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ANZSOG adapts to support the public sector in a COVID-19 world: Professor Ken Smith

25 November 2020

News and media


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This year has been one that no one could have possibly predicted, but one that no one in the public sector will forget.

COVID-19 has simultaneously reminded us of the necessity of good government, resulted in significant increases in trust in many of our institutions, and exposed flaws and strengths in a number of our existing legacy systems. It has also highlighted that ANZSOG’s mission to lift the quality of public sector leadership across Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand continues to be relevant in the ever changing landscape we inhabit.

It has been deeply satisfying to see the significant role that public services have played in the response to the pandemic. Their professionalism has helped ensure Australia and New Zealand avoid much of the health and economic impacts that have hit Europe and the USA, and positioned us well for the post-COVID era.

We have seen the use of evidence-based policy, backed with the good communication with the public, to deal effectively with a national crisis, and I am proud of the many ANZSOG alumni who used the skills they developed with us to be part of this response.

In Australia, our often-maligned federal system has shown its relevance and flexibility and cooperation between levels of government may herald a more fruitful approach to other shared policy and service delivery challenges.

For ANZSOG, like many organisations it has been a challenging year, but we have continued to work closely with our owner governments, member university networks and individual agencies. Our most recent Impact Report details some of the work undertaken and issues we have had to confront post-February 2020.

In response to the pandemic we have adapted and moved a range of education, research and advice and thought leadership deliveries online, and we look forward to returning to face to face and blended learning formats when we can next year. Our core offerings are more important than ever at a time where organisations will need to invest in their people to prepare to respond to future known and unknown challenges.

Programs and pivots: ANZSOG’s response to the pandemic 

Our Executive Master of Public Administration program was able to shift fully to an online format, and the 2020 cohort has been able to access the same opportunities to study with their peers and build a long-lasting professional network as have previous participants. Applications can still be submitted for the 2021 EMPA.

Our Towards Strategic Leadership program was adapted to the new realities of the COVID world, and the Towards Strategic Leadership: In a time of prolonged crisis program – with a focus on cultivating the qualities public sector leaders need to thrive in volatile and uncertain times – has proved to be extremely popular. Expressions of interest are open for 2021 TSL.

The Executive Fellows Program will be delivered in May next year as an online program with a focus on short sessions designed to maximise the positive impact on day-to-day work.

One of our priorities through the year was providing public sector leaders with the best knowledge and research to deal with COVID-19. In March and April we were able to use our networks to pull together the Leading in a Crisis series of short papers that summarised the best research on public sector crisis response and managementand put global expertise in the hands of public managers in Australia and New Zealand.

Later in the year, as the focus began to shift to what a post-COVID world could look like, we partnered with the Centre for Public Impact for the Reimagining Government series, which brought together a range of academics and practitioners to discuss how governments could shift to an ‘enablement paradigm’ to deal with the complex challenges we face.

In a similar vein our Future public sector leaders series of virtual masterclasses, running through to early 2021, is bringing together domestic and international thinkers on publicmanagement and leadership,to provide public sector leaders with the inspiration and practical tools to succeed through these volatile and uncertain times. Limited places are still available for the 2021 series.

Debate and diversity: Enriching the public sector 

Enriching the debate about public management, and providing busy public sector leaders with information has been a key part of our work this year, and The Bridge research translation project is providing its 15,000 subscribers with a fortnightly digest of the latest research relevant to the public sector.

We are continuing our work with the First Peoples of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand to ensure that Indigenous knowledge and culture inform our work with all public services.

In February, the Proud Partnerships in Place: 2021 ANZSOG First Peoples Public Administration Virtual Conference will explore how successful partnerships between governments and Indigenous communities have been created and sustained, andprovide an important forum to celebrate and share that success.

It will also challenge participants to think beyond the way things have always operated, and consider how First Peoples knowledge, local decision-making and new relationships with government can be mobilised to meet the needs of communities.

Indigenous communities can use their strengths and capacities to make a difference, when governments are willing to listen and share power in genuine partnerships. Understanding that is the first step to delivering better outcomes in Indigenous Affairs. Discounted early bird registrations for the conference are now available.

Choices and challenges: Where to from here? 

The public services of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand have risen remarkably to the challenge of COVID-19, and now must think about the difficult choices to be made in the recovery. Too much has changed for things to ‘snap back’ to normal, and public sector leaders will need to be innovative and creative as they look to combine the best of the old with the things that have worked well during 2020.

This year has proven that we are able to adapt what we do to help public sector leaders grapple with what has been for many of us the biggest challenge of their careers, and we will continue to support public services in 2021 and beyond, by providing education and research that meets their current and future needs.

I would like to wish all of ANZSOG’s alumni and supporters asuccessful end to 2020, and a much deserved safe and refreshing break over Christmas and New Year.

Finally I would like to thank the ANZSOG  board and team for their professionalism and dedication through one of the most difficult periods in our relatively short 18 year history.