Skip to content

Learning to create public value through negotiation

26 September 2023

News and media


Good negotiators prepare well, build trust and create win-win outcomes that leave all parties willing to work together again.

Public sector leaders are working in an increasingly collaborative environment where successful negotiations with stakeholders or other agencies are a vital part of building support for policy initiatives or rolling out programs.

An upcoming masterclass in ANZSOG’s Public Leadership Masterclass (PLM) series, Creating value through negotiation and influence, will show participants how a knowledge of negotiation techniques can help public servants overcome political and organisational barriers and build support for policy choices.

The masterclass will be led by Alex Smith, from Google’s Asia Pacific Government Affairs and Public Policy team. Alex is an experienced strategic negotiator who has led high-stakes, multimillion dollar deals with governments and private parties while working in Silicon Valley and New York City and has experience teaching negotiations courses at Harvard University.

Mr Smith said the masterclass would show participants how to prepare effectively for a negotiation and give them a greater understanding of the role of negotiations in overcoming political, organisational and operational barriers to delivering good policy.

He said it would explore how to build trust as part of a negotiation, and how to become a good ‘anticipatory negotiator’.

“The problems governments are trying to solve require collective action – whether between government, society and the private sector or just between government agencies. They are also human-led problems that require negotiation,” he said.

He said the public sector could be averse to negotiation, but when done properly it was a great way to create public value and build links with the community.

“Building trust at the start of a negotiation is essential. That involves trying to understand people’s interests rather than just coming at them with a proposal or a list of demands,” he said.

“When you have a sophisticated understanding of the other parties and what they want, that can lead to value exchanges – where you give up something that is low cost to you but high value to them. These value exchanges grow the pie that you are negotiating over and help build trust.”

“Trust also leads to more sustainable outcomes in the long-run, and that is important for government because a one-off win can set you up for long-term challenges.”

He said that the processes involved in the public sector should not be a barrier to good negotiations.

“These processes exist in private companies too, even if they are not always written down. If you don’t anticipate these barriers, you’ll never build trust, or you’ll be reduced to making it up as you go along, which is the opposite of a strategic negotiation.”

“How you set the table for a negotiation is really important, and part of what I will explore is how to become a good ‘anticipatory negotiator’”.

He said that learning negotiations skills could help public servants more broadly in both their internal and external work.

“Part of being an effective negotiator is learning to meet people where they are, listening and anticipating. These are skills that can carry over from negotiations to other parts of the work of government. Building and reflecting trust is a huge part of negotiation, and some of those techniques will also carry into relationships in the workplace.”

Creating value through negotiation and influence is one of 11 masterclasses in the 2023 PLM series, running from late September to early December.

The PLM program covers a wide range of areas and is designed as a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ style, which gives participants the choice to sign up for one masterclass or the whole series. The two-hour virtual seminars are designed to fit into a busy workday, while still allowing participants the chance to share ideas with peers from other agencies and jurisdictions. Full details on packages are available here, and a full schedule of masterclasses is below.

For more information on content and presenters visit the PLM webpage:

  • Building relationships with First Nations people to co-create prosperity with Katrina Johnson, Teaching Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and co-Director of Australia’s first Master of Indigenous Business Leadership at Monash Business School (4 October)
  • How to think outside the box with Professor Yumiko Shimabukuro, Director of the Urban & Social Policy Program for the Executive MPA at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, (10 October)
  • Leader(ship): “Put your own oxygen mask on first!” with Harvard Kennedy School’s Professor Dana Born (13 October)
  • Designing policies to enhance wellbeing with Professor Arthur Grimes, Chair of Wellbeing and Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington (18 October)
  • Creating value through negotiation and influence with Alex Smith, from Google’s public affairs and policy team (19 October)
  • Leading for Gender Equality: Learning lessons from the evidence with Professor Michelle Ryan, inaugural Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at the Australian National University (24 October)
  • Understanding and correcting data bias with University of Melbourne Professor Leah Ruppanner (25 October)
  • Managing high conflict negotiations with Jen Overbeck, Associate Professor of Management at Melbourne Business School (31 October and 27 November)
  • Diversity and Leadership with Professor Tim Soutphommasane, Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Oxford and former Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner (November 14)
  • Leadership for social impact with Paul Ramsay Foundation CEO, Professor Kristy Muir and UNSW Centre for Social Impact Associate Professor Shamal Dass (5 December)
  • Transforming Public Interest Organisations with Grant Freeland, Adjunct Lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School and former a Global Leader and Senior Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (6 December)

ANZSOG’s 2023 Public Leadership Masterclass series (PLM), will re-energise and educate hard-working and passionate emerging and current leaders and expose them to fresh ideas. The twelve masterclasses cover a range of themes and provide an invaluable opportunity for self-reflection and professional growth for you and your team. PLM is a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ style series which puts you in control of your online learning experience. Choose from various packages which feature masterclasses led by leading domestic and international thinkers on leadership and public management from the public, non-profit and private sectors.