Towards the ‘new normal’: five articles from 2021 on how public services can adapt post-COVID

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  • Published Date: 17 December 2021

As we moved towards a ‘new normal’ in 2021, focus shifted from the immediate response to COVID, to how the public sector could learn from the experience.

Many of the presenters and participants in ANZSOG programs spoke of the positives that emerged from COVID-19, including the emphasis on innovation and the necessity of finding new ways to work.

The challenge now is how to make these positive changes permanent: both in the public sector’s own internal ways of working, and how it works with other organisations and the public to serve the community.

There is a strong sense that things can’t go back to the way they were, and the public service needs to become more nimble, more collaborative and to move from a culture of risk-aversion to one of risk management. This is both to deal with the next crisis, as well as to improve its performance in ‘normal’ times.

The following popular articles appeared on ANZSOG’s website in 2021, and highlight ways to build a better public service post-COVID.

1. Kevin Rudd takes EMPA students through crisis response

Each major crisis is different, but public sector leaders can learn from the successes and failures of past responses and apply them to present and future crises.

This article focuses on a webinar from our Executive Master of Public Administration, featuring former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and a range of senior practitioners. Mr Rudd used his experience in dealing with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008/09 to provide lessons for governments dealing with other crisis, ranging from the difficulties of making fast decision with incomplete information, the under-estimated role of communication and the delicate judgements involved in deciding when a crisis is officially over.

2. Taking care of tomorrow today – New Zealand’s long-term insights briefings

The pandemic showed that few governments were able to anticipate and prepare for future events, good and bad. The OECD has warned that: “Governments in general do not appear to have developed the institutions, processes and practices to focus on the long term”.

This article by ANZSOG’s Aotearoa- New Zealand Executive Director Sally Washington outlines the pros and cons of New Zealand’s policy of mandatory ‘Long Term Insights Briefings (LTIBs) which all agencies are required to prepare for Parliament every three years.

The idea is for LTIBs to set out future trends, risks and opportunities over at least the next decade, with public consultation. It’s a great idea but are New Zealand’s agencies taking the task seriously enough, and do they have the capability to deliver on the LTIBs promise?

3. Focusing on people not technology: how the public sector can get better at solving complex problems

Why can we put rovers on Mars, but not find solutions to climate change? Why can governments only collaborate well during a crisis? And why are our organisations not achieving their latent potential?

ANZSOG presenter Dr Nick Fleming’s book ‘Dumb/Stuck’ outlines how public services can improve the way they define, analyse and solve complex problems. The launch of the book featured on online debate about how problems can be solved better.

As Dr Fleming said, his key piece of advice to public servants was to ‘ask better questions’ and to focus on whether they were solving the right problems, rather than just trying to create an absence of symptoms.

4. Harnessing behavioural insights to create better policies

The importance of behaviour change has become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic and in 2021 ANZSOG partnered with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute’s BehaviourWorks Institute to offer Harnessing behavioural insights: a course designed and tailored to introduce participants to key behavioural science principles and topics.

In this article, course presenter Dr Filia Garivaldis explains that because all public servants deal with people, and most policies and programs are asking people to change their behaviour, understanding behavioural science and how to apply it, can help the public sector to avoid mistakes and deliver better results for the community.

She talks about the assumptions, biases and rules of thumb which policymakers need to understand to make well-informed decisions.

5. Lil Anderson: Learn to build Indigenous partnerships

Creating good policy for First Peoples is a responsibility that extends across all parts of the public sector and one that depends on building strong partnerships with indigenous communities.

A successful part of Aotearoa - New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 was shifting decision-making to iwi (tribes) and letting them make local decisions to protect health, in partnership with central agencies.

In this article, Lil Anderson, Tumu Whakarae (Chief Executive), Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations, and a presenter in ANZSOG’s Future public sector leaders’ program, outlines how a Treaty-based approach can be used to build partnerships.

She explains why public servants who want to build partnerships need to change their mindsets, become more open to Indigenous cultures and ways of thinking and to be aware of the history of engagement between governments and colonised peoples.