A new agenda of non-mandated human service needs demand local government’s attention. Food security exemplifies these complex and multi-level sustainability challenges that are not clearly defined, articulated or addressed. This research examines how the fit (or misfit) between government levels influences local government’s capacity to respond to this challenge. A constructivism ontology and epistemology, explored through a case study methodology and corresponding qualitative data collection methods (in-depth interviews, primary document analysis and secondary data analysis), provides an appropriate platform to explore the multiple perceptions about this fit. The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation’s Food For All program (2005-2010) and the Victorian Department of Health’s Food Access and Food Security Policy Development project (2009-2011) are used as case study exemplars to explore these concerns. A heuristic capacity assessment framework, synthesised and expanded from scholarly literature, analyses the relationships between the external environment and internal organisational capacity of local government, as mediated by capacity building partnerships. The research found that while strategically designed capacity building partnerships can build local government capacity to respond to complex sustainability challenges, gains in capacity are significantly overshadowed by the lack of internal and external fit between government levels that limits local government’s capacity to respond. This thesis argues that implementing feedback loops for local government to share its valuable experience and knowledge with higher government levels would improve fit and strengthen institutional capacity. It further argues that tensions between increasing capacity and role discovery need to be resolved so that local government can improve its performance and reinforce its identity as it adopts responsive roles. Such resolution requires the support of council leadership and senior management and the facilitation of integrated planning across departments. This research contributes new knowledge about the relationship between institutional capacity, local government and food security.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2014.