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Cross Agency Collaboration in the Criminal Justice System

This programme was developed to address critical strategic challenges in the Criminal Justice Sector in Ireland so as to enhance sectoral leadership and public value. A cross agency collaborative learning and implementation methodology was used. High profile reviews of deep seated cultural and procedural challenges have inspired this programme. The IPA and agencies across the criminal justice system have taken an innovative approach to collaboration, learning and implementation. .

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The need to find new ways of working across the criminal justice sector in Ireland became more urgent following a number of high profile reviews, which clearly articulated systemic and deep-seated cultural issues and challenges

It was recognised that a key strategic change and leadership challenge in enabling senior leaders to park organisational allegiances would be to build trust with partners in other agencies and to work collaboratively to resolve common, strategic problems. By doing so they strengthen their chance to find more sustainable, innovative, ground breaking ways to improve service quality, efficiencies, outcomes and critical to the criminal justice sector, to, restore public confidence and trust in the criminal justice system.

What did we do?
In a three-way collaborative design process, the Strategic Committee of the Criminal Justice Sector, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Institute of Public Administration developed a programme of multiple interventions and supports to aid change at the collective and sectoral level. This enabled change and development at the individual and organisational level

We developed a process to bring together senior leaders across all agencies in the criminal justice system to resolve common, strategic problems.

Participants worked in cross agency groups to identify through an evidenced based approach, new ways of thinking about a number of strategic challenges the sector faced and to identify new ways of working.

The mix of interventions were designed:
• Challenge established patterns of behaviour, thinking and working by incorporating a range of fresh perspectives.
• Build understanding, trust and thus relationships and a partnership approach across the agencies of the sector, essential in collaborative working.
• Provision of a process of problem solving involving all agencies in the sector to review key strategic issues and dialogue about the various interpretations of the problems and the best solution for a cohesive, systemic, sectoral resolution.
• Provision of an avenue for unifying the diverse participants around a common purpose- an element critical to effective collaboration.

• Extensive involvement and support provided by the strategic committee for the sector and project sponsors ensured accountability and a systemic approach.
• Success in implementation was enhanced through the involvement of citizen perspective in planning. Key stakeholders were involved using an evidenced based approach and holistic thinking and planning.
• There was a focus on building relationships across the groups to enhance understanding and trust and group learning. This was complemented by a focus on individual leadership development. All participants received a thorough 360-degree leadership diagnostic and individual and group coaching.
• Conviction and confidence in own leadership thought and practice was developed to ensure system benefits from wider range of voices, perspectives and commitment in delivering fundamental change and in thinking regarding the delivering of better services, outcomes and public value.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

In the criminal justice system, problems were addressed at an individual and organisational level , and not at a cross agency and strategic level. Previously there would have been duplication of effort on various occasions, different IT and data systems, poor use of data through lack of visibility and poor use of existing systems especially in data gathering and using data to help joined up decision-making. Prior to this initiative, processes did not help people to work in a truly collaborative way i.e. through solving problems without allegiance to their own organisation. This process enabled the building of basic understanding of each others organisations unique contributions and roles. In order to develop leadership capacity and change in the criminal justice sector, the process was used to address deep seated service delivery problems and each organisation was enabled to trust and a sense of interdependency.

What is the current status of your innovation?

With the inaugural programme, we are at the stage of sharing and presenting lessons learned to key stakeholders and a wider audience across the public sector. These lessons and recommendations may influence strategic priorities for the sector and subsequent cross agency programmes. For the next cross agency leadership programme, we are currently identifying new strategic problems to underpin the learning and implementation process for 2018/2019. We expect to evaluate the next programme in ten months’ time. The recommendations stemming from the strategic group projects as part of this programme will be tried and tested over the coming months through various policy formation and decision-making channels.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The purpose of this programme was to help generate more citizen focused decision-making and service delivery. Citizens will ultimately benefit from organisations working in a more coordinated, streamlined and cohesive way. Government officials were fundamental in initiating; developing, driving, managing and participating in the programme and in ensuring lessons and outcomes are transferred to the sector.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Citizens – Services and policies better reflecting the needs of a diverse and contemporary society and more thoroughly capturing the complexity of policy development and implementation.

