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EMPA prepares Janet Sparrow for post-COVID resilience challenge

13 February 2022

News and media


Image of ANZSOG EMPA alumni Janet Sparrow


The past 18 months have underscored the need for governments across Australia to be prepared for the unexpected and unknown.

This is currently top of the agenda for Janet Sparrow, Manager, Strategy with Resilience NSW. The newly renamed organisation helps communities rebuild and recover after natural disasters like floods, droughts and bushfires. Its mission is to lead disaster and emergency efforts from prevention to recovery.

“The big-ticket item for me at the moment is to lead on the development of a state resilience strategy for NSW. That involves a lot of inter-agency collaboration, engagement across government and outside of government and looking at the commitments in the resilience space,” says Janet.

“We are also looking for opportunities to extend those commitments so we can do more and do things more strategically to get better outcomes. It’s a whole of government strategy that will get everyone on the same page and working together.”

The timeline is ambitious with plans to go out to consultation with the first iteration of a strategy in February 2022. Janet says while traditionally a strategy would focus on preparation for, and recovery from, natural disasters, COVID has changed the landscape significantly.

“Now the focus is on how to make sure we are equipped to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from crisis events – from natural disasters and a pandemic to other significant disruption. It covers state and community organisations and not-for-profits, and it covers natural and built environments and critical infrastructure. Very few areas are removed from the resilience space,” says Janet.

Janet has 20 years of experience, spanning state and local government in NSW, in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of environmental policies, programs and education initiatives.

Science has long been a passion and when she left high school she studied science followed by a Master of Environmental Management.

Her first government job was as a Waste Audit Officer for Marrickville Council and then Community Enhancement Officer with Blacktown City Council. After a year in the Philippines in a voluntary role she continued to follow her interest in environmental management and joined Planet Ark to manage the organisation’s recycling programs.

“At school I did a lot of biology and ecology subjects and I think growing up in the Blue Mountains planted a seed of interest in an environmental career – I spent a lot of time bushwalking and scrambling up rocks!” says Janet.

“Initially when I began working, I was more focused on making a difference at the coalface and joining on-ground works. But part of the reason why I moved to state government was wanting to make a difference on a bigger scale. In the state government roles I’ve held, I am more removed from the coalface, but I can potentially have a bigger impact because there are tools and levers and unique opportunities to activate things that are only available in government.”

Janet has been involved in some key reforms and programs such as the initial research and discussion paper that eventually led to the introduction of the NSW container deposit scheme, where people get 10 cents back for every drink bottle and can they return.

“To know you were involved in such a big program that most people across NSW have engaged with in some way is very rewarding,” says Janet.

In 2019, Janet enrolled in the Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA).

“I had a good friend who went through the program and she spoke very highly of it. I spoke with a few other people who also did the EMPA and raved about it, so I put myself forward,” she says.

“I’ve always been quite motivated in ensuring I was in doing the best work I could and I reached a stage where I felt knowing more about different approaches and being exposed to different ways of thinking might help me to do that better. In my mind, it was also a way to test if I was ready to move on to a more senior role or in a different field.

“I have been working in the environment sector my whole career and I love that work, but the EMPA experience helped me see that my skills and expertise could be applied to other areas and I could open the door to other interesting opportunities in other sectors. It gave me professional confidence that I didn’t have to the same degree as I do now.”

Janet found a number of elements of the EMPA particularly informative, such as learning more about the system of government and how to make change.

“There are so many examples of innovative approaches that people have used to achieve great outcomes. The group work was also valuable because you meet amazing people you wouldn’t otherwise connect with. You build a network, find out more about what they do and draw out differences in approaches and disciplines that different people bring to their work,” says Janet.

“The Strategic Triangle is also a good tool to have in the back of my mind when I’m working through challenges and thinking about the missing pieces of the puzzle and how to address that. I think about the three elements – Public Value, Organisational Capability and Legitimacy & Support – that need to be present.”

The diversity of her role and the added knowledge she has gained from completing the EMPA has ensured that Janet will remain in government for the foreseeable future.

“I’m certainly not bored!” she says.

“There are so many opportunities to do great work in different facets of peoples’ lives and that keeps me engaged.”

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)

A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.

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