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ANZSOG Dean and CEO Ken Smith’s 2021 end of year message: shifting to the ‘new normal’

9 December 2021

News and media


Image of ANZSOG dean and CEO Ken Smith sitting at his desk


The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic has, for most of us, been more difficult than the first, as many of us have seen our resilience tested to the limit, and long-term stresses and challenges emerge as we attempt to move to a ‘new normal’.

For both Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, this year has seen a shift from elimination or containment to learning to live with COVID-19, as vaccination rates steadily increase to significant thresholds, helping us to tentatively reopen to each other and the rest of the world.

For public services it has been a second year of working in an even more complex and faster-changing environment and beginning a process of learning and reflection on what changes are likely to be transitory and those which will change the way we work in the long term.

Overall, our government institutions in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand have responded successfully to COVID-19 and demonstrated a deep commitment to focusing on the broader public interest, even when challenged by increasingly noisy vested interests.

This successful response has highlighted the value of a strong public sector and ongoing relevance of ANZSOG’s mission to lift the quality of public sector leadership.

ANZSOG’s programs, with their combination of theoretical and practice insights, are more important than ever, at a time where organisations need to invest in their people to increase capability to respond to a future of both known and increasingly unknown challenges.

Shifting our education and thought leadership programs online, while maintaining quality and giving participants the chance to interact with each other and build professional networks was a challenge, but one we progressively met successfully in 2020 and which has been rewarded with increased interest in our programs in 2021.

Our flagship Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) returned in 2021 with a fully online program, allowing participants to benefit from some of the most experienced faculty in public administration, building up their skills and giving participants new frameworks and a shared language to help them deliver public value in a changing world. We also provided opportunities for participation in micro-credentials and an embedded qualification (a graduate certificate) with our university partners.

The Executive Fellows Program (EFP) was run twice in one year for the first time and has offered a unique chance for senior leaders to take time out of work to reflect on themselves and their work environments and to think about the broader systems through reference to social movements that are shaping societies globally.

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL) was also run twice in 2021 and has provided a cohort of emerging leaders with tools and confidence to get a greater understanding of the environment shaping their work and to become thoughtful and influential leaders in the future.

The Deputies Leadership Program returned in 2021 with a focus on the growing challenges faced by Deputy CEOs in the public sector who, even before COVID-19 were increasingly taking on more demanding roles in a more volatile environment. The Deputies Leadership Program will be run again in 2022, and there is also the potential to run a CEOs program.

Our Future public sector leaders’ program, has returned for a second series in 2021/22, which focusses on contemporary public sector challenges allowing participants and their employing agencies to benefit from exposure to new ideas from interactive workshops with leading faculty.

As always, we will continue to work with our owner governments to make sure the content of each program meets the current and future needs and reflects how thinking about public administration has changed as a result of the pandemic and other local, regional, national and system and global challenges we have and will face. In this area, we are undertaking many more custom or bespoke programs for governments or specific agencies.

Interest in our 2022 programs is already strong, with 110 participants enrolled in the EMPA.

New research partnerships and First Peoples strategy

This year has also been an important one for our Research and Advisory program with the establishment of a number of research initiatives with governments and universities.

One example is where we are examining the impact of flexible working on productivity, wellbeing and effectiveness of ACT public service workforce and looking at factors that can lead to more effective flexible working.

Another project will examine how place-based services are evolving and examine the effects of virtual and hybrid modes of service delivery on stakeholders and local communities, and the impact of COVID-19 on those services.

Our expertise has also been used by the new Australian Public Service Academy – set up to lift the capability of the APS and encourage an agency-wide approach to building skills.

ANZSOG is one of the partners of the Academy and has provided its support during its establishment. ANZSOG will continue to work with the Academy on its goal of equipping APS people and teams with the skills, tools and knowledge to deliver the best outcomes for the Australian community.

In recent years ANZSOG has been on a journey to incorporate First Peoples knowledge and culture into our work. This year we released our First Peoples Strategy which consolidates this work and provides a blueprint to build on it in the future.

A vital part of our First Peoples work is connecting academics, First Peoples and the public sector through our First Peoples conferences. This year we were able to hold our first virtual First Peoples conference Proud Partnerships in Place which brought together over 500 participants to exchange ideas and hear stories of successful partnerships from Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

We have also been able to add to our network of universities with the addition of the University of Adelaide a sixteenth member university, a partnership which will open up new possibilities for collaboration with its Stretton Institute.

We have expanded our geographic footprint with the appointment of a Wellington-based director, of our Aotearoa-New Zealand activities.

After landmark changes to our constitution, members agreed to the expansion of the ANZSOG Board to better represent all our ten member jurisdictions. This has seen the addition of four new members: Kathy Leigh (ACT) Head of Service and Director-General, ACT Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate; Erma Ranieri (SA) South Australian Commissioner for Public Sector Employment; Jenny Gale (TAS) Head of State Service and Secretary, Tasmanian Department of the Premier and Cabinet; and Sharyn O’Neill (WA) the Western Australian Public Sector Commissioner

The public services of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand have responded remarkably to the many and varied challenges thrown up by the pandemic. The emergence of new variants and the uncertainty that remains clearly indicate that we will not be able to ‘snap back’ to a pre COVID environment. Public services must find new ways of working, of collaborating within and between governments with organisations across all sectors. There is an ongoing challenge of engaging with the broader community, whilst playing a vital stewardship role in protecting important conventions whilst adapting our institutions to change.

ANZSOG will continue to support public sector leaders as they respond to these many challenges by providing research, education, thought leadership and opportunities to connect to all our ten owner governments, and the broader regional and global public service systems.

I would like to thank the ANZSOG board and our amazing faculty, staff and alumni for their professionalism and dedication through yet another difficult year, and take this opportunity to wish all of ANZSOG’s network a safe and refreshing break over Christmas and a successful New Year in 2022.

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