Government Officials – The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s understanding of more appropriate skillsets, tools and behaviours to continue working in a more joined up collaborative way to address future challenges.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Business Level – cross agency teams undertook projects to identify steps and solutions to enhance policy formation and implementation. Project processes emphasised evidenced based decision making and holistic thinking. Joined up recommendations were shared with sectoral strategic committee through a written report and presentation of projects. Actionable recommendations covered a broad range of areas, potentially enhancing public awareness and education, strengthening legislation, and data sharing .

Relationship Level- the building up of a network of people across agencies in different functions is a key outcome and sign of success. consistent feedback across the cohort was the strengthening of understanding, trust and network created - the basis for good future collaboration and joint problem solving. The outcomes are more about innovation in thought, behavioral, and new ways of working. The process resulted in the generation of fresh perspectives and ideas on steps and solutions.

Challenges and Failures

The challenge in the process is building the relationships based on trust and respect to enable sharing of perspectives, information and full commitment to a common purpose. A ‘simple’ task of the group, who didn’t know each other at the time, was to choose a project theme from a range of options. Many immediately sought an ‘authority’ figure (programme director) to ‘tell’ them what project to choose. Others ‘entrenched’ themselves in their project camps and didn’t want to share with the wider group For collaboration and joint problem solving to work, the participants need a supported environment of openness and dialogue. This requires building a common purpose and willingness to share. This was the first evidence of the mindset and behavioural obstacles the participants and by extension, their colleagues in the system.

Conditions for Success

The partnership approach developed between the committee, the programme provider and the intermediary project team in the Ministry was key. The pragmatic openness and commitment to a common purpose of a successful programme ensured challenges were easily overcome and excellence in service was delivered.
A Co-creation approach was adopted as part of programme creation – this included involving not only stakeholders in programme development but participants- ensuring they had a voice in programme content and process and could lead out on delivering aspects if necessary.
Commitment by all stakeholders to ensuring success due to innate understanding of the need to try a different approach to learning, development, problem solving and change than had hitherto been the case..
A process is as good as those who are part of it and ‘you get out of something as much as you put it’- these sayings were clearly evidenced in this programme.


This model of working and learning and applying outcomes to the sector is highly relevant and necessary for a broad range of complex issues faced in society. It is ideally suited to ‘wicked’, adaptive or complex problems, where there are many interpretations of the problem and many ideas of the solution. These are the complexities and challenges our civil servants and public sector employees deal with on a daily basis. If we want to really address issues so that they don’t fester and magnify, if we want to really deliver a high quality, cohesive public service, people have to work together more, work across a proliferation of organisations and manage the multiple priorities and pulls on their time and focus by identifying quickly how they can work together and differently to get sustainable outcomes.

Lessons Learned

• Working and learning in different ways requires courage, commitment, support.
• Quite often smaller steps to take a more ‘trial and error’ approach to build confidence and broader commitment is needed and is a good approach as the learning from the process can strengthen not only the next iteration but the commitment to a new way of working.
• Solutions to complex issues are rarely stemming from one source but require interaction, engagement and collaboration with a broad range of people.
• “Keep your friends closer but your enemies closer” – in this way you can build understanding and appreciation of differences and it is the differences which strengthen the thinking and the outcomes.
• How sometimes it is the simple differences between people and organisations that can keep them miles apart- it takes one initiative, one person, one step to break the dynamic and build that bridge.
• When issues fall between the cracks, it is not because people don’t want to exercise leadership but because it is so hard to take a bigger perspective on issues. We don’t always see what is in front of us.
• Building a collaborative culture between organisations needs to start with developing the appropriate mindset in individuals, building a sufficient cohort of people agreeing practices and behaviours which support collaboration and innovation in problem solving and it requires encouraging collaboration within organisations, so that there is a platform to extend this mindset and set of behaviours to a more complex and broader arena, between organisations.
• How much people seek direction and see authority figures to make decisions for them. For people to demonstrate leadership, they need to conviction in themselves and self-reliance on themselves.
• How challenging it is for those deeply involved in delivering services (be it policies, services etc) for the public to keep the public at the forefront of what and how they work and deliver on those responsibilities

Year: 2017
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

6 November 2017

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