Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Waterhouse, JM & Keast, RL 2011, 'Is the public sector ready to collaborate? Human resource implications of collaborative arrangements',15th Annual Conference of the International Research Society for Public Management (IRSPMXV), Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 11-14 April, IRSPM.


Relational governance arrangements across agencies and sectors have become prevalent as a means for government to become more responsive and effective in addressing complex, large scale or ‘wicked’ problems. The primary characteristic of such ‘collaborative’ arrangements is the utilisation of the joint capacities of multiple organisations to achieve collaborative advantage, which Huxham (1993) defines as the attainment of creative outcomes that are beyond the ability of single agencies to achieve. Attaining collaborative advantage requires organisations to develop collaborative capabilities that prepare organisations for collaborative practice (Huxham, 1993b). Further, collaborations require considerable investment of staff effort that could potentially be used beneficially elsewhere by both the government and non-government organisations involved in collaboration (Keast and Mandell, 2010). Collaborative arrangements to deliver services therefore requires a reconsideration of the way in which resources, including human resources, are conceptualised and deployed as well as changes to both the structure of public service agencies and the systems and processes by which they operate (Keast, forthcoming).

A main aim of academic research and theorising has been to explore and define the requisite characteristics to achieve collaborative advantage. Such research has tended to focus on definitional, structural (Turrini, Cristofoli, Frosini, & Nasi, 2009) and organisational (Huxham, 1993) aspects and less on the roles government plays within cross-organisational or cross-sectoral arrangements. Ferlie and Steane (2002) note that there has been a general trend towards management led reforms of public agencies including the HRM practices utilised. Such trends have been significantly influenced by New Public Management (NPM) ideology with limited consideration to the implications for HRM practice in collaborative, rather than market contexts. Utilising case study data of a suite of collaborative efforts in Queensland, Australia, collected over a decade, this paper presents an examination of the network roles government agencies undertake. Implications for HRM in public sector agencies working within networked arrangements are drawn and implications for job design, recruitment, deployment and staff development are presented.

The paper also makes theoretical advances in our understanding of Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) in network settings. While networks form part of the strategic armoury of government, networks operate to achieve collaborative advantage. SHRM with its focus on competitive advantage is argued to be appropriate in market situations, however is not an ideal conceptualisation in network situations. Commencing with an overview of literature on networks and network effectiveness, the paper presents the case studies and methodology; provides findings from the case studies in regard to the roles of government to achieve collaborative advantage and implications for HRM practice are presented. Implications for SHRM are considered.

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