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ANZSOG Dean and CEO Caron Beaton-Wells: the woman at the beating heart of government and academia

6 May 2024

News and media


Image of ANZSOG Dean and CEO Caron Beaton-Wells

This interview with our Dean and CEO, Caron Beaton-Wells first appeared in the Mandarin, and is republished with their permission.

Two months into her term as CEO of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), Professor Caron Beaton-Wells has been on a busy fact-finding mission about contemporary public service pain points. Here, she shares what she’s learned so far and where she sees the organisation heading.

Beaton-Wells replaced Adam Fennessy as ANZSOG CEO after he returned to the public service to lead the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Speaking to The Mandarin a few months after taking the reins of the school, the government law expert and former barrister said she had been thinking about areas where ANZSOG may need to shift attention for immediate and short-term priorities.

An emerging area the new ANZSOG boss has identified is how the school can diversify and support specific public service capability needs across Australia, New Zealand and the Indo-Pacific, such as working with First Nations communities and navigating public administration in a digital world.

“Last year we launched an executive leadership program in working with First Nations, and it got enormous uptake in its first year — about 180 public servants came together to get a base-level introduction to First Nations culture, and best ways of working with First Nations peoples and communities,” Beaton-Wells said.

“This year, we’re taking it a step further into the realm specifically of policy development, and launching a micro-credential with Charles Darwin University on policy in an indigenous Australian context.”

While the study module is still under development, Beaton-Wells said she envisaged it could be undertaken by public servants in a matter of weeks.

The micro-credential would include a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning modalities and be flexible, she said.

In terms of digital capability, ANZSOG was also formally launching its public leadership in the digital age program this year following a successful pilot in 2023.

Beaton-Wells said it was not possible for a modern public sector leader to do their job effectively without a base level of knowledge about the digital world and how it affected government service delivery.

“[The program] is going to give senior leaders a grounding in modern public sector leadership in an era of data, digital and AI.

“Just like some of the First Nations programs, we are trying to build that base-level of understanding — because obviously once you’ve got the base, then you can customise or contextualise to your particular agency and its mission,” she said.

Offerings such as ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration qualification are also shifting. By the end of 2024, that course will be requiring students, before they commence the program, to complete modules on First Nations work.

Beaton-Wells said this change responded to the view that so-called “old ways of working” and thinking are no longer serving professional public servants.

“A standing, ongoing priority is to really support the development of leadership, expertise and skills across public administration,” Beaton-Wells said.

“It’s increasingly recognised by public services that they need to be concerted and systematic and sustained in building leadership at every level of their organisations.

ANZSOG is also stepping into an important support role, assisting the Australian government with soft diplomacy and engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.

Earlier this month, two ANZSOG researchers shared knowledge with the Cambodian public service in Phnom Penh about its government cabinet processes and operations.

“We’re quite well positioned to do that because in many ways we are both in the government tent and outside the government tent. So we’re independent in some ways,” Beaton-Wells said.

“It’s very important for a school of government that aspires to be world-leading that we are very much engaged with our regional partners.”

From October, ANZSOG will also resume its two-week public service exchange program with the Chinese government in Beijing, which was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supported by the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations in DFAT, that program sends mandarins on inbound and outbound exchanges to Australia, New Zealand and China.

“[The exchange was] the baby of Allan Fels when he was the ANZSOG dean, and he’s still very much involved with it and championing it,” Beaton-Wells explained.

“We’re bringing that back on a slightly smaller scale to start rebuilding post-COVID.”