Research partnerships between government departments and academic institutions can be extremely beneficial. Successful partnerships require a great deal of commitment, effort, trust and a shared understanding of the key challenges facing policy makers and university based researchers. However, often there is an uneasy and at times tenuous relationship between researchers and policy makers or between research evidence and policy formation. Research and policy makers are commonly described as living in separate worlds or “two communities” with different and conflicting cultures and values, different reward systems, languages, expectations and timelines. This paper details the experience of the Victorian Department of Education and Training as it embarked on three unique research partnerships with academic institutions to build an evidence base for informed policy development and effective decision making. To our knowledge these partnerships are the first of their kind in education in Australia. The paper examines the complex layers of the parallel universes of academic researchers and public sector policy makers and the interplay as they jointly shape a program of research and analysis. It provides results from survey and interview data with key staff from the department and lead researchers on the effectiveness of the partnerships. The paper will also identify examples of collaborative research under the partnerships that directly influenced policy and decision making. The paper concludes with recommendations for both governments and academic institutions for effective research partnerships.