Working with Queensland’s Office of Industrial Relations to build capability
10 February 2023● News and media
The fast-changing and unpredictable public sector landscape is increasing demands on the public sector, and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) is working with agencies across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to help them meet their specific capability needs.
In 2022, the Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) Queensland was looking for customised capability training for senior and mid-level staff in its Work and Electrical Safety Policy Team to strengthen their skills in complex collaboration work with stakeholders and to better navigate the strategic and political context of their work. They chose to partner with ANZSOG to create a customised training program.
Andrea Fox, Chief Policy Director Work and Electrical Safety Policy at the OIR, said that her team was involved in collaborative work with a diverse group of stakeholders. They wanted capability training around collaboration, engagement and building trust and cooperation in polarised situations, as well as a deeper understanding of the changing expectations around policy development.
“Collaborative work is more difficult because it’s time consuming, it involves multiple frameworks and reference points, involves making sure that you are reaching the right people and that you are being inclusive, and demystifying the policy process enough for people to engage in it,” she said.
“Genuine collaboration is a more taxing way of doing things, for everyone not just governments, but it has huge benefits and delivers better policy.
“As an agency we cover a huge span of workplaces and stakeholders and we regulate everything from small microbusinesses to multi-nationals, from farms to manufacturing. We’re covering nurses and prison officers, at a time when the nature of work is changing.
“The nature of providing policy advice to government is changing and getting more complex. When I started it was very like the standard policy cycle approach: consider the options and say ‘here you are, here’s my advice, you need to make the decision on it’. Now in the policy space you are expected to take the outside world on that journey with you. You are part of helping to understand what the options are, where it is going and why, and through consultation work with others to get a level of acceptance required to ensure the policy has the best chance of success. That is what a contemporary government expects of you – not to say ‘here is the hard decision for you to make and that’s your problem’.”
She said that ANZSOG’s strong reputation for policy knowledge, and understanding of the public sector made it the best choice for her team.
“In our team we are all policy professionals – we don’t randomly work in this space. We wanted proper training and ANZSOG has that reputation as a genuine professional body. The level of sophistication we wanted in the training meant we needed it to be delivered by someone who was at the forefront of thinking in this space.
“What ANZSOG offered was a bespoke training course that was developed with us. This was also very important because we had previously looked at the generalist consultation and moderation training, or stakeholder relations training that was out there. Everyone in the team had done some of that training already, so we weren’t at that elementary level. We are in a very innovative policy development space so we wanted something that would help us at a much higher level.”
The workshops looked at both the broader strategic and political context the OIR operated in, as well as sharpening the skills needed to work with stakeholders with diverse perspectives and agendas, and where the potential for conflict was high.
Ms Fox said that the final program was able to address specific concerns from her team, as well as providing tools and techniques to be used to respond to issues in their work.
“But I didn’t just want practical elements, we all come from a research background and I’ve always really loved the theoretical elements. I wanted someone who had studied in the space to say ‘this is what the literature says, this is the latest thinking, this is where you could go and look at things further and get more insights’.”
The program used the knowledge and experience of Maria Katsonis, a regular contributor to ANZSOG programs and a public policy fellow at University of Melbourne with over 20 years’ experience as a senior executive in the Victorian Public Service, who Ms Fox said had ‘really bonded’ with the team during the program.
“We also talked about some of the skill sets you needed to go to the next level in policy. People were able to see what would be required of them at higher levels of public policy, in terms of the level of political astuteness that is so important now.”
“Another thing that was really useful for us was to talk about the ethical issues in our work, because that’s important when you are a public policy team that supports a regulator. One of the most insightful things Maria said is that for modern public servants, ‘ethical checking’ is a constant part of their job, and that they regularly say it is exhausting to be constantly asking ‘am I on the right side of this?’ This really resonated with my team, and it’s comforting to know that it’s not just in this subject area, but it’s something that is happening right across the country.”
Ms Fox said that having a team do training together not only made sure that everyone was able to benefit from new ideas and skills, but also created a valuable space for reflection on their shared work.
“There is a lot of benefit in getting people from the same team together in a room to do this training, and to hone their craft together. I’m a big believer, as a policy professional, that reflection is actually vital to your work. You don’t need to be constantly in the reactive space. In leading these policy teams, the workload has been so high, I don’t get the opportunity to bring people together for reflective exercises enough.,” she said.
She said the team was still bedding down the benefits of the program and adjusting how it worked.
“It’s still early days, and we are still consolidating what we got out of the program. I feel like we got so many things to build on that we are still working out how to go out and practice it. The key thing this training gave us was a better ability to understand other perspectives, and therefore how your ways of approaching things as a government are felt and interpreted by others. Ultimately, it’s about making us better at including other views and perspectives in what we do.”