Developing agency capability: A new ANZSOG framework to prepare the public sector

team having a discussion
  • Published Date: 25 May 2021

Capability reviews of the public service were a recommendation of the 2019 Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, chaired by David Thodey, and a new ANZSOG Research Insights paper ‘Developing Agency Capability’ outlines a detailed framework for independent reviews to ensure that agencies are well-positioned to respond to future challenges.

The paper, by Donald Speagle, Shaun Goldfinch and Rory Dufficy, is based on a report commissioned from ANZSOG by the Western Australian Public Service Commission to assist them to implement a program of reviews.

The paper proposes an agency capability review framework for Australian governments, to be managed by public service commissions, that uses independent review panels supported by public service commissions and agencies. These panels would build on an initial agency self-assessment and provide key ‘lines of inquiry’ for future investigations.

Subsequent ‘fieldwork’, including interviews and focus groups with ministers, agency CEOs, other agency leaders, and other staff, would be used to ascertain the views of partners and citizens – to establish key avenues and recommendations for improvement.

Agencies would be assessed over five domains using a rating scale that allows for a useful comparison across agencies:

  1. Leadership, Culture, and Direction
  2. Delivery for Citizens
  3. Relationships
  4. People Development
  5. Resource and Risk Management

The paper includes a review of current and former capability review frameworks from the UK, New Zealand and the Australian Commonwealth, using unpublished documentary material from UK and New Zealand reviews, as well as the results consultation with experts with experience relevant to capability reviews in the three key jurisdictions.

The Thodey Review is not the first review to raise the issue of capability reviews. The Commonwealth’s Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration proposed the introduction of capability reviews in 2021, due to its concerns about a lack of support for secretaries to improve the capability of their organisations and limited accountability for how well agencies perform internally and cooperate with others.

The paper concludes that a program of reviews has considerable potential to improve the performance of public sector agencies, with the fulfillment of that potential depending on several conditions. These include:

  • a political authorising environment that provides strong support of the independence and integrity of the reviews
  • a comprehensive process that engages the agency’s senior executive team as fully as possible
  • an action plan to enhance priority capabilities that contains necessary, detailed and measurable steps
  • and a performance management mechanism to provide a strong incentive for a CEO to implement the action plan

The full report is available on the ANZSOG website.

ANZSOG acknowledges with gratitude the willingness of the WA PSC to allow us to share more broadly what was learnt in the course of the capability review project.

About ANZSOG’s Research Insights

ANZSOG’s mission is to lift the quality of public sector leadership in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand. As part of this mission, we seek to:

  • educate public sector leaders to improve their skills, capacity and management, and expose them to the best thinking on public administration.
  • enrich the discipline of public sector leadership through focused research, which has a practical application and meets the needs of our owner governments.
  • connect diverse people, cultures, institutions and jurisdictions – it is a meeting place where public sector leaders come together to be inspired, share, learn and debate accepted practice and new ideas. We also connect senior public service practitioners and academic, and provide a bridge between theory and practice.
  • inspire public servants to make a positive difference to the lives of people in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

ANZSOG’s Research Insights series supports this mission through disseminating conceptual and practical reflections from our network of expert practitioners and academics, ranging across the span of ANZSOG’s work. Find out more here.