It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Queensland statistician Penelope Marshall was top of her class for marks in the subject Delivering public value when she completed ANZSOG’s Executive Masters of Public Administration (EMPA) in 2017.
Penny started her career literally nursing people and has since worked across many areas of government, while constantly questioning how her work helps the community.
"I think that over the years in terms of my career, I started off in a clinical setting as a nurse and have progressed my way through to the policy space but always with the focus on considering why I’m here as a public servant and thinking about the investment the government makes in a whole range of policy and programs,” she said. “I think it’s vital in the area of investment and information gathering, to ensure that what we do is right for what the community needs.”
As Queensland’s Assistant Government Statistician, Penny knows she has powerful tools at her disposal, and understands the responsibility of her department to use the vast amount of personal information sensibly and with respect for the privacy of the individual.
And that’s before she gets to all her other stakeholders. “We have some legislation that I work within, soit’s about respecting it and using it efficiently and effectively,” she said. “But also, how do I bring my team along to build the capabilities and build innovation, and to think about our practices so we’re getting more value for money. “It’s work that we do for other government agencies, where we collect primary data from the community to inform and feedback to agencies how their programs have gone or how people feel about certain policies, and so it’s about thinking about that value and constantly thinking about how we improve what we do so it’s on target and meeting the needs of all our clients and stakeholders.
Penny is 27 years into her public service career yet found much to learn in her EMPA study.
“The course gave me something tangible, pulled together all my experiences and gave me that ‘A-ha! moment’,” she reflected.
“It helped me reflect on times when things didn’t go how we thought they would and, using the strategic triangle, recognising that the authorising environment and support wasn’t always there at that point in time, which is why things didn’t go as expected, or to plan. It gave that theory behind the practice, which was really an eye-opening moment for me.”
It also exposed her to a cohort full of public servants from every level of government and from across Australia and New Zealand. She loved that meeting of minds. “Working in the environment you’re in at ANZSOG, where you’re thrown into teams of different people, for me, personally, I learned so much from just interacting with other people in my cohort,” Penny said. “The experience they brought to bear and the discussions. I learned and could also share my experiences with them. It felt like a really comfortable environment to do it in because we were all equals.
“It was quite a unique experience that you come together and you’re all equal, no matter what your experience or background. It’s not about competition; everyone is there for the same reason, to broaden their learning and experiences. I found that great.”
Penny said the program’s subject matter was broad and intense, pushing her but also reminding her of skills she needed to brush up on after many years. “Although I work within Treasury, I don’t always look at economics, so it was really good to go back over that subjectand think about why we, as a department, have lent one way over another,” she said. “When my economist colleagues talk about something, I can now say:‘yes, I know what you’re talking about’. Having a better understanding of the theory and background behind areas like cost benefit analysis was challenging, but really good to understand it.”
With a daughter finishing Year 12 at the time, and a son in senior school, taking on the two year commitment of the EMPA was an intense experience for Penny, but she has no regrets. “The value of this course is there’s a lot of testing of yourself and how you go. It gives you the opportunity to really think about your strengths and weaknesses, of how you operate as a leader and how you operate within team environments.
“You’re with a group of people all in the same boat, so more often than not, you could sit down with people and talk about your experience and how you are feeling, or bounce ideas off each other. You don’t always get to do that in a work environment because everyone is too busy, just trying to get things done.”
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