What will it take to make the Australian Public Service fit for the future? That was the key question addressed by Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet David Williamson at last week’s Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) ACT Future Leaders Series finale 2018 hosted at Crawford School.
As the leader of team that supports the review panel, Mr Williamson talked about the high expectations and difficult questions surrounding the review.
“Some of the questions that keep coming up in this review are: How much of what needs to happen in or for the public service actually needs formal agreement from anyone? How much is more about getting on with things and doing what you’re supposed to do? And how much of it has already been called out in previous reviews?
“Our panel has looked at 2030 and asked: Firstly, what could a fit-for-purpose APS look like by then and secondly, what might it mean for the APS?”
The panel is about to publish insights into the trends and issues surrounding the review, such as declining trust in major institutions, social and geopolitical instability, technological advancement, changing expectations of customers or clients, and the changing nature of work.
“The panel has distilled the major emerging challenges from the extensive engagement that we’ve undertaken and that has highlighted what David Thodey has called a ‘vein of frustration.’”
Mr Williamson made clear that the APS was facing a range of issues: from becoming too reactive, lacking in confidence, not fulfilling potential, to struggling to attract, retain and nurture people the APS needs.
“Even though that is a pretty gloomy list, we’ve also found that that is not the case everywhere. In fact, we’re really interested in the examples of excellence across the service and understanding why and how we might help extrapolate them.”
A few weeks ago, David Thodey set out a vision of the APS of the future that has dealt with those emerging challenges and that is thriving.
“David Thodey talked about five essential end states that the panel has decided that represent that vision: an APS that is united in a collective endeavour, that is world class in its policy-making and delivery, that is an employer of choice, that is a trusted and respected partner, and that has dynamic digital and adaptive systems and structures.”
The last exercise equivalent to the current review was the Coombs Royal Commission in the 70s, but since then, there have been many smaller-scale APS reviews.
“What’s striking about that work is that it still stacks up. This raises an important question: Why is it, that if so many solutions have been identified that they haven’t been implemented? Or, if they have been implemented, why haven’t they stuck?
“Our hypothesis at the moment is that the answer lies in the fundamentals – not whether greater collaboration across the APS is a good thing, but whether the APS’ underlying incentive structures and our authorising environment are anything that people would seriously support or try to facilitate.”
Lastly, Mr Williamson encouraged members of the public service to get involved and take matters into their own hands.
“Don’t sit on the sidelines and complain. Get involved and don’t wait for the review. Don’t wait for David Thodey to hand down whatever is going to be handed down. If something can be done now, why wait for the review?”
Listen to David Williamson’s full speech here: https://policyforumpod.simplecast.fm/aps-review