Public service is a fraught endeavour. There are no clear solutions to the complex and intractable issues the public sector is tasked with managing. Rising inequality, shifting demographics, a changing economy, global uncertainty and the impacts of climate change make every challenge a wicked problem. And that’s before fractious politics, limited resources and unblinking public scrutiny are factored in. The pressure to provide just outcomes is immense.
Decisions have to be made and action taken, even if every path is paved with unknown consequences. This sets a high ethical bar for leaders at all levels of the public service. We need public servants capable of tackling these challenges in an ethical way.
But ethical abilities aren’t innate. They are like any other skill – they need to be developed and practiced. Simply having a code of conduct on the intranet or a list of dos and don’ts pasted to the wall of the office kitchen isn’t going to cut it. It’s something that has to be worked on every day and reinforced by organisational culture. As Aristotle said, moral excellence is the result of habit. The Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership has developed a number of programs designed to instil these habits in public sector leaders.
The Public Service Colloquia equip participants with the skills to embrace knotty ethical questions. The program is unlike other leadership training. We don’t roleplay scenarios or give tips on how to run more efficient teams. We challenge participants to examine what drives their decision making and consider their own moral agency. The purpose is to develop frameworks for tackling challenges where the right thing to do is not clear.
The programs are built around a model of shared inquiry, where participants actively engage with each other. Over six days, 20 emerging leaders from federal, state and territory governments come together to investigate the foundational ideas underpinning our society. The conversations are moderated by two facilitators, who guide and challenge participants. It all happens under the Chatham House Rule to ensure open and frank exchanges.
It is an immersive and intense experience. To prepare for the colloquium, each participant is sent a pack of readings. These include ancient philosophical works from Plato and Aristotle, enlightenment era thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, as well as contemporary thinkers like Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. This collection doesn’t present a unifying system for how the world should work. In many cases the ideas put forward directly contradict each other. The point is to raise questions for debate during the program.
The Australian Public Sector Colloquium is held twice yearly in Canberra at Old Parliament House. The Future Public Sector Leaders Colloquium is staged six times a year at Garden’s House in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. This physical removal from the frenzy of daily life is key to the program. It gives participants the space to fully engage with the program and their peers.
Recent feedback from alumni best explains it:
“It was the most thought provoking six days of my life. I learnt so much about how people think, and I have likened the course to a long-hard look in the mirror.”
“The readings immediately started to prompt some thinking leading up to the actual colloquium. To be really delve into the issues was excellent.”
“The program has introduced me to a new version of myself. I now have a tool kit to expand my network and deepen my thinking about matters of society we rarely discuss.”
“I move about with enthusiasm now, and a confidence to apply and express the wisdom of my own experiences and knowledge in a more ethical way.”
Click here to find out how to participate in the Public Sector Colloquia, or call 03 9827 2660 and ask for Caroline Gibson or Lis Kennish.