Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC)
Place of Publication
School of Psychology and Social Science
The initial impetus for this project arose from concerns about responses to ‘anti-social behaviour’, especially by young people, in and around rail stations. The primary goal of the research was to develop a collaborative approach that provided a more constructive and integrated response that would produce benefit for local communities, for the Public Transport Authority, and for the young people themselves. In practical terms, this involved:
• Development of interagency collaboration processes to support agencies with diverse goals to participate constructively without loss of autonomy;
• Identification at a local level of the common issues of concern, their causes, and more integrated collaborative approaches to their prevention;
• Identification of areas in which agencies have similar goals and useful operational synergies;
• Identification of situations in which organisations have different goals and priorities and identification of the implications for interagency collaboration; and
• Identification of strategies and joint activities that would enable disparate agencies to work together in mutually supportive ways without compromising their individual goals and purposes.
This research project was funded by six organisations and had 28 participating agencies. Funding was provided by the Office of Crime Prevention (OCP), the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia (PTA), The City of Armadale, the City of Gosnells, the City of Joondalup and the City of Swan. Key participating staff included: PTA transit guard managers; local government community services managers; local government detached and out-reach youth workers; local government youth work team leaders and staff; Department of Community Development staff, including representation from Aboriginal affairs; shopping centre managers; staff from non-government youth work agencies; a representative from Police Crime Prevention; representatives from shopping centre security management; OCP crime prevention advisors; representatives from the Education Department and alternative education providers; and local government planners. The research comprised four individual projects. Each project was undertaken at one of four rail environs identified by the PTA as having a high level of adverse incidents: Armadale/Maddington, Gosnells/ Kelmscott, Joondalup and Midland. The project processes were similar in all locations. Outcomes were strongly positive in all four locations. The types of outcomes, however, reflected the differing mix of participants, interests, goals, and expertise of participating agencies, and the specific problems identified by participants in each location.
The research was located within an action research framework. It combined social action and soft systems approaches to support the collaborative design and implementation of integrate Interagency collaboration involves complex social interactions. Additionally, issues of power and control create tensions between participants that reduce the potential for solutions to emerge or to be implemented. Social action methods offer a solution-focused approach that uses social group processes to help participants to gain a more complex understanding of other participants’ perceptions of issues in ways that minimise the adverse effects of the power relationships. The increased level of understanding and reduced tension provided the basis to develop and test interventions that improved the situation for multiple stakeholders.
Interviews and focus groups were used to help participants share information about their agency’s roles goals and priorities and to gather initial information about participants’ perceptions of problems, their causes and their relative priority in terms of each organisation’s goals. Soft-systems methods were used to guide data gathering, interpretation and presentation back to participants. The use of the soft-systems approach helped ensure that a broader systemic understanding of problems was made available to participants. The ‘mess’ of data gathered from interviews and focus groups with participants was distilled by the researchers into ‘rich pictures’ that were presented back to participants and provided the basis for discussions about agencies’ differences in perspective and organisational goals. These ‘rich pictures’ also provided the basis for agencies to identify potential local operational synergies and arenas in which agencies’ goals overlapped.
Young people were not directly involved in this research. The primary focus of the research was on improving interagency organisational functioning rather than youth work per se. Individual projects, however, involved some agencies undertaking youth work in their normal agency roles. Participating youth workers felt able to represent young peoples’ perspectives based on their interactions with diverse groups. Where youth workers believed they could not do this, they gathered additional information from groups of young people and fed this back in the project. Interventions developed by agencies had to be sustainable beyond the life of the project and undertaken within existing budgets plus very small amounts of ‘seeding’ money. Genuine participation of the full cross-section of young people was impossible in terms of the financial and time constraints. Direct participation by young people would have been tokenistic. Additionally, it would have reshaped the project into youth work.
Participants identified a range of successful, useful and practical outcomes from the interagency collaboration approach developed in this research. For example, networks developed between the transit guard manager, transit guards and youth and community organisations enabled practical problems faced by young people to be resolved. This built trust between agencies. New collaborations enabled the PTA community education team to gain better access to schools and youth groups for their track safety and anti-trespass educational programs. In one locality, the collaboration resulting from the research project led to an ongoing pilot collaboration between the PTA and DrugARM WA to address issues of intoxicated young people on trains. In another location, the research project led to the identification of a problem that some young people stay on night trains because it is unsafe for them to go home, especially at weekends. Project participants collaborated to develop a long-term plan to press for a local emergency shelter for young people.
The evaluation of the interagency collaboration approach developed in this research indicates it offers benefits in a wide range of contexts. The approach has application in the very large goals work independently without knowledge or understanding of other organisations that have potential to help or hinder their work. In particular, the approach offers the benefits of personal support to the individuals participating. It enables effective collaboration between organisations with disparate goals without loss of autonomy, and it successfully prevents domination of smaller and less powerful organisations by larger and more powerful organisations.
A relatively surprising outcome was the strength of the benefits resulting from the way that this interagency collaboration approach facilitated organisational learning. Increased organisational learning was identified as a key outcome by participants in the final evaluation of the project. At all four locations, there was increased understanding by agencies of the operational priorities of other agencies. All participating agencies gained knowledge about how other agencies operated and were able to use this information to more effectively further their own organisational goals and avoid inadvertently causing problems for other organisations. Additionally, participants reported increased organisational learning about their own agency that provided the basis for improving its functioning and outcomes.
The evaluations of the interagency collaboration approach developed and tested in this research project indicates it offers significant benefits applications across a range of rail related and other settings. This interagency collaboration approach is applicable across the population and public spaces (i.e. not just young people and not only rail environs). Significant benefits would be expected in reducing problems at any node where people gather. Typical hot spots likely to benefit from synergic interagency collaboration using this approach include bus stations, late night public traffic nodes such as Fremantle Markets, taxi ranks, and, especially, major public social events. An obvious future application is to use this interagency collaboration approach to reduce potential problems in the environs of the new Southern Rail line between Perth and Mandurah. This new rail line passes through suburbs in which there are expected to be similar levels of problems as addressed in the four locations in which this interagency collaboration approach was trialled.