Cross Sectoral Collaboration - A Case Study by Dr Catriona MacArthur


Tackling our most complex social issues needs a joined-up approach, bringing the resources and skills of multiple sectors and organisations.  However, collaboration is hard work, requiring people and organisations to behave differently, to share resources, risks and power. Effective partnership working needs motivated individuals willing to lead the work, and a supportive system that enables new ways of working.  

Dr Catriona MacArthur, a former senior civil servant in the Western Australia government, had the opportunity to test the effectiveness of cross-sector working when, in 2013, she took on the role to establish the first community-driven, cross-sector collaborative initiative of its kind in Australia. The South West Metropolitan Partnership Forum (SWMPF) brought together 80 individuals and organisations from the public, community, voluntary, private and civic sectors to work collaboratively to build the capacity of the most disadvantaged communities in Western Australia.  

Within three years, the SWMPF succeeded in significantly improving social outcomes (in particular, dramatically improved health and emotional well-being, school attendance, and significantly reduced crime and anti-social behaviour) in the target communities, as well as achieving improved efficiencies by pooling resources and reducing duplication.

In 2016, the Institute of Public Administration of Australia (WA) presented the SWMPF with two Achievement Awards, for ‘Best Practice in Collaboration between Government and Non- Government Organisations’ and ‘Innovation in the Not-for-Profit Sector’. The model has since been replicated throughout Australia and beyond.

Dr MacArthur has created a case study based on her experiences, saying: 

"I hope my experience as outlined in the following pages may assist others – in government as well as the voluntary and community sector – to implement their own cross-sector collaborative initiatives in pursuit of improved social outcomes. Each collaboration will, of course, be tailored to the particular local circumstances in which it is operating, but the lessons learned from the SWMPF – both successes and failures – may be widely applied and adapted, as needed".

The case study looks at the critical success factors behind the SWMPF initiative: 

  • leadership from government - state policy makers set out to transform the relationship with the third sector into a genuine partnership, creating policy and funding arrangements to enable government and the third sector to work as equal partners in meeting shared priority objectives; 
  • leadership from the public sector and voluntary and community sector representatives involved, who were willing to test a new way of working, to cede individual or organisational ‘power’ to the collective, and to take informed risks because they recognised that ‘business as usual’ was just not delivering the necessary outcomes on the ground; and 
  • leadership from the communities that became actively involved in the partnership, participating as equal partners with government and third sector representatives in service planning and decision-making. 

In a second report, Dr MacArthur considers how the lessons learned from the Western Australia model might be applied in Northern Ireland. She shares her personal reflections and vision for a more outcomes-led and joined-up approach across government and the voluntary and community sector, in pursuit of improved social outcomes.  

Both of the reports and a short summary of each can be downloaded on this page.