Bridging the institutional void: collaborating to solve wicked problems


Solving a problem with warring interests and no governance framework is a tall ask, but can be made easier by following a few collaboration guidelines. Diversity and interdependence are key to authentic dialogue.

There’s a Californian saying that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.

The American west’s long-running water wars have been exacerbated by the cross-jurisdictional nature of most waterways and the need to balance resources between one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, primary producers and the environment. “Those assumptions are often what make the wicked problems wicked.”

There are similar problems on the driest inhabited continent (minus the Los Angeles factor) where the most productive river catchment crosses three states and is subject to periodic droughts. Beyond water, Australia’s federated system means there are plenty of policy areas where multiple agencies and even governments need to work together to deal with complex, ever-changing problems involving varied interests.

Collaboration, then, is unavoidable. But that doesn’t make it easy.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.