ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration prepares public managers to lead

Image of a woman delivering speech in an EMPA session to audience in the hall.
  • Published Date: 06 February 2020

Being a public service leader is becoming more difficult – the pace is getting faster, the expectations higher and the problems more complex.

Teaching future leaders to create public value in difficult environments has always been the focus of ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA), and the course is continuing to be reinvigorated to ensure that participants complete the program with the critical thinking and leadership skills they need to thrive in the contemporary public service.

Associate Professor Zeger van der Wal – an academic at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy who teaches part of the EMPA - describes the new environment as the “VUCA world” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

In this environment public service leaders require a greater breadth of skills – the capability to think critically, strategically and at a systems-level, as well as skills including working with data, delivering place-based policy, leading diverse teams, working with stakeholders and communicating with a range of audiences. ANZSOG is working closely with Associate Professor van der Wal to embed ideas about the competencies of the 21st century public manager across its portfolio of programs.

The ongoing renewal of the EMPA is part of ANZSOG’s Strategy 2025 and is being spearheaded by ANZSOG Professor of Public Management Janine O’Flynn and ANZSOG Associate Dean (University Relations) Chris Walker. Dr Walker has taken over the role of EMPA Academic Director, while Professor O’Flynn is subject leader for the core subject Delivering Public Value.

Dr Walker said the evolution of the EMPA would be about the ongoing development of academic excellence and embedding that excellence within a global and regional framework.

“The mix of academic and practitioner expertise in the EMPA, and the depth and quality of that expertise, makes it an outstanding experience,” he said.

“The program is designed for the needs of practicing senior managers in the public service, and a key strength of the degree is that every aspect of it is embedded in the agenda of public services and the things they deal with every day.”

Dr Walker said that the core needs of the public service were changing fast and the aim of the course was to give EMPA graduates the analytical capacity to deal with current and emerging issues.

“Public servants are under pressure to manage a more diverse workforce, adapting to changing community attitudes about public service delivery and the significant impact of change from digitisation of the way services are delivered,” he said.

“We’ve got a very fractured political environment, dominated by a persistent core of challenging problems.”

He said that individual EMPA units were being tweaked to include more place-based learning and focus on local issues, as well as issues such as environmental economics, or social and economic disadvantage. Participants will also have a series of ongoing challenges to focus on through the course to give greater continuity to their learning.

Professor O’Flynn said that participants wanted the course to reflect the pressures and issues they were facing in their work, and give them new skills and ways of thinking to address them.

“Their environment is changing, and the type of intellectual and applied skills they need is also changing. So it is that double-whammy not just needing to do things with a different toolkit but the context in which you do it is also shifting,” Professor O’Flynn said.

“Our role is to work with participants to think about how we frame the problem, and how we confront those problems, and design ways to try and solve them in a context of a rapidly changing world.”

“The EMPA also develops leadership and critical thinking skills. The aim is for participants to be strategic and analytic across a diverse range of environments, to give them the tools to be more adaptive, and make better decisions about the deployment of resources.

Integrity, innovation and public value

Since ANZSOG’s foundation, its programs have focused on questions of public value, something that Professor O’Flynn said had become even more relevant with the decline in trust of government.

“The concept of public value will always have great staying power because it is relevant to the challenges that public servants face,” she said.

“The unifying concept of public value remains at the core of the EMPA, but how we think about and apply these ideas is expanding, as is the debate about how we measure public value, as the environment public servants work in is becoming more complex.”

In Delivering Public Value, the 2020 EMPA cohort will also be learning from leading practitioner and academic experts about critical issues such as artificial intelligence and robotics, Māori values in policymaking and implementation, how co-production can address complex urban challenges and the development a Treaty with First Peoples and the Victorian Government.

The EMPA is also increasingly focused on innovation. ANZSOG is working with Professor Rod Glover, from the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, and Professor Beth Noveck, from New York University and the US-based GovLab, to develop new programs teaching innovation. This work will be based on research carried out in 2019 which found a strong desire among public servants to be more innovative, and concern this desire was being stifled by organisational culture.

A collaborative style of teaching and learning is at the core of the EMPA.

EMPA students value the experience of being part of a high-calibre cohort and ANZSOG is increasingly using technology to provide more opportunities to collaborate.

Students work together remotely on challenges before the first face-to-face session of Delivering Public Value – allowing them to start forming bonds that will last through the course and long after it has ended.

ANZSOG’s alumni form a strong network across the public sector and the EMPA has increased its emphasis on using alumni in teaching, harnessing the skills and values developed during the program to help them connect with the newest cohort.

Expressions of interest for the 2021 EMPA are now open