crucial expertise from intending to leave. When there’s staff turnover in strategic positions, achieving objectives can become challenging (National Technical Assistance & Evaluation Center for Systems of Care, 2008). Hence, collaborating agencies and organizations should devise measures to prevent their employees from resigning. These measures could include assigning employees leadership roles aligning with their expertise and implementing effective employee remuneration.

Interagency collaboration requires the resignation of authority from lead agencies to other agencies, in order to benefit from the shared responsibility of all agencies. The relinquishment of power helps eliminate hierarchical differences between agencies. Thus, efforts should be made to ensure that the members of each agency are provided with maximum input (Dougherty, 2013). This approach can enhance successful collaboration. To minimize the chances of misunderstanding resulting in the lack of role clarity, the use of language among the agencies involved should be consistent. This can be achieved through a strategic planning approach, which determines who performs a specific role and how that role will be performed. Trade-offs are crucial to facilitate the sharing of physical space, communication mechanisms, collaborative decision making, and organizational support (Dougherty, 2013). All these elements play a key role in ensuring the success of interagency collaboration.

For effective collaboration, it is important that agencies are comfortable with each other and willing to share their skills and expertise in order to achieve common goals. This approach has several advantages in the collaboration process. Firstly, it fosters a shared understanding, which is considered a cornerstone for successful collaboration. Research has shown that consensus is the primary determinant of the effectiveness of interagency collaboration. Here, consensus refers to the level of agreement among collaborating agencies on requirements and methods (Atkinson, 2007). Elements of successful consensus include clear strategy, strong commitment levels, and well-defined objectives. With consensus, the process of selecting a lead agency is simplified and role allocation becomes effortless.

When agencies are comfortable with one another, performance monitoring becomes a natural benefit. By definition, performance monitoring is the ability of agencies to monitor and evaluate progress according to the clearly defined objectives. This is also a contributing factor to successful collaboration. While collaboration has become the major approach used by governmental and non-governmental agencies to achieve their objectives, the absence of performance monitoring can hamper goal achievement (Atkinson, 2007). Effective collaboration enables organizations to design strategies for efficient progress monitoring which allows change of tactics whenever necessary.

Organizational culture is believed to predict commitment at the organizational level. In an interagency collaboration setting, this commitment is realized when agencies are comfortable with one another. It not only facilitates the fluid transfer of staff between participating agencies but also creates an atmosphere conducive to open discussions about challenges, ensuring effective solutions are identified (Aarons, Fettes & Chaffin, 2014). Since the agencies are comfortable with each other, they often provide managerial support to their staff, further enhancing staff commitment. This supportive environment motivates staff to strive for the successful realization of the outlined goals, ensuring the overall success of interagency collaborations.

When agencies are not comfortable with each other, collaboration fatigue can easily emerge. This fatigue can create an environment where staff from one agency are unwilling to work with others. Consequently, collective participation in the decision-making process becomes impossible. In such circumstances, problems such as role redundancy, resource mismanagement, and ineffective strategic design can arise. Agencies become active participants in collaboration only when they are comfortable with each other (Aarons, Fettes …& Chaffin, 2014). In the absence of this comfort, they become inactive participants, resulting in collaboration ineffectiveness. Discomfort arises when there are too many collaborative initiatives, leading to organizations lacking time for other activities.

Communication is a key element that facilitates interagency collaboration. In this setup, governmental and non-governmental agencies assume various roles in a single project. All elements of successful interagency collaboration, leading to effective decision-making, are rooted in effective communication. It is through such communication that productive relationships are established. These relationships ensure that collaboration has a common purpose, development of that purpose with high levels of clarity, and a clear trade-off between equally legitimate and competing demands. Communication ensures the understanding of various elements of collaboration and integration. This understanding assists collaborating agencies in designing effective arrangements that facilitate service delivery through joint efforts.

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Decision Making Processes in Interagency Projects. (2019, Aug 13). Retrieved from