News  |  Governance

Meet in the Middle for Cross-Sector Success

Wednesday, 26th August 2015 at 9:41 am
Xavier Smerdon
It’s hard to get different sectors working together. There is often a power imbalance that leads to a one-sided conversation and an ensuing lack of enthusiasm from the other party, writes social impact analyst Emma Tomkinson.

Wednesday, 26th August 2015
at 9:41 am
Xavier Smerdon



Meet in the Middle for Cross-Sector Success
Wednesday, 26th August 2015 at 9:41 am

It’s hard to get different sectors working together. There is often a power imbalance that leads to a one-sided conversation and an ensuing lack of enthusiasm from the other party, writes social impact analyst Emma Tomkinson.

This is evident when language is used that blames those with less power for the inability of the partnership to meet in the middle. For example, in the field of social investment, one of the key issues discussed is “investment readiness”. A debate at the 2014 Social Finance Forum in Toronto was on investment readiness versus investor readiness, acknowledging that both sides of the market need to make adjustments in order to work together.

Likewise, we’re seeing a rise in Indigenous procurement, with the Australian Government recently announcing that 3 per cent of new domestic Commonwealth contracts will be awarded to Indigenous suppliers in 2019-20.

There’s a lot of work going into building the capacity of Indigenous businesses to deliver these contracts, but there isn’t quite the same focus on building the capacity of procurement officers to procure from Indigenous businesses.

On 13 August the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and the Curtin Not-for-profit Initiative (Curtin University) brought together a panel including academics, Not for Profit, private sector and government. Their task was to focus on the impediments to – and the potential of – working effectively across sector boundaries to find solutions to complex social policy problems. Co-convenors of the event, Dr John Butcher and Professor David Gilchrist summarised the event for Pro Bono News Australia.

Save the Children Chief Executive Officer, Paul Ronalds, saw that in order to understand the inherent incentives of all collaborators, we need to understand who is making decisions and what is driving them. Our sectors are not made up of stupid people making terrible decisions, but rather of people acting rationally in response to the incentives of their environment. We can do all the pilots of great new ideas that we like, but unless we address systemic barriers, we will not progress.

Professor Robyn Keast, from Southern Cross University, has studied several cross-sector collaborations, and found that successful collaborations spent a lot of time agreeing on processes at the start and getting to know each other. She found that personal relationships were essential to progressing complex projects and that committing time up front to establishing these relationships paid off in the long run.

Cassandra Wilkinson, Director of The Human Capital Project, proposed that when addressing complex social issues we simply don’t have the information we need to prescribe service models and prices at the beginning. She proposed we try alliance contracting – collaborating on developing the deliverables of the contract and their prices as the contract proceeds. She asked, if we can use alliance contracting to deliver difficult road and rail contracts, why can’t we apply it to the infinitely more difficult task of supporting people in need to achieve the lives they want?

Professor Peter Shergold AC, Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, said there’s a real difference between what people want for themselves and what governments want to do to them and for them. Simon Rosenberg, CEO of Northside Community Service Inc., pointed out that those delivering services often speak of “hard to reach” clients instead of wondering why they are delivering “hard to access” services.

The Cross-sector Working event managed to convene a cross-sector selection of speakers and a cross-sector audience. Hopefully it will help inform further cross-sector discussions – conversations truly between parties about how they can move forward together.

About the author: Emma Tomkinson is a social impact analyst living and working in Sydney, Australia. She is particularly interested in the role of impact measurement in evidence-based policy, including policy related to social investment. She created the Social Impact Bond Knowledge Box for the Centre for Social Impact Bonds at the UK Cabinet Office and also developed the social impact bond concept for application in New South Wales, Australia. She currently works with a range of social purpose organisations.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers?

Get in touch at

Get more stories like this


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


COVID-19 – Challenges facing the not-for-profit sector in Australia


Thursday, 2nd April 2020 at 7:45 am

Charity leaders unite to lead sector through COVID-19

Maggie Coggan

Wednesday, 1st April 2020 at 6:04 pm

The values that can guide us in these changing and challenging times

Rachel Clark

Thursday, 26th March 2020 at 8:12 am


Government temporarily doubles unemployment payments amid COVID-19 outbreak

Luke Michael

Monday, 23rd March 2020 at 4:43 pm

Calls to extend coronavirus supplement to DSP recipients

Luke Michael

Tuesday, 24th March 2020 at 5:03 pm

Government unveils stimulus support for charities

Luke Michael

Monday, 23rd March 2020 at 5:36 pm

The hidden crisis of COVID-19

Maggie Coggan

Tuesday, 24th March 2020 at 5:24 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook

Get the social sector's most essential news coverage. Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

You have Successfully Subscribed!