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Five public administration lessons from 2020

15 December 2020

News and media


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Public administration is a big topic, spanning management, policy, economics, law, leadership and public value – and that’s before we even start thinking about politics. Balancing all of these competing demands is a complex task, and requires skillful coordination and good leadership. Public sector leaders also need to be flexible to respond to ever-changing public interests and needs – particularly in a year like 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic ANZSOG moved a range of education, research and advice and thought leadership deliveries online, and developed new initiatives to prioritise the need to provide public sector leaders with the best knowledge and research while working from home. These included::

The Leading in a Crisis series
The Reimagining Government series
Our research translation series, The Bridge.

The following articles were some of the most popular for ANZSOG in 2020 and they cover some of the most pressing issues facing public sector leaders today, including: public value, innovation, and how to avoid working in silos.

Public Admin Explainer: What is public value?

We talk about public value a lot at ANZSOG. But what does it mean?

Private value is to the individual, where public value belongs to the collective – even if individuals benefit privately from it. The key, therefore, is in how each value is consumed. Public value is also not strictly outcomes-focused – it takes inputs and processes into account, since governments have to provide value within constraints.

Public value also sits in one corner of Professor Mark Moore’s famous ‘strategic triangle’ – another thing we talk about a lot at ANZSOG. The triangle weighs value against the authorising environment and productive capabilities and helps public servants decide should I, can I and may I do it?

This explainer provides an overview of one of ANZSOG’s core principles.

Read more here

Accounting for ‘Dis/value’: Challenging the assumptions behind Public Value

By Maria Katsonis (University of Melbourne)

The ‘Public Value Ethos’ has become so ingrained that it is difficult to critique. After all, who would argue against including service users in public service design? But public value co-creation might not be positive for everyone.

Dis/value acknowledges that public services are complex, and users diverse. Some user experiences, therefore, might be of exclusion, negotiation, and rejection. These experiences need to be accounted for in public service design.

This article was featured in ANZSOG’s research translation project, The Bridge.

Read more here 

Agile: A new way of governing

By Maria Katsonis (University of Melbourne)

Software design has inspired a new potential in government and public administration. The practice of ‘agility’, already benefiting other fields, can help public managers meet expectations to make their organisations more flexible and responsive. What it asks is that the design phase responds efficiently to changing public needs.

It’s not a perfect solution – there are benefits and problems to agile. That will always be the case, since it comes up against traditional bureaucracies, especially when there’s no incentive to change. But it certainly warrants consideration, since many organisations have seen remarkable changes.

There are 12 key principles of agile, and one core assumption: that innovation is not linear. For agile to work, organisations, cultures and needs must be intertwined.

This article was featured in ANZSOG’s research translation project, The Bridge.

Read more here

The dark side of Public Innovation

By Maria Katsonis (University of Melbourne)

Innovation improves the public sector by making it efficient, effective and legitimate. Some argue that there is now an “innovation imperative” in government to keep up with the pace of societal change. There are benefits to public innovation – and these are well known – but there’s a dark side too.

Perverse effects fall into two broad categories: low public value and low public control. Responsible innovation should take the risks into consideration, public innovators need to work out how to prevent perverse effects without killing innovation altogether.

This explainer provides an overview of the perverse effects of public innovation and how they come about, and what their consequences might be.

This article was featured in ANZSOG’s research translation project, The Bridge.

Read more here

Becoming a boundary spanning public servant

By Maria Katsonis (University of Melbourne)

Working across silos is an important part of public administration, but it’s a challenge. Public servants need to learn specific competencies in order to become boundary spanners. This explainer shows that there are three key competency clusters: cognitive, social and emotional.

Individual public servants may possess some or all of the competencies, but one question is whether they can be trained – that is, whether boundary spanners are “born or bred”. It’s not a once-size-fits all – some skills are easily developed, and others more innate, but even the more complex qualities can be developed.

While cognitive skills usually require training specific to a public servant’s field, emotional and social skills are more generalist. Often, they are taught in separate programs, but there is an argument that for public servants to become good boundary spanners, then the three competency clusters ought to be development in tandem, not in isolation.

This article was featured in ANZSOG’s research translation project, The Bridge.

Read more here

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Read more #BestofANZSOG2020 articles:

Five things we learned about crisis leadership during COVID-19
Three things we learned about working from home in 2020
Five things we learned in 2020 about mega-crises, wicked problems, and the VUCA world
Six things COVID-19 taught us about regulation and why people comply
Four lessons from 2020 policy makers need to learn
Five thought-provoking articles from 2020 for public sector leaders