WACOSS welcomes the opportunity to respond to the State Commissioning Strategy discussion
paper. A more strategic, rigorous and transparent approach to commissioning of social services
delivered by the public and community sectors in WA has the potential to significantly improve
outcomes for our community. If it is done well – with coordination and consistency across
government agencies and underpinned by the development of robust and consistent data on service
need, coverage and outcomes – it should give citizens and Cabinet confidence that public resources
intended to support our community are being efficiently and effectively directed to make a real
difference, particularly for our most vulnerable. As we are better able to measure service and
population outcomes across programs, agencies and portfolios, we will collectively develop the
capability and insight to shift the dial on early intervention and prevention, and reduce the growing
cost of crisis services.
It is critical that we get the systems and processes right to ensure that strategic commissioning
delivers on its potential to be a game changer in WA. This includes ensuring transparency and good
governance, with clarity of roles and responsibilities for key players (including central government
agencies, peak bodies, commissioning agencies, service users and service providers, researchers and
evaluators, local and regional networks and communities). We need a collaborative approach to
building our shared capability over time to co-design services and measure, analyse and report on
outcomes over time that is underpinned by trust and mutual respect and enabled by social and data
To get to this point we need a realistic and sustainable pathway, that balances the desire to do
things properly with the need to get things happening. We need to ensure some easy wins that build
on what is already being done well, measuring the outcomes and return on investment of existing
collective impact initiatives and putting in place integrated ongoing contracting and reporting
arrangements. We need to prioritise existing programs and services overdue for renewal, and
identify the best places to co-develop and evaluate new outcome-based service models; and to build
the evidence over time on prevention and early intervention and effectively track reducing demand
and cost of crisis services.
We are concerned that a business as usual approach relying on existing contracting processes and
engagement mechanisms in individual Government agencies will not get us where we need to go.
We are currently lacking the confidence, capability and culture to implement strategic
commissioning effectively, and we need a shared path to build the practices and expertise we need
in co-design, outcome measurement and evaluation. However, we are also excited by the
opportunity that strategic commissioning can provide dedicated staff across the public and
community sectors to work to a common purpose to the benefit of our community in a way that
makes our work more meaningful, exciting and rewarding.
The six issues outlined within the Discussion Paper represent a comprehensive cross-section of the
challenges which the State Commissioning Strategy (SCS) will need to address. WACOSS has
responded to all eleven Consultation Questions within this paper. However, we highlight three crosscutting points which we believe are critical to the success of the development and implementation of the SCS.
- Longer-term, systematic approach to social research and outcomes measurement.
As outlined in our response to Consultation Question 8 in particular, it is critical to develop a longer-term, well-resourced, system-focussed strategy for social research and outcomes measurement. We also need to invest in analytical capacity, models and trials that allow for longer-term tracking of meaningful outcomes. An outcomes-based approach simply must be resourced appropriately, and build upon genuine collaboration between the sector and government, and this has to be reflected in the commissioning process. This approach must include:
- An acknowledgement that we currently don’t know what we don’t know. There is an unsupported assumption throughout the Discussion Paper that the sector needs to improve. However – do we really know which services or programs are better or worse? What is good, where the gaps or points of failure are? What makes up efficient, appropriate services and how they should be resourced in operating and investment terms?
- A systemic approach to social research, understanding and, relatedly;
- An ability to leverage the work undertaken by universities, and to harness their skills and capacity, in order to develop effective and efficient, systemically focused, research models, that are implemented as research programs over a longer term horizon. It will also be important to institutionalise the learnings so that the fullest possible value is garnered of the investment made.
- Appropriate, proactive and iterative implementation of the Community Services WA Outcomes Measurement Framework (OMF), as outlined in the Guide to Implementation
developed by WACOSS in the first phase of development;
- Removing barriers to data linkage in WA;
- Developing a system that engages and provides a framework for effectively managing the multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder complexity, including stakeholders such as the
Commonwealth, other state governments, research institutions and the community sector.
- The role of Peak bodies.
Peak bodies are uniquely positioned with a particular expertise, connectivity and technical experience to help government understand what is ‘good’ and what represents value for money. Additionally, these organisations are repositories of institutional knowledge and experience. Involvement and investment in these organisations helps in a very large way to ensure the intellectual property and experience developed over time is retained and leveraged rather than lost through demographic change. As such, peaks are a part of the system and so any genuine, effective systemic response will include them as they provide a valuable link to the sector, an objective yet insightful perspective in terms of community services, and can support the government in co-design and in co-evaluation and measurement. Peaks can also represent a sector perspective and facilitate insights from frontline practice that is independent of the commercial interests of any particular provider. Finally, the development of a genuine systemic response that is longer-term focused will ensure alignment of all system components (including peak bodies) as, in the end, all interests are focused on achieving the whole of system outcomes we know are critical for WA.
- Capability building.
It will be critical to develop a multi-faceted approach to building capability across government and the sector. The traditional forms of training, workshops and one-to-one support will continue to be an important element here. However, it will be important to facilitate secondments, mentoring and cross-departmental, organisational and institutional learning opportunities as our recent experience has highlighted the incredible value here for increasing cross-sectoral understanding and creating opportunities for genuine collaboration and ideas development. It also needs to include the development and fostering of specific roles and units across Treasury, DPC, Department of Finance and line agencies in order to build genuine collaboration within and outside of government while also ensuring effective translation of rhetorical intention to practice.
WACOSS’ full submission to the 2021 State Commissioning Strategy can be read here: SCS – WACOSS response – V9