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Four lessons from 2020 policy makers need to learn

15 December 2020

News and media


Distance learning theme with person using a laptop computer

Good policymakers design for the public interest and know how to build support from multiple stakeholders. They understand there are many ways to design, promote and implement public policy, and are always looking to adapt to new circumstances, trends, technologies, the political environment and major events, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policy is a major focus for ANZSOG. Each year our network of academics and practitioners add to the wealth of research exploring current policy making while keeping an eye on the future.

In response to the pandemic, ANZSOG moved a range of education, research and advice and thought leadership deliveries online, and developed new initiatives to prioritise providing public sector leaders with the best knowledge and research to deal with COVID-19. In March, just as the pandemic was beginning to seriously take hold in Australia, we launched our research translation series, The Bridge. Compiled and curated by Maria Katsonis, The Bridge makes important research accessible to public sector leaders. The following articles were some of the most popular research translation articles in The Bridge in 2020.

Understanding prevention and early intervention in public policy

They say “prevention is better than a cure”. Prevention and early intervention not only improve individual and social benefits, but can also reduce future demand and cost on public service, so there’s good reason for policymakers to consider them. But it can be hard to find legitimacy for policies that may not deliver for some time, when there are immediate policy problems to deal with.

This article gives an overview of what policymakers need to design and implement prevention and early intervention strategies. That includes getting them on the policy agenda, but also broadening the policy process to learn from diverse experience and expertise, which can be crucial in prevention and early intervention.

When policies are designed around the end-user, spelling out the outcomes, it’s possible for prevention and early intervention to gain footing in time and resource-limited agendas. Understanding how can have lasting, positive impacts for public service users.

Read more here

What can the policy sciences tell us about COVID-19?

COVID-19 has caused a surge in the number and types of public policies adopted by governments. Policy changes have come about from learning, negotiated agreements and diffusing and transferring ideas across organisations and jurisdictions.

Policymaking itself has had to adapt. The demand for scientific and technical expertise has risen, but at the same time policy needs to appeal to emotion as much as it does to rationality. Given the uncertainty of COVID-19 – both its impacts and longevity – people and governments need accurate and timely information in order to act.

This summary was written early in the pandemic, but the lessons still rings true: policy sciences can help us understand COVID-19, and what to do about it.

Read more here

Royal commissions and policy influence

Royal commissions are a crucial means of gathering information on an issue the government takes seriously. However, the recommendations they make are not legally binding. Because of this, opportunities might be missed to influence the direction of public policy.

This is a summary of how royal commissions might create policy legacies for high public value, using three successful case studies: the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. All three commissions framed recommendations to transcend political lines, and showed evidence for how their recommendations would serve a diverse group of people.

Each royal commission managed three key stages well: framing, advocacy coalitions, and implementation. This summary explains how, and is a guide for how royal commissions can exert influence on policymakers and public leaders.

Read more here

Bonus content:

Confronting the big challenges of our time: making a difference during and after COVID-19

By ANZSOG Professor Janine O’Flynn

Our policy lessons in 2020 were not just confined to The Bridge. This article by ANZSOG’s Professor Janine O’Flynn says looks at how public management scholars need to work across a range of boundaries and get more comfortable with complexity. COVID-19 has forced a change in the role of governments and challenged crucial factors to good public management. Not all of these were caused by COVID-19, rather thrown into stark relief, so practitioners and scholars alike cannot continue to ignore them in the post-COVID world.

“Both during and in the aftermath of a catastrophic global pandemic, it is at the intersections, not in the silos, that we are likely to move forward intellectually and practically,” Professor O’Flynn says. There’s space for radical change in the field – certain issues shouldn’t be held off or left to other fields – and that’s a positive thing.

“It is also time for a reckoning of sorts. We must look at the role that our field has played in creating these injustices and harms, many of which are now being amplified by COVID-19.”

Read more here

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Read more #BestofANZSOG2020 articles:

Five things we learned about crisis leadership during COVID-19
Five public administration lessons from 2020
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
Five thought-provoking articles from 2020 for public sector leaders