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Delivering local solutions should not be an afterthought

17 April 2019

News and media


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Placing citizens at the centre of policymaking and service design means they have the opportunity to shape policy and services in areas that matter to them. Delivering local solutions cannot be treated as an overhead or an afterthought. Research prepared for the Independent Review of the APS finds there is scope for improvement in the delivery of local solutions to communities.

At a glance

In ANZSOG research commissioned for the APS Review, Catherine Althaus (University of Melbourne) and Carmel McGregor (University of Canberra) investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the APS current approach to delivering local solutions to communities. The authors argue that a range of services need to be shaped with communities.

What is meant by local solutions?

The paper acknowledges there is a range of terms such as place-based policy, community engagement and inclusive development. The intent of these is to put the citizen and their communities at the heart of the solution. In referring to communities, the research includes communities of place and communities of identity or interest.

There are four parts to Commonwealth local service delivery:

  • Direct service provision by Commonwealth departments and agencies such as Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian Tax Office.
  • Funded arrangements between the Commonwealth and state and territory and local governments for services which have everyday impacts within communities, such as schools and hospitals.
  • Commissioned and contracted arrangements between the Commonwealth and non-government organisations or private sector providers for services delivered into communities.
  • Networked arrangements where a number of APS Departments have state and territory networks, some involved in service delivery and managing grants as well as directly liaising with state and local governments.

What’s the problem?

Despite the APS investing significant amounts of money and resources over a long period of time, Australia has not seen a similarly significant lift in key economic and social indicators for many communities. Nor has it delivered a coherent service delivery system to citizens and local communities.

  • The APS appears to have no agreed understanding of the meaning of local solutions and how its current services are deployed.
  • The APS lacks joined-up architecture across its own agencies, as well as with other jurisdictions and sectors.
  • Decisions tend to be imposed from a central programmatic view, instead of prioritising frontline perspectives and local communities’ experiences and expertise.
  • Experiments and lessons are not systematically captured or sustainably hardwired into the APS because governments and service leaders change semi-regularly.

Contributing factors

  • A lack of national stewardship for service delivery. There is currently no single point of contact for communities in dealing with the APS in delivering local solutions.
  • Not capitalising on frontline perspectives. Frontline APS staff are not empowered to directly serve communities and take positive risks.
  • A fragmented and uncoordinated picture of the APS delivery footprint. Duplication of government effort is observed acutely at the local level.
  • Systematic collection and sharing of data is weak both between agencies and between levels of government, NFPs and private service providers.
  • In a complex delivery system, there is duplication and overlapping services within the APS and across jurisdictions. APS culture is seen as competitive and siloed.
  • A lack of local solutions assessment and support for place-based policy.
  • Funding rules which serve national agenda policies rather than facilitate local solutions.
  • Capability constraints and the need for new skills such as co-production and co-design.

What is the end state for local solutions delivery?

The vision is:

A collaboratively capable and trusted APS leading the facilitation of local solutions across all levels of government, communities, private and third sectors for the benefit of all Australians.

This end-state would see:

Alignment between skills, mindsets and community needs.
APS structures working effectively to meet both national and localised community opportunities to benefit all Australians.
Empowering administrative processes to work collaboratively with each other. And with communities to provide the best information and advice to inform ministerial and parliamentary judgements.

What does this mean?

The paper proposes the following directions for reform.

  • Establish lead APS community advocates with authorisation and mandates to work with all APS agencies and across all levels of government and sectors.
  • Prioritise service delivery through the APS Secretaries Board with the APS community advocates providing advice on problems and opportunities.
  • Ensure service delivery has adequate prominence within Cabinet processes through the Minister for Human Services.
  • DHS to lead a comprehensive mapping exercise to identify the APS service delivery footprint.
  • APS Community Advocates will be empowered to commence discussions with their jurisdictional and sectoral counterparts about the opportunities for co-location, one-stop-shop, delegated powers and other related mechanisms.
  • Establish institutional memory repository within the Australian Public Service Commission to promote capture, sharing and learning from policy practice across time, place, jurisdiction and level of government.
  • Review the adequacy of existing APS workforce capability in service delivery.
  • Develop inbound-outbound staff exchange programs across the APS and between jurisdictions to facilitate policy-service delivery learning exchange as well as cross-jurisdictional expertise transfer and collaboration.

Want to read more?

Delivering local solutions – Catherine Althaus and Carmel McGregor, Australia and New Zealand School of Government, March 2019

This brief is part of a Research Series written by Maria Katsonis. This research brief originally appeared in The Mandarin as part of The Mandarin and ANZSOG’s 2019 Research Series called The Drop.

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