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How the EMPA gave Dean’s Prize Winner James Pitman new ways to solve problems

19 March 2024

News and media


Image of James Pitman, valedictorian of the 2022 EMPA cohort and winner of the Dean’s Prize

James Pitman has gained a broader understanding of the public sector, and a range of tools that help him think his way through problems, thanks to ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA).

Mr Pitman, who is Acting General Manager, Ministerial and Executive Enabling Branch, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, was named valedictorian of the 2022 EMPA cohort and winner of the Dean’s Prize for overall academic achievement in the progam.

He said that ANZSOG was a natural fit for his passion for public administration, and he had been struck by the diversity of experiences in the program and the positivity of the cohort.

“I loved the cohort, and I have made some friends from every state and territory. The best thing you can discover is that you are solving the same probems and challenges.”

Mr Pitman began his career in television and advertising, and says that he learnt a lot of techniques of ‘manipulation’ and wanted to put them to a more ethical use.

It was a secondment to India to work for the Centre for Citizenship and Democracy that turned his mind towards a public sector career.

“I learnt the huge impact government has on people – and I got to apply all this advertising experience to the huge problems that faced the Indian Government: how do you move waste from one area to another? how do you shore up energy supply?

“When I finished up my secondment I came back and thought ‘actually government might be the place for me, and I can continue that work”.

Mr Pitman joined the Australian public service in 2012 and has spent 12 years in various roles in the Industry, Science and Resources portfolio which he says has exposed him to the diverse roles that government plays.

“Industry is one of the most diverse departments. It’s looking at a range of hard industry policy challenges and cultural soft problems. From how to get kids interested in STEM and fix the leaky STEM pipeline to what are the minerals and resources needed to transition the economy to net zero?

“I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve had all this diverse work that I never would have thought existed in government. I worked on the Square Kilometre Array in middle of WA, I’ve worked on nuclear science, and through COVID I was helping get very specific brain medication for children suffering from brain cancer into the country, as well as securing a soverign mRNA manufacturing capability.”

‘Delivering back’ to the department from the EMPA experience

Mr Pitman said that his decision to do the EMPA was partly based on his desire to get a broader picture of the public sector.

“Despite that variety of work, and the fact that I have great structures and supports, I have been in the one department my whole career and I wanted to get a broader exposure to more social policy problems and programmatic delivery challenges.”

“I saw the EMPA as something that kind of rounded me out. As you go into higher ranks you are looking to understand the bigger picture challenges that governments are facing, and I wanted to do something that let me look at what else was going on in the public sector.”

He said he was more interested in the EMPA than in just going to a university to do more education, because the EMPA is designed for the public sector.

“You’re sponsored to do it and it is about the organisation taking a stake in you,” he said.

“That meant I took on board pretty hard that I had an obligation to make sure I delivered back. I never thought of it as being like a university degree, but as a part of my work, so at the end of each lecture or unit I was working to embed it into my leadership.”

“I was trying to take the great lessons from units like Delivering Public Value and Managing Public Sector Organisations back to my team. I’d say ‘I just learnt to make better models – here’s how’, or I’d create reading lists for my staff.”

“It wasn’t just about my learning but about how I shared it with the team and thinking about how some of the insights from thinkers like Mariana Mazzucato applied to our organisation.”

Changing how he works

Mr Pitman said that the EMPA gave him different ways of looking at his work and its challenges

“For example, the Leading Public Sector Change unit gave me a lot of great tools to think through what modern leadership could look like, and this conflict that seems to exist between generalists and specialists because ultimately you are a combination of both.

“There is also the idea of stewardship, and how stewardship can be embedded in policy practice and advice. For most public service jobs there is such high rotations of staff, you need to think about the microinterventions you can make that will be there after you are gone.”

“I’ve had this great opportunity to learn new ways to think my way through problems or even to embed more academic discipline into thinking about challenges. When I apply that in my organisation I’ve been able to build competencies and been able to mold some of the newer people.”

“Even doing things like a literature review when we start work on a problem – finding out what is out there, who else is working on it and bridging that gap between research and policy.”

He said that one of the main changes to his approach, was that he has a better appreciation of the value of thinking through program and policy logic before deciding on a course of action.

“We have never really gone through the process of mapping the full decision and stepping through the policy challenges from end to end, and going through the people we are trying to influence and what are their touchpoints.

Mr Pitman says he is excited to be able to apply his new knowledge at a time when the public sector was leading the response to some of the major challenges facing Australia.

“We have huge productivity challenges facing Australia at the same time as we are needing to make big decisions around our transition to net-zero. Increasing productivity at the time we are trying to transform the economy is a big challenge,” he said.

“We are seeing huge technological changes, not just AI but much broader and affecting every business and individual and every government service operator. We are bringing more people into the digital space and their expectations are exponentially growing, and AI is just one component of that.”

“There are a lot of areas where government needs to act and I believe that what we all learnt during the EMPA program has prepared us to think about these challenges and public value in a way we hadn’t before.”


ANZSOG’s 2024 EMPA Cohort recently began their studies, with the commencement of the Delivering Public Value subject in Melbourne. For more information on the EMPA program, including how to express your interest, click here.