Opinion: Is competition killing the sharing of ideas and cooperation?

Sandra Hills OAM, CEO, Benetas

Competition is here to stay. Nothing controversial in that statement. But will this have a positive, negative or neutral impact on community services, specifically aged care services?

Co-operation, the sharing of ideas, and partnerships, are part of the DNA of most community organisations. So if competition is here to stay, what does that mean for the way in which community agencies work with each other?

When I look back over my career, competition – whether it’s driven by a key individual(s), Government, by ambitious business goals, and/or the culture of a particular industry – has always been there.

In the 80s and 90s, contestability entered the lexicon of any Government-funded organisation that wanted to remain in business. Organisations were told that government wanted to steer and not row (Gaebler & Osborne, 1992), to focus on outputs and value for money, and to reduce the number of contractual relationships with funded agencies.

My recollection is that while some organisations moved away from a focus on sharing ideas and information, most did not.

Enter the 21st Century, and in the latter half of the first decade until now, successful providers needed to grasp and embrace customer choice, flexibility, client directed care, branding, and mapping the customer journey. Competition is stronger than ever, but what has happened to collaboration between agencies?

If I focus on my experience at Benetas, we have always taken the view that there is a very distinctive difference between sharing ‘commercially sensitive data’ (eg. a model of care influencing built design and rosters) and the sharing of ideas, concepts or results from trials and evaluations.

I believe we all benefit when we cooperate and learn from each other in order to improve and advance an approach, a concept, a framework and/or a practice.

As we head down the co-design pathway, I hear some of you say, “Government would expect that we work together as we are in receipt of around 70 per cent of their funding”.

I have experienced significant providers (both for-profit and not-for-profit) sharing and cooperating with each other, be it regarding policies, training initiatives or ‘picking an expert’s brains’ on the best way to approach a challenge.

In addition, many residential aged care providers regularly open up new facilities to allow others to visit and question the experts.

On some occasions when I provide advice on particular issues, I sense the recipient is keen to get started but does not want to do the ‘leg work’. This is certainly one of the pitfalls. Along with adapting your approach for different cultures and being unclear about your vision. In short, one size does not fit all.

If we turn our attention to the future, and ‘crystal ball gaze’, will our cooperation profile need to change?

Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO’s Data 61, gives us some insight into the future of collaboration in a recent interview for the AICD magazine. Turner, whose work is focused in the very cut throat world of Silicon Valley, states that “deep collaboration and almost perfect information sharing is the norm” (Turner, Dec 16 – Jan 17). He believes the outcome of this is that everything moves much faster, as time in not wasted on problems that have already been solved.

Turner believes Australians still have a win-lose mentality rather than a growth mindset of working together. He also believes that the risk averse culture that is currently holding us back will disappear with the next generation. Hmmm, quite a lot for us to think about as we strive to improve services to older Australians.

I believe there is much to engage and interest those who work in the aged care sector. Imagine what we could achieve if we worked more collaboratively on areas of interest? Competition will always be with us but the potential benefits for older Australians and the community more generally are endless.

Sandra Hills has been CEO of Benetas since 2009 and holds other leadership roles within the community including Anglicare Australia, National Aged Care Alliance and many government and community boards. 


Works Cited

Gaebler, T., & Osborne, D. (1992). Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Turner, A. (Dec 16 – Jan 17). Increasing global competitiveness. Australian Institute of Company Directors, p. 29


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