Collaboration in practice: lessons from a youth unemployment initiative

Stream: Funding and organising service delivery
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.10 pm


The changing nature of organisations and the increasing complexities of social issues means that collaboration between groups is essential. Collaboration is generally agreed to be a solution to address “wicked problems” or social challenges, such as unemployment or youth disadvantage. However, despite considerable scholarly agreement about the factors contributing to successful collaboration, how collaborations play out in practice is not well understood.

In this paper I explore a live collaboration initiative to better understand the factors, chain of events and actions that lead to ‘healthy’ collaboration. Notably, the research not only shows us what makes a collaboration succeed, but also factors that lead a collaboration to fracture or halt progression.

The paper draws on findings from an evaluation of a collaborative initiative aiming to address youth unemployment through educational participation. The research used a case study method and data collected through one-on-one interviews and email feedback from members of the collaboration to explore how the initiative functioned from the perspective of the stakeholders involved.

The findings show that the initial design stage is critical, as early design issues meant that the program did not reflect the needs the participants. This resulted in collaboration and timing problems, which compounded to form a situation which halted the collaboration. Our research provides an example of how dimensions of collaboration that are or are not working well for an initiative can be identified, and how partner organizations can use systems-thinking to understand how their collaboration functions to better address the complex issues they face.


Isabella Saunders (Presenter), Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney
Isabella is a Researcher at the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW. Her research aims to address social issues through cross-sector collaboration, outcomes measurement and an understanding of how systems and programs work. Isabella has a combined Bachelor’s degree in Communications and International Studies from the University of Technology Sydney, where she majored in Social Inquiry and Latin American Studies. Isabella has had qualitative and mixed-methods research experience in the fields of employment, young people and social disadvantage, both in Australia and overseas.

Jack Noone, Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney
Dr Jack Noone has a vision to create better outcomes for disadvantaged people by fostering more effective collaborations. His research agenda, experience in measurement and evaluation, cross-sectoral networks, and extensive project management experience, assist to fulfill CSI’s mission to foster beneficial social impact. Jack’s research cuts across a range of areas including collaboration, health, financial wellbeing, employment and retirement planning. He has extensive expertise in the measurement of social outcomes and has taken the lead on evaluation projects as well as providing advice to both industry and social policy makers. He also has excellent applied leadership and organisational skills.

Fanny Salignac, KEDGE Business School
Dr Fanny Salignac is an Affiliate Researcher at the Centre for Social Impact and an Assistant Professor at Kedge Business School. Driven by her passion for social justice, Fanny aims to be a catalyst for change and global social impact. Fanny works towards understanding how to address complex social problems and processes for a better society (e.g. partnerships, collaboration and co-production). Her expertise spans across areas of Social Change, Impact and Policy; as well as Business Ethics, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility. Her work focuses primarily on financial resilience and wellbeing, collaboration for social impact and outcomes evaluations.

Ariella Meltzer, Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney
Ariella is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW. Ariella specialises in complex qualitative research to improve social outcomes. She was Project Manager on CSI’s recent Inquiry into social impact investment for housing and homelessness outcomes and was part of forming the systems thinking approach to understanding social impact investment in this project. She also has a particular interest in research with vulnerable groups, such as people with disability and young people, and in how both inter-personal relationships and different structural, service and funding conditions can promote improved outcomes in social and economic engagement for these groups.