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EMPA’s first virtual cohort celebrates graduation

14 March 2022

News and media


EMPA’s first virtual cohort celebrates graduation

After two years of online learning, members of the first virtual cohort of ANZSOG’s flagship Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) have celebrated their graduation.

Dean’s Prize Winner Duane McKibben, from the New Zealand Public Service Commission, delivered the valedictory speech for the 2020 cohort, saying that all of the participants who began the program in February 2021 had been affected by COVID-19 – both by being pulled into their jurisdictions’ COVID responses and having to adapt to online learning delivery.

“As the first ‘COVID cohort’, we grieved – sometimes in denial, sometimes in anger, perhaps moving towards a begrudging acceptance – that the world was just going to be different now,” he said.

“But we persevered, and we adapted, and – to borrow the phrase from Decision Making Under Uncertainty – we ‘muddled through’. In many ways, that’s often what the Public Service does. But I think COVID-19 also showed how agencies can join forces and move with agility to solve complex challenges in a crisis.”

ANZSOG moved quicky to shift the EMPA online when COVID hit in 2020. Sessions were held virtually and ANZSOG engaged experts in education technologies to work one-on-one with Subject Leaders to convert material and teaching methods to the online environment. To check things were progressing as planned, we ran ‘pulse checks’ with participants after the first day of online teaching in each subject, and detailed evaluations at the end of each subject.

This feedback showed an increasing level of satisfaction as the semester progressed and students and Subject Leaders became used to the new environment. The virtual setting also allowed ANZSOG to engage more Subject Leaders from outside Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mr McKibben said the EMPA had helped prepare him for the complex and demanding world that public managers faced in the post-COVID era and the complex policy challenges that needed to be addressed.

“These challenges are increasingly complex and haven’t necessarily got a template answer. Problems such as climate change or child poverty. And people increasingly expect government to deliver services in ways that work best for them,” he said.

“But it’s not just about delivering better outcomes and services. One just has to look at the potential for, or the reality of, erosion of trust in government and public institutions world-wide to realise we as public servants have something important that we need to protect and maintain. Even here in little old New Zealand – we are not immune to those global forces. Recently, we witnessed an occupation outside our own Parliament, protesters fuelled by misinformation and disinformation.”

“We as public service leaders must find ways earn the trust of every citizen and preserve and protect those things that underpin our own form of democracy.”

Mr McKibben said the EMPA program had broadened his views beyond technical expertise and helped him see the world through different perspectives – helping him to deal with uncertainty and better understand wicked problems.

“The EMPA has grown my courage to effect change. Linking back to public purpose and the reason for being a public servant – and connecting with other leaders in different jurisdictions – has re-energised my passion for making a difference. I now have a wider array of tools and increased confidence to effect positive change,” he said.

Mr McKibben finished his speech with a whakataukī (proverb) that summed up the importance of working collectively:

“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. My success is not mine alone, but it is the strength of many.”

Read the full text of Duane’s speech here.

As well as the Dean’s Prize, an award was made to the student who achieved the highest mark in each EMPA subject. The full prize list is below:

Delivering Public Value

  • Claire Werkmeister, WA - Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation

Government in a Market Economy

  • Genevieve Mogridge, NT - Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet

Designing Public Policies and Programs

  • Duane McKibben, NZ – Public Service Commission

Decision Making Under Uncertainty

  • Duane McKibben, NZ – Public Service Commission
  • Stephanie Paton, NSW – Transport for NSW
  • Greg Keen, CTH - Department of Health
  • Kylie Bennetts, VIC – City of Port Phillip

Managing Public Sector Organisations (MPSO)

  • Catherine Roberts, VIC – Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office
  • Elsie Loh, VIC – Department of Families, Fairness and Housing

Governing by the Rules

  • Duane McKibben, NZ – Public Service Commission

Leading Public Sector Change

  • Catherine Roberts, VIC – Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office

Public Financial Management (PFM)

  • James Goodwin, NSW – Environment Protection Authority

Work-Based Project

  • Stephanie Paton, NSW – Transport for NSW
  • Blair Neale, VIC – Department of Education and Training
  • Jo McNeill, VIC – City of Port Phillip
  • Kylie Finnigan, CTH – Services Australia
  • Jimmy Ng, NSW – Department of Education
  • Jennifer Anderson, CTH - Fair Work Commission

The Dean’s Award for overall academic achievement

  • Duane McKibben, NZ – Public Service Commission