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Public Sector Informant : PSI
For course outlines and registration forms go to www.learn4results.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org For enquiries, call 03 9889 5150. 10-05462/2 Program Durations Dates Location Cost (includes GST) • MINUTE TAKING WORKSHOP 1 Day 19 May Canberra $495.00 • ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR EAs & 1 Day 20 May Canberra $495.00 ADMINISTRATORS • THE NEW TEAM LEADER/SUPERVISOR 1 Day 25 May Canberra $495.00 • SELECTION CRITERIA & INTERVIEWS 1 Day 26 May Canberra $495.00 • COACHING SKILLS FOR PEOPLE 1 Day 10 June Canberra $495.00 MANAGERS • EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE -- IMPROVING 1 Day 11 June Canberra $495.00 WORKPLACE RELATION • MANAGING PRIORITIES 1 Day 19 July Canberra $495.00 • PROJECT MANAGEMENT FUNDAMENTALS 1 Day 20 July Canberra $495.00 • BUSINESS WRITING FOR THE PUBLIC 1 Day 28 July Canberra $495.00 SECTOR • MINUTE TAKING WORKSHOP 1 Day 29 July Canberra $495.00 • ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR EAs 1 Day 11 Aug Canberra $495.00 & ADMINISTRATORS • DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE / 1 Day 12 Aug Canberra $495.00 SITUATIONS • PROJECT MANAGEMENT FOR EAs & 1 Day 18 Aug Canberra $495.00 ADMINISTRATORS • EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE 1 Day 19 Aug Canberra $495.00 • MANAGING & LEADING TEAMS 2 Days 7 & 8 Sept Canberra $946.00 • MINUTE TAKING WORKSHOP 1 Day 8 Sept Canberra $495.00 MAY JUNE JULY AUG SEPT Learn4Results Workshops [MAY 2010] THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 7 Long-lived ideas: Dr H. C. Coombs, whose royal commission reported in 1976, with former prime minister Gough Whitlam. ''research program constitute a for- midable body of work on public administration in Australia and will no doubt be a resource for study for many years.'' And so it proved. Many inquiries become forums for discussion and debate. The Coombs commission observed of its own procedure, ''The commission thought it desirable that its inquiries should take place at the centre of widespread public debate and discussion of the issues involved and that its work should be informed by that debate.'' There was quite a bit of discussion in the course of the advisory group's work but it was neither public nor, in the jargon, transparent. It had all the privacy, confidentiality and intimacy of the focus group. A traditional inquiry was also a forum for accountability in the sense that key officials explained publicly what they did, and why. In the case of the advisory group exercise, it would have been valuable to learn the views of departmental secretaries on, say, the size and structure of the senior executive service, or whether they thought redesigning and enhancing the public service commissioner's role was desirable. As matters stand, the public record remains unenlight- ened on these points. Where the advisory group especially failed policymaking about the public service was the absence of discussion papers about contentious matters. A leading instance is the question of mobility in the service. Mobility is the fall-back position for lazy thinking about personnel management. It is the throwaway line for many matters, from stale perform- ance to limited horizons in policy- formulation. It is perceived as a solution to all manner of defects, including inadequacies in program implementation. It has had a prominent place in APS talk for four decades or more. But the debate is stuck, and has been stuck for a generation. No one has bothered to identify the variety of forms that mobility can take, how much mobility there actually is, whether there should be more, and what are the benefits sought and obtained. There is a formidable hypothesis that, on mobility, the APS is an over-achiever. It could be done in the context of a searching study of the public service's promotion and staff- selection practices. These are expens- ive, time-consuming and seemingly frozen in the 1960s. Some depart- ments and agencies have made subs- tantial changes; others should be thinking about doing likewise. Some similar active thinking might have been brought to bear on the policy capacities of departments and agencies. Because of modern techno- logies, this should be the strong suit of a modern public service (as of any large modern organisation). The advisory group passed up the opportunity to draw out the public service on these subjects. There is no reason why the Public Service Com- missioner should not take them up. Almost every body that reaches out for the mantle of reform aspires to have its thinking enshrined in legis- lation. In some cases, they labour under the false idea that this will entrench their insights. The advisory group particularly seeks this outcome for its views on the Public Service Act's value, which it believes should be ''revised, tigh- tened and made more memorable''. The Government should ignore this vanity. The existing statement is excessively