Myths and Realities of public purpose partnerships: Annual Forum Podcasts

We’re all in this together – Myths and realities of public purpose partnerships

The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp relief the importance of what many working in the public purpose sectors have known for years – that coming together and working collaboratively is essential for making a positive difference across our communities. The problems faced are simply too complex for any one sector to solve.

Public purpose organisations from the government, community, professional services, and university sectors have long worked together in the pursuit of public value, but experience tells us that these cross-sector collaborations aren’t as productive and effective as they could be.

What holds us back from forming high-impact partnerships? Is it that our values aren’t aligned? Do we perceive the motives of others as different to our own? Is it simply poor communication? Or …?

At last year’s Annual Forum, Delivering public purpose work in the next economy, we put public purpose partnerships under the microscope. Facilitated by Ben Schramm, Managing Partner of the purpose driven consultancy the Cube Group, participants and a panel of speakers from across sectors explored the myths we need to bust and the realities we need to embrace in order to build better partnerships.

Participants were presented with 6 statements – each intentionally provocative – describing some aspect of public purpose partnerships.

Ben Schrammthe idea is to discuss some of the undiscussable, the elephants in the room, that we often think but don’t say as it relates to public purpose partnerships. Put them on the table, talk about them, and say well if they are myths, let’s bust them together. If there’s limiting beliefs, let’s find a way to overcome them. Some of them are pretty provocative but they’re designed in a way that is constructive and positive and hopefully we can identify some pathways together that are positive for us.

The objective? By better understanding the unique contexts of the public purpose sectors and each other’s perspectives, we can work better together for greater impact.

Using coloured tokens, participants voted on whether they considered each statement to be closer to a myth (blue) or closer to reality (yellow).

The statements and the voting results are presented below. Results are presented first for all participants, and then for the Brisbane audience and the regional audience (which includes Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Toowoomba).

  1. Professional services firms are ultimately about commercial returns. When it comes down to it, they put profit before purpose.

             Reality 77% – Myth 23% (ALL)

             Reality 78% – Myth 22% (Brisbane)

             Reality 76% – Myth 24% (Regional)

  1. The tertiary sector is too theoretical and slow to move. It’s difficult to translate academic research and language into ‘real-world’ policy and practice.

             Reality 62% – Myth 38% (All)

             Reality 55% – Myth 45% (Brisbane)

             Reality 76% – Myth 24% (Regional)

  1. Partnerships are a ‘nice to have’ for the community services sector – a higher priority for NGOs is to unlock funding and generate revenue that secures their financial futures.

             Reality 52% – Myth 48% (All)

             Reality 49% – Myth 51% (Brisbane)

             Reality 59% – Myth 41% (Regional)

  1. We may want long-term shared solutions to complex problems, but media, community and ministerial scrutiny draws us into our organisations where we are held to immediate account.

             Reality 85% – Myth 15% (All)

             Reality 88% – Myth 12% (Brisbane)

             Reality 81% – Myth 19% (Regional)

  1. It’s great to talk about partnerships and shared outcomes, but public service rules, regulations and ‘red tape’ are blockers. It’s not easy to do business with bureaucracy.

             Reality 79% – Myth 21% (All)

             Reality 76% – Myth 24% (Brisbane)

             Reality 86% – Myth 14% (Regional)

  1. The public service leans too heavily on professional services to undertake the core policy and strategy work of government.

             Reality 45% – Myth 55% (All)

             Reality 43% – Myth 57% (Brisbane)

             Reality 50% – Myth 50% (Regional)

Five of the six statements were regarded as realities rather than myths with statement #4 topping the list – over 8 in 10 participants agreed that we may want long-term shared solutions to complex problems, but media, community and ministerial scrutiny draws us into our organisations where we are held to immediate account.

Having laid bare these results, a distinguished panel explored these findings and shared their advice about how to overcome the challenges posed.

Key messages of the discussion included:

  • do the work upfront to build relationships and trust; it takes time but is essential
  • keep the focus on the purpose, the objective; don’t let contracts and transactional issues distract
  • above all – lean in to these partnerships. Across all of the myths and realities that we spoke about, that was really a pervasive message. It’s a bit of a call to arms and call to action that you can do it – Ben Schramm.

Click here to view the podcasts with Ben (Part One and Part Two).

Lisa Siganto – (then) Director of QUT Bluebox, Executive Chair of ImpaQt Qld, Chair and Co-founder White Box Enterprises and Founder of Shorebirds, former Deloitte partner – representing the corporate and social enterprise sectors

On corporate interests and partnerships – Corporate foundations come in and have sponsorship programs and pour lots of money into stuff that’s only really relevant for the corporate but not super relevant for the longevity of the community organisation. When you’re starting, you need to work out – where are the aligned interests?

Adam Fennessy – (then) Ernst & Young partner, former Victorian Public Service Secretary and IPAA Victoria Deputy Chair – representing the public and professional services firm sectors

You do get so much more when you open things up and bring in other voices, other perspectives. That’s the benefit of diversity. But in a professional sense, when you have public servants working alongside not-for-profits, community groups, corporates, consultants, you do get a diverse view if you can design it in the right way and always think – we’re here for the community and we’re spending taxpayer dollars, then you can get amazing outcomes.

The best partnerships I see that work well – and this is the private and public partnerships coming together – is where we think, what are we trying to do here, what is the purpose we’re trying to achieve?

Karyn Walsh – CEO of Micah Projects, Chair of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, and long-time social justice champion – representing the community sector

I think that often the community sector can be involved in the beginning, then there’s long periods of silence, and then there’s a tender. I think we need to get back to the days when tenders were not the focus. Really, working together, if we want a solution, and what’s the work we need to do to put that to the powers that be…. When we’re always talking around what will ultimately be a competitive tender, it doesn’t draw the best out of anybody. If we could actually look at the social problems that we want to solve earlier.

Click here to view the podcast with Lisa, Adam and Karyn.

To watch the full panel session, join as a member and access the full back catalogue of IPAA Queensland event video recordings.