Skip to content

Dean and CEO Ken Smith’s message for 2022: ANZSOG ready to help governments deal with challenges of opening up, returning to ‘COVID normal’

14 February 2022

News and media


Image of ANZSOG CEO Ken Smith sitting at desk

For ANZSOG, and our owner governments, 2021 was a second year of working in a fast-changing environment shaped by new variants of COVID-19. For all of us, it was a year of learning and reflection on which changes are likely to be transitory and which will permanently change how we work.

We would be either courageous or foolish to predict anything about 2022, however we do know it will be a year of adjusting to COVID-19 as a constant background presence in our lives, and a return to greater engagement both within and between Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the rest of the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of strong leadership by governments and the value of high-quality public services able to innovate and adapt to a volatile environment. Public services that can act with integrity, and adapt and innovate, have been able to increase public trust and deliver public value to the communities we all serve. 

Public trust in government increased in the early stages of the pandemic, but the challenge for governments in 2022, as we slowly emerge into recovery, is to continue to manage the fatigue, frustrations, raw anger, challenges and disruptions to our institutions, that are increasingly evident locally and globally. In many ways, this is no different from our reflective responses, to any major natural or human-induced disaster. The issues with COVID-19 have been its longevity and the influence of the many conspiracy theories circulating, aided and abetted by an increasingly internationalised social media.

In Australia, the Federation has again shown its resilience with early co-operation and some later splintering of the collective resolve of the National Cabinet and a discernible power shift to the states and territories. The short-term focus on COVID, whilst complex, is an easier area for cooperation than is long-term systemic reforms such as climate change, education, health, skills, and aged and disability services reform, which require engagement across the marble cake that is our federation. 

We have been kicking the Federation can down the road for decades. An obvious priority for 2022 and beyond is to think more carefully about how we want our federal structure to operate more effectively to improve service delivery and outcomes and drive fiscal and broader economic reforms.

Governments will need help to address these issues and ANZSOG will continue to play its role by continuing to deliver education programs, research and advice and thought leadership activities which help governments address the challenges of moving beyond the pandemic.

In 2021, I was delighted by the strong response to our education programs – highlighting the desire among public managers for high-quality programs designed for the public sector that give them new tools and fresh thinking. Our flagship Executive Master of Public Administration has continued online throughout the pandemic, drawing external recognition for its high quality, and by the end of the year, we had already enrolled 110 participants in the 2022 program.

Strong demand meant we ran two iterations of our Executive Fellows Program and Towards Strategic Leadership, and interest in our returning Deputies Program and the Future public sector leaders series was also strong. We have also increased the number of bespoke and custom education programs that we deliver to specific governments and agencies.

There is a huge appetite amongst governments to improve the skills and capabilities of their organisations, especially their senior leadership, as they work to meet the demands of the ‘new normal’.

Shifting our programs online was one of the major challenges we faced successfully in 2020, and we have built on that success in 2021. We have spent the last two years working out how we can best deliver quality education remotely, and still ensure that participants can form strong relationships with their cohort

Overall, evaluation rates for the quality and responsiveness of our courses have remained high despite the move to online. While we will shift to a ‘blended’ approach ( a mix of face to face and virtual learning and development opportunities) as soon as is practical, I am confident that online delivery does not compromise the quality of what we provide  and offers the benefit of extra flexibility for participants and their sponsoring agencies.

As part of a broader research strategy, we have begun two research projects which link our university members with the ACT and NSW Governments to look at the issues of flexible/remote work and the future of place-based services. Part of these projects is to make the research publicly available so it can be of use to other jurisdictions.

ANZSOG is working to increasingly incorporate First Peoples knowledge and culture into our own work, and to re-enforce this in our work of the public sector more broadly. Last year we released our First Peoples Strategy and held our first virtual First Peoples conference Proud Partnerships in Place which brought together over 500 participants. We will hold another First Peoples Conference this year, with timing, title and theme to be announced soon.

The last two years have taught us to expect the unexpected, but I am confident that ANZSOG is well positioned to continue to help the governments and their public services of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand as they reopen to the world in 2022.

I would like to thank ANZSOG staff and our Board for their dedicated work throughout 2021, and wish everyone the best for 2022.

Follow @ANZSOG