Professor John Alford Farewelled

Professor John Alford Farewelled
  • Published Date: 30 August 2017

Retiring ANZSOG Professor of Public Sector Management John Alford has been farewelled at a function in Melbourne on August 22 that recognised his unique contribution to ANZSOG, the field of public management scholarship and to the thousands of students he has taught over his career.

He received tributes from his colleagues, public servants and academics across the world who have been influenced by him. ANZSOG Dean and CEO Ken Smith described Professor Alford as the ‘rock on which ANZSOG was founded’ and paid tribute to his contributions both in research and teaching.

Professor Alford has been part of ANZSOG since its foundation in 2003. He designed and directed its Executive Fellows Program (EFP) from 2003 to 2010, establishing it as a world-leading program for high-level public sector managers. He has taught “Delivering Public Value,” the first subject of the Executive Master of Public Administration for the past 13 years, and delivered numerous short courses.

A lasting legacy

One important contribution has been the creation of ANZSOG Case Library – which will be renamed the John L. Alford Case Library in recognition of his contribution.

ANZSOG Associate Professor, and current Case Program Director, Michael Di Francesco said that the Case Library had been created from scratch at a time when there were very few similar resources in the world, let alone one covering Australia and New Zealand.

“Thanks to John’s efforts, we have a unique resource which has reach, diversity, quality and impact, making it an irreplaceable asset.”

Former ANZSOG Dean Gary Banks described the Case Library, and the case-based teaching that flowed from it, as ANZSOG’s ‘secret sauce’ and spoke of Professor Alford’s commitment to the concept of public value and ability to attract world-class academics to ANZSOG.

Professor Alford has had a varied career spanning the public sector and academe.

He has focused on ensuring that his research has practical value, and that it leads to the improvement of public management and the delivery of public value.

In his own speech, Professor Alford said that he had been privileged to have the career he’d had, and the colleagues and friends he had worked with.

It is a privilege to work on projects that add value to the whole of society. To me, working for the public good is more rewarding than getting a slight increase in market share.”

He said that public servants should be ‘thinking expansively’ about what was valuable and pushing the boundaries while always ensuring that they had consent for what they did.

Professor Alford said his work had attempted to question the ideologies, of both left and right, about privatisation, outsourcing and small government.

“We can actually use the concepts and techniques of the private sector. But not simply by transferring and dropping them into the public sector unopened. Instead we need to adapt them, modify them, rather than just have them unformed.

“In addition, privatisations should always be decided, not on a partisan basis, but on a thorough understanding of benefits and costs.

Fitting tributes

The evening featured tributes from Professor Alford’s colleagues and fellow academics.

Professor Janine O’Flynn said Professor Alford had used his generosity to build a community of public management experts and had, over the course of his career, managed to radically transform the public value community.

Internationally-renowned Harvard University public value scholar Mark Moore sent a written tribute, praising Professor Alford’s contribution to public management and writing of the great joy he had in working with “a true colleague.”

Jon Brock, Associate Professor Emeritus of Public Policy & Governance at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington, said that Professor Alford was an exemplar of the public policy and management academic. “If you have been his reader, colleague, collaborator, or student, you know the depths to which he mines and provides insights.”

Barbara Crosby and John Bryson, professors at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs University of Minnesota, said that: “The multiple streams of public value scholarship and application have needed champions and synthesisers and you have been a very, very important leader and partner in that globe-spanning enterprise.”

In addition to his work with ANZSOG, Professor Alford has taught courses and workshops at 28 universities across the world.

His primary research is in client co-production of public services, and public value management, but he has also focused on strategic management in the public sector, public managers’ political astuteness, and wicked problems.

Two of his books and four of his refereed journal articles have won international awards.

  • Engaging Public Sector Clients: From Service-Delivery to Co-Production (Palgrave Macmillan) won the American Society for Public Administration’s Award for the Best Public Administration Book in 2011. It is regarded as a landmark work in the literature on co-production of public services.
  • Rethinking Public Service Delivery: Managing with External Providers, co-authored with Janine O'Flynn (Palgrave Macmillan), won the award for best public management book of the year from the Public and Non-profit Division of the Academy of Management, the leading US professional institute in the field. It has attracted international praise from both scholars and practicing managers.

Professor Alford plans to retain an occasional research and advisory role with ANZSOG after his retirement.

Watch highlights from the evening: