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Seven public policy forces public managers will have to deal with in the future

23 November 2017

News and media


By John Wanna, Associate Dean ANZSOG  

Governments and public managers face ever-changing challenges when it comes to implementing public policy in the 21st Century.

Associate Professor Zeger van der Wal, from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, recently presented a lively and informative discussion for ANZSOG at the Australian National University exploring the real challenges to the operating environment currently faced by public policy makers, as well as those still to come.

A lecturer, researcher, and consultant in public management, specialising in ethics and good governance, stakeholder analysis, and strategic HRM, Professor van der Wal drew on his extensive experience working with and studying governments across the globe and in particular with the changing kaleidoscopic world facing future public managers.

So how can public servants navigate the complexities of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world?

And how do they balance traditional legal and moral public service values with the modern pressure to deliver efficient and effective outcomes?

According to Professor van der Wal, public managers need to be flexible, collaborative and innovative, stressing the importance of adapting to the disruptive world they are navigating, with a focus on continued delivery of public value.

He provoked and entertained the audience of largely senior public servants with perceptive observations, instructive anecdotes, and pertinent questions, before outlining his assessment of the major imperatives confounding the modern public manager.

VUCA captured the enormity of the combined disruptive forces, which shaped the world public managers worked within, Professor van der Wal said.

These disruptive forces would only become intensified going forward.

He outlined seven contested domains or forces that public managers will have to deal with and/or try to manage to make headway in delivering public policies in the future.

Seven public policy forces public managers will have to deal with in the future

1. Managing the rapidly changing world of stakeholder multiplicity

2. Managing within the context of authority turbulence and rapid turnovers of leadership

3. Dealing with the volatilities associated with the new changing workforce

4. Managing innovation forces to make best use of new ideas and technologies

5. Managing or balancing complex ethical and privacy issues

6. Managing to deliver short-term results and immediate performance in conjunction with longer-term planning and anticipation

7. Managing through others in cross-sectoral collaboration.

Backed by his encyclopaedic knowledge of theories related to public management and public policy, and tempered by his extensive experience as a consultant and adviser to governments and public agencies around the world, Professor van der Wal was optimistic managers could rise to these challenges of the future.

However, he stressed they needed to be prepared to evaluate their own roles, skills and knowledge, as well as move with the times and understand or ‘read’ the complex signifiers re-framing their world.

Professor van der Wal teaches in ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration course. Find out more about the course and register your interest here.

His latest book The 21st Century Public Manager is a hands-on, accessible teaching text geared towards executive education and MPA audiences. It was published with Macmillan Education in March 2017, and can be found here.