How the EMPA showed Dean’s Prize winner Annan Boag the value of collaboration
31 May 2023● News and media
Since ANZSOG was founded in 2002, thousands of public servants have benefited from our programs and courses. Many have gone on to senior and highly influential positions in public services across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. To celebrate ANZSOG’s 20 years of working with our owner governments to strengthen the quality of public sector leadership in Australia, this series of profiles looks at the achievement of our alumni, why they chose the public sector as a career, their views on how to lead and the importance of having a high-quality values-driven public service.
An ANZSOG Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) has given Annan Boag a greater understanding of his role in the public sector, and of the value of collaboration.
Mr Boag, Assistant Commissioner Privacy and Assurance, Office of the Victoria Information Commissioner, was part of the 2021 EMPA cohort and was also awarded the Dean’s Prize for overall academic achievement.
He has worked in the public sector since he was at university but said he had never done a graduate program or had a formal public service induction, so the EMPA was ‘helpful for letting me think about what public service is’.
Mr Boag said he had wanted to do the EMPA to get a better understanding of the broader work of the public sector, and to meet people working in different areas.
“I’ve done all aspects of information regulation, which in some ways is quite a narrow field and wanted to get more experience and understanding of the work of the public sector more broadly, to give me a better understanding of where I can have the most impact in my career,” he said.
He said it was rewarding to do a program with other people who were passionate about the work of the public sector.
“I think there are a lot of unfair associations with the public service – that it can be slow, old-fashioned, can’t get anything done, and that innovation happens in the private sector. But when the COVID crisis happened the public sector was quick to respond and to respond effectively.
“But actually the public sector can and must be innovative.”
He said that the academic standard of the EMPA was ‘exceptionally high’ in both the ANZSOG-delivered units and the ones delivered by ANZSOG’s partner universities.
‘It was not just the quality of the instructors, but the selection of readings and perspectives, and how the group-based assessment tasks brought it all together.’
Collaboration and learning from the EMPA cohort
Mr Boag said that the EMPA had taught him about the importance of culture in managing change, and the value of collaboration and building relationships.
“The challenge in any change is to find a way to convince people to come on a journey, and that means you have to understand what other people are motivated by – and have them understand what your motivations are as well.
‘That means a a real motivation for the public service is crucial. If you don’t have that intrinsic motivation, how are you going to motivate others?’
“Something else I learnt from the EMPA is the importance of collaboration and of building relationships. If there is some novel task that I need to do, I know now to reach out to other jurisdictions, perhaps contacts from the EMPA, and try to learn if and how they’ve tackled the problem, or if we can work together to find a solution.”
He said a lot of the value of the EMPA was working with a cohort of peers who became a close professional and personal network, due to the team-based nature of EMPA work.
“Everyone there really wants to be there and has their own perspective and an informed opinion based on their own work and life experience,” he said.
“You learn the importance of diversity, and of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of everyone you are working with – doing the EMPA you couldn’t help but learn lessons about working as a team.”
He said that the EMPA had helped him to get a grasp of the bigger picture that public services are working in beyond his day job, and how the world of the public sector is changing.
I work in regulation, so the work is conducting investigations and applying laws – the course has made me ask ‘why?’ a lot more. Why is it we are doing what we do? Why do we use these discretions and in what circumstances, does it connect to the broader purpose of the work that we are doing to the benefit of the community?
He advised potential EMPA students to jump at the opportunity to do the program, and to use it to tackle real problems that they had.
“You’ll get the most out of the assessments in this course if they are things that are real and relevant to issues you’re tackling in your own work,” he said.
“As an example, in Decision Making Under Uncertainty, you need to design a design making system. I did that for the process by which our agency develops its program of regulatory action.
“The insight I got from the course allowed me to identify ways to use a wider range of evidence types. I then applied that at work – so it is now what we are actually using to help us make better and more informed decisions.”
Mr Boag also used work he had done as part of the EMPA on artificial intelligence and ethics, which involved interviewing more than 20 people across Australian governments who had implemented AI systems, to produce this article about the potential and perils of generative AI.
“The challenge I would give to new students is: how can you use what you learn to make your organisation, or even the world, a little bit better.”