ANZSOG evolves to meet needs of changing public sector 

Ken Smith
  • Published Date: 19 October 2018

By Professor Ken Smith, Dean and CEO, ANZSOG 

Since our establishment in 2002, ANZSOG has had a simple mission – to shape the future of public sector leadership in Australia and New Zealand, and in doing so, ensure better outcomes for people and communities. 

The public sector is undergoing rapid change and public servants are facing increased pressure as they try to deliver public value in a more complex and demanding environment. In response, ANZSOG is changing what we do, and what we offer to our students, government owners and university partners.

ANZSOG’s work is based on a simple premise: that governments need to focus on public value the same way the private sector focus on shareholder value. Public value entails producing goods that are consumed collectively and valued by the public, such as our public health or education systems. 

Through ongoing engagement with our government owners, university partners, faculty, professional staff, students and alumni, we have identified several significant drivers of change in the new public sector environment that we must respond to. 

These public service trends include:

  • Declining trust in governments. This is a global phenomenon, and has an impact on all public officials, whether elected or appointed—it affects all the institutions of a democratic government. The causes are complex, but the decline in trust is a key issue that every public sector leader must factor in to their work.
  • The changing profile of public servants. An overdue focus on diversity and more flexible hiring practices, has resulted in a public sector with a broader range of backgrounds and experiences.  Diversity needs to be reflected not just in hiring but in changes in public service culture that ensure diversity results in improved public policy outcomes.
  • Evolving public expectations. This has been happening for a long-time, but in the age of the internet and social media, people are better-informed, more able to connect with each other and more aware of the impact of their views and/or complaints. 
  • Big data and analytics. This  change impacts  all public and private institutions, and public officials. As well as grappling with issues around privacy, public managers need to see public and private data as a resource which can be used for the common good. Beyond that, governments need to become more transparent in their use of data and technology, while involving the public in decision-making. These are two initiatives which will be vital for rebuilding trust.
  • Increasing importance of professional development. There has been a growth in the value of purpose-built or real-time professional development, and an increased understanding that investment in people is important and that education must be ongoing, impactful and self-directed.

The big question we face at ANZSOG and across the public sector broadly is: how should we prepare the public service for these new realities? The private sector is increasingly focused on ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ but are these models relevant for the public sector which has a different bottom line? How do we reconcile a traditionally risk-averse, process-driven culture with the need to be more agile and flexible?

ANZSOG is making several changes as part of a long-term strategy to 2025 to ensure we continue to adapt while maintaining the values that have made us a leader in our field in education, research, teaching and learning and innovation.

ANZSOG has more than 3,500 alumni, working across Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the world. The alumni is one of our strongest assets and we are working to involve them more in setting our strategy. The newly established Alumni Advisory Council recently met for the first time and will play a crucial role in advising us about future directions. They will help us ensure that we remain relevant to public sector practitioners and that the benefits of an ANZSOG engagement are fruitful long after a program has been completed.

Some of the changes include a new focus and new content for key education activities, a re-focus of our research program, greater engagement with the Indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand, and encouraging our students, alumni and government owners to have greater input into all our activities. 

Our Executive Fellows Program is a well-established three-week intensive course for senior public sector leaders. For the first time this year, Associate Professor Catherine Althaus, ANZSOG Deputy Dean (Teaching and Learning), will co-direct, alongside Robin Ryde who has been director of the EFP program for seven years. We have also engaged Professor Michelle LeBaron, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, who specialises in conflict transformation, dispute resolution, culture and resilience, to become a member of the EFP faculty. The EFP will focus on a ‘three countries, three cities model’ with teaching being held in Canberra, Singapore and Wellington.

Our Executive Master of Public Administration remains central to what we do – a demanding two-year program which gives participants a strong theoretical understanding of the public sector and a range of tools to tackle specific problems. The course will retain its focus on public value, but we are refreshing the content, trialing blended learning delivery methods and welcoming some new faculty. This year, Professor Janine O’Flynn has joined ANZSOG full time from the University of Melbourne and will be playing an important leadership role with the EMPA Director of six years, Professor Michael Mintrom.

We will ensure that our focus on immersive, interactive learning, which recognises that all participants bring a unique and valuable set of experiences to our programs, is retained. All programs will continue to combine intellectual rigour with practical insights and will retain unique value of connecting senior public managers from across departments, states and territories, and countries.

We are also refocusing our research program to ensure we produce work which has direct relevance to the public sector by addressing contemporary public administration issues. Our research funding has increased from $250,000 a year to $750,000, on the basis that every dollar is at least matched dollar for dollar by government, university, and other partners. We hope that this will result in up to $2.25 million for research into public administration and public policy issues each year. Professor Glyn Davis AC has agreed to chair our research committee, and will use his immense experience to ensure we continue to deliver unique research that improves public administration and policy.

All public services have a responsibility to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Māori peoples of Australia and New Zealand – and that will mean a change in the way they work, with a new focus on listening and working with Indigenous communities and understanding of knowledge and culture.

ANZSOG is on its own journey to improve its work with Indigenous peoples, which began with a Listening Tour in 2017. When we spoke to Indigenous people we heard a strong message that the public sector struggles to understand how it should work with them, and that we had a role to play in educating the public sector in both nations, and in promoting cultural awareness and competency.

To begin this process, we held a major conference in 2017 on Indigenous policy, jointly organised with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and will hold another in early 2019. We are also working to include Indigenous themes and content in our courses and our day-to-day operations.

The rapid changes the public sector is undergoing makes it even more important that we focus on our core values. We want to ensure that ANZSOG equips public sector leaders with skills that will be valuable right through their careers. While there is a huge, and valuable, debate about what those skills are, we know that future public servants will need to be comfortable with change, able to manage stakeholders, able to think strategically, to communicate and to get the best out of a diverse workforce.

But more importantly we need to back specific skills with established values. These include an emphasis on public value, ethics and integrity. We need public managers who understand the importance of what they do, and how to use the tools at their disposal to improve the lives of their communities.