Evaluation of suicide prevention activities

10.5 DoHA administrators' perspectives of NSPP program efficiency

Page last updated: January 2014

Staff from the DoHA State/Territory Offices (STOs) and Central Office (CO), who are responsible for administering the NSPP-funded projects, were asked to comment on the efficiency of the program in terms of program administration and the consistency of NSPP administration model with the DoHA National Alignment process (DNA).

10.5.1 Program administration

For most STO and CO staff, NSPP-funded projects comprised a relatively small component of the total number of contracts that they were responsible for overall. Consequently, they reported that the administration of the NSPP projects was not particularly problematic in terms of their total workload. However, they identified a number of barriers to efficient administration:
  • Resource constraints made it difficult for DoHA staff to have the level of engagement with projects that they felt would be ideal. For the most part, their interaction with the project staff focused on contract management issues and they did not have capacity to provide much practical support or advice to project staff.
  • Teleconferences were the main source of communication between projects and DoHA staff. While a number of STO staff reported making annual visits to meet with project staff, CO staff reported that they did not have the budget to do this, which made it difficult to develop an in-depth understanding of the projects. STO and CO staff reported that some project staff were more proactive than others in providing updates to DoHA or seeking advice.
  • Relatively high levels of staff turnover within the STOs resulted in a loss of corporate knowledge that was frustrating for project representatives who were required to repeat information about their projects to new STO staff.
  • Some of the smaller projects had difficulty getting their reports in on time. Generally however, projects submitted their deliverables on time and without difficulty, by virtue of the fact that they had been funded for a sufficiently long period of time such that any issues with the process had been resolved.
  • In some cases, smaller NGOs were not able to produce reports to the standard required by DoHA. As one interviewee noted, 'the public sector and private sector communicate differently'.
Suggestions from STOs and CO for improving the efficiency of project administration included:
  • Providing guidelines for project administration that cover practical information such as what to do with under-spends, what to do if projects do not submit their reports on time, etc. It was indicated that such guidelines exist for other funding programs.
  • Provide more resources to the STOs and CO to enable more 'hands-on' support for projects and facilitate site visits.
  • Consider changing the reporting templates to ensure they are consistent with the Australian Accounting Standards as specified by the Australian Accounting Standards Board (note that further detail of the nature of the discrepancies was not provided).
  • Reduce the number of funded projects to reduce the administrative burden.
  • The planned change to an online grants management system (see Section 10.5.2) was expected to improve efficiency.
One respondent commented that it was inefficient to have NSPP-funded projects administered through eight different offices (seven STOs plus CO), and that administration would be streamlined if all projects were administered from one office. Another commented that CO would be better able to focus on setting suicide prevention policy direction if they did not also have to administer project funding. Top of page

10.5.2 Consistency of NSPP administration model with the DoHA National Alignment process

The term 'DoHA National Alignment' (DNA) encompasses a range of changes within the Health and Ageing portfolio that are intended to transform the Department into a contemporary, best-practice organisation that is 'both capable and flexible'. The two key projects within the DNA include the Database Alignment Project (which aims to improve efficiencies within data collection, storage and analysis processes) and the IT Governance Project (which will implement a formal approach to the governance of all IT work across the Department, thereby reducing duplication and better supporting the future needs of the Department).88

Another key change occurring through the DNA program is the consolidation of 159 programs into 18 flexible funds. This change is intended, over time, to reduce red tape and provide increased flexibility to respond to emerging issues and deliver better value for money with quality and evidence-based funding.89 As part of the NSPP evaluation, STO and CO staff were asked to comment on the alignment of the existing NSPP administration with the DNA process.

The DNA process was generally viewed as a promising development that would lead to improved administrative efficiency. However, many interviewees at STO level felt that it was a difficult transition phase that was increasing the administrative burden. One interviewee reported that team resourcing had been reduced prematurely, in anticipation of the efficiencies that the DNA would deliver. Another reported that the SAP financial management changes had created more work for the team (but did not provide details).

Several respondents reported that the shift to a flexible funding model had not affected the NSPP administration yet as there had been no new funding rounds in recent years. Indeed, STO staff generally felt that they had minimal involvement in funding processes or decision-making for the NSPP, so a move to flexible funding was not likely to impact on them. However, they spoke positively about changing to an online grants management system, which is expected to occur in the near future. They anticipated that this would result in less paper-work and improved efficiency. Most respondents felt that they received an adequate level of support from CO to navigate the DNA changes.

Key findings

  • A potential improvement identified by STO and CO staff was that they undertake site visits to funded organisations in order to better understand the work of these projects. This was seen as particularly valuable given the relatively high turnover of STO staff and consequent absence of corporate knowledge.
  • STO and CO staff believed that the DoHA National Alignment (DNA) changes will lead to more efficient administration of the NSPP projects; however these benefits have not yet been realised.

88 Suicide prevention sector staff, personal communication via email, 26 February 2013.
89 Department of Health and Ageing, Annual Report 2011-2012, DoHA, Canberra, 2012.