Participants and providers
as partners ?

The NDIS is challenging the notion of partnerships and collaboration across Australia. Putting the principles of the NDIS into practice is not a short-term venture and the commercial reality of the new world is drawing lines between funders, participants and providers. The transactional nature of the funder-purchaser-provider model contributes to an ‘us and them’ mindset but does the NDIS also represent an opportunity to redefine collaboration and partnership?

Establishing common ground between people accessing services and people providing services, might also establish different ground for system advocacy. Imagine a scenario where design flaws and systems failures are placed in front of service providers and service purchasers as a shared problem, instead of placed between them on the funding battlefield. Cancellations and transport funding are two such challenges that spring to mind.

Is it possible that ‘customers’ and ‘suppliers’ could work together for the greater social good rather than be defined by the system and pitched against each other? When a person  accesses multiple service providers there must be a way to for providers to work collaboratively in the best interest of the individual while safeguarding that person’s right to privacy. There must be a way to ensure effective hand overs so people can have continuity. These are common problems regardless of the size of an organisation or the types of services it provides. They are shared problems for people with disability in so much as if the procedures fail in either instance, the person with disability can’t get a service they have chosen. Where are the best practice guidelines for handovers, wait lists, referrals under the NDIS?

The lived experience of people with disability is vital and the business experience of providers is valuable in finding ways to tackle issues in a collaborative way focused on solving problems rather than apportioning blame. For some people, this cooperation is also an important safeguard. For example, people disability within the justice system, or people with complex needs or challenging behaviours who may need specialist providers to mobilise collectively to give

How could it be done. What are the mechanisms for collaboration between participants and providers? Can provider and participants work together to challenge the funders? Some ideas to incrementally increase the volume and effectiveness of the combined voice include joint submissions to public policy makers and system designers, joint media activity, codesign of procedures, invitations to speak at events on each other’ metaphorical turf… This approach of course assumes there are common values and principles to govern any such collaboration and that there would be a willingness to share information and experiences.

Knowledge is most definitely power in a scheme where being on the front foot and being first provides market advantage or expedites or maximises planning outcomes. Service providers are having to balancing competitive advantage and disclosure. Individuals have to get through the system themselves and many are supporting others through peer to peer networks.

These barriers to partnerships and collaboration represent a risk to both people with disability and service providers. Both at are risk of being subject to the scheme, and the relationship between them is at risk of being reduced to merely a financial one. It remains to be seen whether this common ground is possible. Can ‘customers’ and ‘suppliers’ trouble shoot system-wide problems for the greater social good, rather than be defined and pitched by the system as opposing sides of a funding equation?

If the NDIS were to become a set and forget strategy, defined by the prevailing economic winds it should be of equal concern to people accessing services and those that want to provide them. In order to influence the scheme administrators and funders, participants and providers need to work together to identify the gaps and weaknesses within this still young scheme and perhaps band together to challenge them.