In February 2020, more than 3,300 properties in northern and central England were damaged by flooding. But the situation would have been worse without the implementation of effective flood defences.
At the forefront of managing the British Government’s flood response was former Victorian public servant, Caroline Douglass. Since 2013, Caroline has worked with the Environment Agency (EA) where she is currently Director of Incident Management and Resilience.
The EA’s responsibilities include regulating major industry and waste, treating contaminated land, water quality and resources, fisheries - and managing the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, which is Caroline’s focus. “I run a department of about 350 people and we’re responsible for making sure that the EA is prepared to respond to floods and other emergency events,” says Caroline.
“At the moment we’re managing the response to COVID-19 and we’re preparing for the Agency’s response to England’s departure from the European Union. We are also preparing for potential flooding during the winter and recovery works are still underway for the February 2020 floods. Flood defences that were damaged are being restored – so it’s a busy time.”
Supporting Caroline’s public service career is the knowledge she gained from completing ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) in 2005. She had already completed a Bachelor of Natural Resources Management at the University of New England before starting her public service career in Victoria.
“The EMPA gave me an understanding of broader leadership and responsibility,” she said.
“I wanted to extend my learning. A colleague was part of the first EMPA intake and he got so much out of it. I wanted to learn more about how I could become the right kind of leader for the public sector.
“Being totally about the public sector, ANZSOG is quite unique. It gives you a fantastic insight into the way the public sector works that you are not going to get anywhere else.
“Not long after I completed the EMPA, I was promoted to senior executive service. It rounded out my thinking, broadened my insight into how the public sector works and allowed me to have conversations with people from other departments and to understand the issues we were all grappling with from a policy perspective. It built on my years of experiences on the job.”
The insights Caroline gained from the EMPA were easily transferable when Caroline moved to England with her husband in late 2011 after a lengthy 23-year career with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
“I was always interested in the environment and working in government. I like the idea of working on longer-term issues and knowing that you are doing something for the community and broader environment. I toyed with the idea of private sector consultancy but didn’t really like it, so I’ve stayed in public service,” she says
The two-year part-time EMPA is designed for emerging public sector leaders working in Australia or Aotearoa-New Zealand. The course specifically targets the public sector and explores public management, public policy, public finance, economics, public law and leadership.
“I remember one lecturer describing the public value triangle and explaining that to deliver value you need the right authority and the right capability. I still use that today if I’m thinking about incident management. I think about how I’m prepared going forward. What is the capability I need? What’s the authorisation I need and how do I get that? It’s grounded in my thinking,” says Caroline.
While her move to the UK means she is no longer in close contact with her EMPA cohort, Caroline says a valuable follow-on from the course is the networks that naturally form between students.
“When I was in Victoria I worked with the Commonwealth and other states on various issues and you come across people you were in the EMPA with and you have a connection, and they can connect you with other people you may need to work with. Those networks are very beneficial,” she says.
Caroline is an ANZSOG Alumni Ambassador and took up the volunteer role because of the value she feels she gained from the EMPA.
“For anyone who aspires to have a long-term career in the public service and to be a senior executive in public service, the EMPA gives you a good grounding and it explains how you can solve some of the complex issues that you deal with at senior levels in all sectors of public service.”
Caroline has no immediate plans to return to Australia and she is relishing the opportunities to gain insights into the vast public sector in the UK.
“Some local councils here are as big as the Victorian government!” says Caroline.
“Being close to Europe and the US I’m gaining a wider international perspective and a clearer understanding of the role of the UK government on the international platform. A couple of years ago I was involved in helping the hurricane response to the British Overseas Territories and playing on that international stage gives you the opportunity to learn how to deliver things in a different culture.
“I’ve also learned to adapt to the UK culture which is different. The Australian approach is forthright – we call a spade a shovel – but society here is a touch more polite!”
Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)
A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.
Executive Fellows Program (EFP)
A three-week program challenging senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.
Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)
A unique two-week program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.