01 August 2022

This toolkit organises and presents many solutions to give public servants dealing with cross-agency problems an easy way to find the type of solution that might be most appropriate. 

Ngā papa The layers 

Above the image are the words: The horizontal layers classifly the approaches according to how many agencies are involved and in what way. The image is of a rectangle split into 3 layers. The top layer represents a few agencies at national level, taking a systems approach within sectors. The middle layer represents most/all agencies at national level, system leadership roles. The third layer represents working together at the frontline or community level, organising around customer and place.

Te whānuitanga The spectrum 

The range of system design approaches should be understood as a spectrum of increasing intensity in cross-agency working from ‘soft’ (voluntary) to ‘hard’ (structural reorganisation).  

In the ‘middle’ are various approaches that involve greater commitment or mandated engagement without structural changes.  

The spectrum can be seen as a loop where once structural integration takes place, agencies are back to operating separately. 

Te Kete Rauemi The Toolkit

Putting the spectrum and the layers together gives us the following range of approaches — an example is provided for each.  

The image is table matrix with 4 rows. The top row is divided into 3 kinds of solutions: Soft, Middle and Hard. Each solution has 2 options.  The left-hand matrix column lists 3 situations. 1: A few agencies at a national level. There are 2 Soft solutions: Agencies planning separately; and Voluntary coordination (Natural Resources Sector). There are 2 Middle solutions: Shared responsibility (Justice Sector Board); and Collective accountability (Border, Executive Board, Social Wellbeing Board). There are 2 Hard solutions: Semi-structural integration (Social Wellbeing Agency); and Structural integration (MBIE — merger of 4 agencies). The second situation: Most or all agencies at national level. There are 2 Soft solutions: Agencies functioning separately; and Voluntary Club (gen). There are 2 Middle solutions: System leadership commitment (Government Legal Network); and System leadership governance (Govt Chief Digital Officer). There are 2 Hard solutions: Internal regulator/monitor (Treasury); and Shared functions (System leader for procurement). The third situation: Working together at front line or community level. There are 2 Soft solutions: Agencies delivering separately; and Co-location (Auckland Policy Office). There are 2 Middle solutions: Collective impact network (Integrated service response for family violence); and Collective impact board (South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board). There are 2 Hard solutions: Federated services (Smartstart); and Delivery vehicles (Whaikaha).

The process

The first step for public servants using the toolkit is to establish what level the problem operates on.

Based on your understanding of the problem and context, the descriptions of when different solutions are used should guide you along the spectrum.

Within each solution, arrangements for agreeing on Goals/Outcomes, Governance Models, Ministerial Relationships, Incentives and Funding illustrate how an effective model may be structured.

The solutions

The solutions described in the toolkit are ‘ideal types’ but they are not rules or prescriptions. They, and the process, are meant to be flexible and iterative:

  • different solutions may be appropriate at different stages in the initiative’s life cycle
  • some problems may operate at multiple levels and solving them may involve combining approaches
  • similarly, solutions from the same level may be combined to create a more layered and proportional response.

Key considerations

When deciding to pursue cross-agency working agencies need to be sure the benefits of doing so will outweigh the costs, and this should remain a key consideration when moving along the spectrum. Drivers of progression from soft to medium to hard might include:

  • whether you are looking for responsibility or accountability. The medium solutions involve a shift from a sense of responsibility — which is fine in voluntary arrangements — to accountability to someone else
  • the tension between collective and agency interests — the greater the tension the more likely formal arrangements and/or external governance will be required
  • the current state of working together — the level of communication, trust and previous working between parties is a key factor in the success of collaborations
  • the required durability of the cross-agency arrangement — ‘soft’ solutions tend to be less durable as they are more reliant on the interest of key individuals
  • how many parties need to be involved in key decision-making arrangements — the effectiveness of collective decision rights and funding arrangements tend to decrease as the number of decision-makers increases.

Other considerations in implementing your approach should include:

  • The type of agencies in the collaboration. The Public Service Act 2020 introduced interdepartmental executive boards and interdepartmental ventures because Public Service agencies (all legally part of the Crown) could not make legally enforceable agreements with each other. Other types of entity such as Crown entities or non-government organisations have no legal problem making binding agreements with each other and with departments 
  • Governance and delegations. If chief executives delegate, they must make sure that their delegates have the authority to take the decisions and do the work of the collaboration. Collaboration cannot thrive if some at the table lack authority to act  
  • How secretariat or backbone functions are established to support the spirit of the collaboration. If the biggest player provides all the support, it can make other participants less inclined to contribute. This was a key factor in the decision to host the Social Wellbeing Agency in a central agency, moving the functions from the Ministry for Social Development. 

Detailed guidance on the Toolkit

System Design Toolkit — Detail (PDF, 318 KB)

Further guidance and case studies: System Design Toolkit for shared problems  

Find further information on Public Service system leaders: System leaders

Use the system architecture and design glossary

This glossary uses a mix of legal definition, conventional interpretation and additional description to help you understand system design and architecture terms.

System architecture and design

Appropriate structures, strong governance and clear accountability help the Public Service and wider public sector organisations to work together to deliver better outcomes for the public.

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