long but to alter the values along lines proposed would simply add confusion. One of the attractive aspects of the blueprint is proposed amplification of the role of department secretary with the biblical concept of stewardship. It is again proposed that this should be embodied in legislation. Again, the case for statutory action is non-existent. The secretary's role is a matter for doctrine, not legislation. It would certainly be timely to have another considered exposition of the role of the departmental head, and one based on the present public service legislation. But tinkering with the legislation would be superfluous, a substitute for rather than an embodi- ment of thought. Many commentators have drawn attention to the failure of the blueprint to address the question of consul- tants; like ministerial staff, they are a no-go area. But, given the ambition to transform the APS into a body with ''an intrinsic culture of evaluation and innovation'', use of consultants should have been prominently on the agenda. A central strength of a public service is capacity to think for itself. Australia is not alone in needing to address this issue. A recent Canadian report tackled what it described as ''the explosion of the consultant culture in Ottawa''. ''A generation ago, departments had expertise in- house, and if consultants were em- ployed, it would be to test out ideas already generated by the bureaucracy or to fix a short-term problem. Today, there is an underground policy tri- angle of regular officials, consultants (often long-term and retired public servants) and lobbyists.'' The report simply proposed, as the blueprint should have done, ''Dis- courage the use of consultants in line positions in favour of building up the capacity of the regular public ser- vice.'' J. R. Nethercote is a visiting research fellow at the Australian Catholic University's Public Policy Institute. He was on the staff of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. and risks don't always work If the service provider is going to be innovative, then there is a pretty good chance it will not get it right first time supplement its own skills, experience and capacity. How do agencies allow their service providers to contribute to this innovation challenge? No doubt some service providers will be asked to directly contribute to innovation within the agency, but more often than not providers will be expec- ted to be innovative in the services they provide. Reflecting these expectations in an enforceable way will be difficult unless specific tasks can be identified. By requiring service providers to be innovative, agencies are asking them to do something different. This creates risk for both the service provider and the agency. From the perspective of commercial service providers, a key issue will be the nature of the reward they receive if they succeed in meeting expectations of innovation. This begs the question about the meaning of ''success''. If the service provider is going to be innovative, then there is a pretty good chance it will not get it right first time. Both the agency and the provider need to recognise this in their contractual documents so the service provider is not ''in breach'' by that mere fact alone. If the relationship does not support this element of trust, then the relationship between the agen- cy and the provider, and the initiative itself, are doomed to fail. Perhaps the best method of fostering innovation from service providers is to focus on satisfaction of the clients within an agency who witness firsthand the services that are provided. If the client is truly an informed buyer of the applicable services, then the client should be in a good position to recognise when the services are just average or the services have reached a level that is beyond expectations. If it is the latter, then the service provider has probably applied some form of inno- vation that its competitors have not. The next critical step is to structure the relationship in a way that allows the service providers to be rewarded for their ''extra effort''. This will not be easy for agencies. Naturally, agencies should be on guard against opening their budget to payments that cannot be connected transparently to the services received. This is where lateral thinking is needed and where the innovation aspiration will find its litmus test. The agency delegates must be confi- dent that approving a payment formula that rewards a provider for innovative services will be within the department's culture, budget and risk appetite. In the years ahead, when the mirror is placed on the APS and the question is asked, ''Who is the most innovative of us all?'', the answer may well be the APS, but only if leadership, risk appetite and time have been a strong focus for it. Implementation of in- novative solutions will be supported by the legal frameworks of the FMA Act and well-drafted contracts. Paul McGinness is the managing partner of Minter Ellison Lawyer's Canberra office.
PSI - September