Modernizing Public Sector Cooperation

This is one of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Model.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb



The Speed of Progress

The world is changing, advancing, and evolving so quickly that people often feel they can’t keep up. There are new technologies, new environmental challenges, and new social norms and expectations that seem to come at us so quickly, we struggle just to stay on top of everything. This is a challenge in our everyday lives, so you can imagine how difficult it is for governments to stay on top of everything. Governments and their departments have fixed mandates, budgets, and deliverables. This process often makes governments struggle to be quick to act not only because of their sheer size, but because they are designed to specialize. A government department is really just a large team of specialists who are required to hold up their end and focus on their area so the larger government can properly function. This is how governments have always been, and for the most part, this has worked well to get us to where we are today. The problem with the governments being a collection of specialist teams is that when big changes, opportunities, technologies, and population shifts happen, they are not always able to recognize and readjust internally to respond.

The value of collaboration is not lost on governments

We can all agree that the benefits of cooperation and collaboration are universally well known. Everything from “more hands make less work” to “power in numbers” are common phrases we hear and use on a regular basis. It is very likely that most governments understand the benefits even more than most people. Governments are always trying to improve the lives of their citizens within the finite means and resources that they have to work with. In fact, the core effort of most politicians is to do as much as they can for their voters without making things harder for them, like raising taxes. So, if there was ever a sector that needed to be an authority in leveraging resources, expertise, innovations, and efficiencies from cooperation and collaboration, it is the public sector. The desire to work together very much exists in governments. There are initiatives and strategies that exist from the municipal government level, all the way to the federal level. We hear terms like; Municipal Cooperation, First Nations – Municipal Partnerships, Municipal Modernization, Interprovincial Initiatives, and Interterritorial or Pan-Canadian Cooperation Projects that refer to these efforts to foster collaboration and cooperation. The question is, are they properly equipped to deliver on these ideals?

The Challenges of Public Sector Cooperation

There are some real challenges when it comes to governments working together. The most notable being that they do not naturally create an environment for collaboration. In most municipal governments, there is a nature of competition that pits municipalities against each other. They tend to compete for provincial funding, attracting businesses and new residents, and are often territorial with their boundaries and resources. It is sometimes even worse in provincial and federal governments. Due to their sheer geographical size, they sometimes have a very competitive nature and tend to create a noticeable Silo Mentality. The Silo Mentality as defined by the Business Dictionary is a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same organization or with the same mandate. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operations, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive organizational culture.

These challenges are completely counterproductive to the environment needed to create a culture of innovation and collaboration. This culture is needed to leverage partnerships, funding, and expertise to create more value, impact, and services required to meet the needs of a growing population and an evolving world.

The Good News: The tools for cooperation do exist

The tools needed for collaboration and cooperation do exist today, and they can create a change in the competitive and siloed environments in which most governments work. The most important piece to get the process started is strategic intent, a business concept focused on being bold and progressive through a tactical approach towards growth and innovation. To learn more about strategic intent, read this Harvard Business Review article.

The next step is understanding your options for a collaborative structure. Our previous articles in this series clearly layout the tools of Collaborative Enterprise Models that are a foundational place to start when implementing a collaborative strategy. Are you looking to build a Consortium, create a Collaborative Partnership, form a Mutual Structure for Social Benefit, leverage a Quality Network, use a Prime Contractor relationship, or acquire the collective intelligence from Crowdsourcing? Please refer to these resources.

Next is a crucial element to any collaborative effort; placing a real focus on relationship management. This involves being intentionally aware of the needs, perspectives, and expectations of those who you are collaborating with. There needs to be a certain level of personal relationship management happening between the individuals in the collaboration and a certain level of organizational relationship management that happens between the groups, to ensure effective communication and alignment are at the center of the effort. There is even a valid argument for hiring or designating a person or team dedicated to managing the relationships in the collaboration. We at Roman 3 Collaborations call this role a Collaboration Commissioner. When a large collaboration is created for a service delivery there is a lot of focused placed on managing the service, but little to no focus placed on managing the collaboration. If there was someone focused on keeping the partners involved, engaged and holding up their end, it would free the group hired for the service delivery to stay focused on the service, and not on the politics of managing the collaboration. Often even if the service is of value, if the collaboration breaks down it ends the whole initiative.

For more information on Relationship Management, check out this previous article I published on LinkedIn Pulse.

The last piece that is needed for collaboration is the willingness to properly invest in the required resources for a successful effort. This can look like the management of the organizations allowing the required staff time to properly commit to the collaboration, dedicating the proper political capital and communication to the long-term vision of the effort, appointing a Collaboration Commissioner, or hiring the proper number of people to deliver quality work. It can also mean properly investing the funding to do the job right and being willing to engage and hire the experts from the private sector to properly manage or provide the essential expertise. It is mainly about being willing to invest in the implementation, not just purchasing studies. It is also important to invest the required time. Do not look for quick wins, or force projects to be on election cycle timelines. Progress takes time, and without the commitment to the long term, you will only get short term band-aid solutions.

The Takeaway

Cooperation and collaboration within the public sector are going to be critical for governments’ ability to meet the needs of their citizens and residents. Nevertheless, there needs to be a dedicated and intentional effort to change the culture of governments to allow for proper cooperative efforts. In order to do this, governments need to be tactical in their efforts, use the proper collaborative framework, manage their relationships, and be willing to invest in the collaboration. This includes being willing to not only draw on the expertise of both public and private sectors but also fund implementation strategies rather than just studies and reports.


Roman 3 is a solution and consulting firm that specializes in inspiring progressive action, creating a culture of innovation, and assisting organizations in implementing transformative change. We help you build capacity, collaborate, be progressive, and grow to your full potential. For more information on our services and support check us out at 

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