Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Comments from the IPAA NSW 2011 State Conference - Session 1

I am spending the day at the Institute of Public Administration Australia's (IPAA) NSW State Conference, which is themed "The future course of modern government".

There's a packed room and a great speaker lineup, featuring commentators such as Ross Dawson and Martin Stewart-Weeks, leading (past) public servants such as Peter Shergold and the Premier of NSW, Barry O'Farrell.

I am participating in a panel discussion (straight after the Premier) along with James Kleimt of the Queensland Police Force Media team, Paula Bray from the Powerhouse Museum and James Dellow of Headshift.

Due to a late plane I arrived slightly late, catching the end of Ross Dawson's presentation, however a few points still stood out for me - citizens expect more from the public service and the public service has access to the tools to deliver, as long as we understand that governance is not only about controlling risk, but also about innovation and improving delivery while managing risk.

Ross provided examples such as the US intelligence Services' Intellopedia and the New Zealand police wiki Act - highlighting that the tools a modern government needs to employ are available and already in widespread use. The challenge for agencies is to normalize their use, find better ways to use technology to enable public service and combine 'play' with work.

Ross also highlighted that today's young people have an incredible array of technology at home - should they expect less in the office? As school leavers are increasingly normalized into, and expect access to technology to enable them to be more efficient, public services much provide the tools required to enable them to work effectively - which also brings productivity gains to government.

Now speaking is Christian Bason, the Director of MindLab in Denmark, speaking to us live via video from the US. He agrees that society is in the midst of a 'perfect storm' of technology that needs to be understand and adopted by organisations if they wish to remain relevant and effective in a fast changing world.

Christian is giving an example of a hospital in Scandinavia, where a gourmet chef noticed that the hospital was throwing out large quantities of food that was not eaten by patients. When he put himself in the position of patients he realized the food was unattractive, portions were too large and it was provided at set times regardless of patient hunger levels.

He tried introducing a new menu, with smaller portions, more attractive and nutritious food and better presentation at more flexible times.

He found that food costs declined by 30% - mainly use to less waste. He also instituted a study on the impact of nutritious food on patient stay times in hospital, which found that the average stay time was reduced by a day by providing more nutritious food presented in a way that people would eat willingly.

Christian sees this example as how public servants can put themselves in the shoes of citizens - looking at the outcomes, rather than the processes - in order to deliver better outcomes for society.

He says that by integrating citizens into the policy and service delivery process and by placing public servants in the shoes of citizens, much better outcomes can be achieved.

Christian says we need to move from public management to new public processes, creating solutions with people, not for them.

He advocates design-driven processes, employing new modes of qualitative knowledge, with a broader scope of people.

Christian says that "co-creation can enable co-production". Public servants can no longer create solutions as 'experts', we need to integrate the wisdom of citizens, leveraging their own skills and resources. He calls this employing "professional empathy", embedding ourselves in the experiences of citizens to avoid creating 'expert systems' which negatively impact on citizens or counter the effectiveness of programs (such as health systems where the amount of paperwork and stress increases patient sickness).

Christian asks "how do we rehearse what the future may look like?" saying we need to analyse needs better and consider the design of our services, integrating a broader range of skills and experience, creating and testing prototypes in partnership with citizens to identify unintended benefits and negative consequences.

Christian asks whether dissatisfaction should be the new status quo for public sector ethos. Dissatisfaction drives innovation and change in a way no other approach can do.

Peter Achterstraat, NSW Auditor-General, is now saying that public servants must create their own luck, using professional empathy and innovation to improve policies and services.

He is now introducing Peter Shergold to provide the third keynote address of the morning (no questions allowed so far).

Peter says that for the last three years he has been a liberated public servant, less constrained on what he can publicly say, however he remains committed to the values of the public service.

He says he is excited about the capability of social media to reinvent egovernment and the benefits of co-creation and co-production to reinvigorate public participation in democracy.

However Peter says that today he wants to talk about the historic values and traditions of public service that must be maintained into the future, to be "the boring old tart".

For example, by "non-partisan" doesn't mean that public servants should be non-political, it means that the public service must be able to serve consecutive governments without fear or favour. As public servants it is important to have an interest in politics and the political processes, however that should not remove the capability to offer confidential, robust, frank and fearless advice or carry out the decisions of the parliament.

Peter says it is crucial that the parliament make the decisions and the public service carry out their policies with commitment - even where public servants may consider the government as being "courageous".

Peter says that the public service needs to get serious about merit - it is not simply an outcome. He says he has lost count of the times in the Commonwealth public service that selection criteria has discriminated against people in the community or private sector as it was virtually incomprehensible to them.

He says there are four core values he believes the public service should embody.

Integrity (honesty, consistency, impartiality and acting in the public interest). Honesty to the system and consistency that delivers appropriate outcomes rather than turning the public service into a 19th century industrial machine - including flexibility in the system for particular geographic and demographic needs. He says that with impartiality we must remain responsive to community needs and when acting in the public interest, bearing in mind that it is the elected government who decides what is in the public interest (advised by public servants), not the public service directly.

Trust (respectful, empathic, compassionate, collaborative).
Respectful and empathetic towards citizens and collaboration "across the extending range of actors that are now involved in the delivery of government", not simply with other agencies.

Service (quality-focused, citizen-centric, innovative, flexible).
Peter is absolutely of the view that it is better for a government to have no new policy at all than for a government to announce new policies and have the public service fail to deliver it on time and on budget. He says that the public service, by failing to be quality-focused, damages its own reputation and that of government - leading to issues in the future. Peter days that citizens are not customers, representing a profound difference in approach. "Yes we deliver with people's rights, but they come with responsibilities. Yes we deliver people benefits, but they come with obligations".

Peter says that often the Commonwealth would deliver pilot programs, pilot not due to the goal of evaluating approaches and expanding successful trials, but due to lack of funds for a full delivery. He says we need to be serious about pilots.

Accountability (responsibility, transparency, confidentiality)
Peter says that transparency is vital and more transparency is needed. He says that the information collected by government with public money should be licensed under creative commons and be available to the public.

However he says the decision on what is to be released should be decided by parliament (in a broad sense). The public service requires confidentiality to deliver frank and fearless advice to government.

in his final thoughts on the NSW public service, Peter says we need to address the vertical rigidities in government hierarchy. We must give greater power to people who hold more junior positions in the public service.

He also says that incresingly public servants will work with others to deliver public service and the public servants must develop facilitation skills to be successful.

In the end, Peter says, we will know the NSW public service will be successful when it is known worldwide for attracting the best people and delivering effective outcomes within the core values of public service.

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