Research Insights: building strategic policy capability for the SA Education Department

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  • Published Date: 24 November 2021

The South Australian Department of Education has developed a repeatable and scalable model for strategic policy development. It is the subject of the latest publication in the ANZSOG Research Insights series.

The A model for strategic policy development and capability in education paper, written by Peter Meere from the South Australian Department for Education, outlines how the Department developed and implemented a model for strategic policy development, as part of its 10-year vision to provide a ‘world-class’ education system.

The report outlines the process of diagnosing existing capability, developing a Strategic Policy Model and related tools, and the deliberate approach to governance, collaboration and co-design to ensure take up and use of the Model.

This work was done with assistance from ANZSOG and this Research Insights paper has been published because ANZSOG believes it has broader application across jurisdictions as an example of how a model for strategic policy can be designed, implemented, and used to drive an agency’s long-term strategic goals.

The South Australian Education Department has a 10-year vision to become a ‘world-class’ education system by significantly lifting public school students’ achievement. Strategic policy plays a critical role in helping achieve the vision by targeting long-term improvements in the areas that drive better outcomes for students.

Historically, however, some of the Department’s strategic policy has been less impactful than they had hoped for, and performance has been varied in policy development, implementation and outcomes achieved.

To remedy this, between 2018-2020 the Department’s Strategic Policy and External Relations Division (SPER) developed a Model to shift the way strategic policy is thought about and produced within the Department, and to build stronger capability to design and deliver it.

The Model has been successful with strong uptake and use across the Department, a result of key design principles including a deliberate approach to governance, collaboration and co-design, and constant communication and socialisation.

The paper outlines the development of the Model, from the initial assessment by ANZSOG’s Sally Washington and Professor Michael Mintrom of the Department’s current state of policy and practice (involving input from Departmental staff at all levels), and the development of a prototype strategic policy framework and commissioning tool. The ‘Get-to-Go’ tool, adapted from a similar tool used in New Zealand, was designed to facilitate thinking at the outset of a strategic policy process, to uncover what information is needed, what analytical approach will be followed, who needs to be involved, and what governance and project management is required.

The paper discusses the process of co-designing the model with executives and practitioners across the Department, to ensure it is embedded and influences the design and delivery of future reform.

The paper outlines several critical success factors that can serve as lessons for organisations embarking on a policy capability development journey.

These include:

  • A deliberate approach to governance, with senior sponsorship communicating the authorising environment.
  • Collaboration and co-design with staff of the Department.
  • Constant communication and socialisation of the Model to demonstrate value and build support over time.
  • Drawing on the experiences of others and learning from what other organisations or jurisdictions have done and adopting or adapting those tools or approaches.
  • Courageous conversations and confidence to invite outside challenge, by inviting external assessment to ‘hold a mirror up’ to existing weaknesses and gaps.

ANZSOG is proud to have been involved with this journey and to contribute towards South Australia’s quest to build a world-class education system. The Model will not only support continuous improvement for the SA Education Department, but its development can provide inspiration and advice for other agencies who wish to build strategic policy capability.

Other organisations interested in working with ANZSOG on a similar project can contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The paper is available in ANZSOG’s Research Insights series which supports our mission of lifting the quality of public sector leadership in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand through disseminating conceptual and practical reflections from our network of expert practitioners and academics, ranging across the span of ANZSOG’s work.