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All in the name of accountability: IPAA’s ACT and APS annual report awards

Laughter and cheers filled the cavernous interior of the dining hall at the ANU’s upmarket domicile University House last night as the ACT branch of the Institute for Public Administration presented awards to the top 2013-14 annual reports from the ACT and Commonwealth governments.

Department of Finance secretary Jane Halton gave the after dinner speech, in which she spoke about the hard work that goes into the documents, and the need to reform the whole system. Her department is working to rationalise annual reporting requirements in the Australian Public Service as part of the new performance framework her department is ushering in

The judges’ report from the annual event is probably the most detailed and up-to-date piece of work on the obscure art of annual report writing in the Australian public sector. We’ve compiled some of their comments about each category along with the full winners list below. The entire judges’ report for the annual reports awards is available on the IPAA ACT website.

2013-14ARANEWBANNER

Hard copy reports — large and medium FMA agencies

Silver: Fair Work Commission
Bronze: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Bronze: Department of Agriculture
Bronze: Department of Finance
Highly commended: Department of Health

Judges said: “The high quality of so many reports is reflected in the decision to make five awards in this category. However, no single report met all the assessment criteria to the high standard to make a gold award on this occasion.”

Hard copy reports — small FMA agencies

Silver: Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority
Silver: Australian Research Council
Bronze: National Health Performance Authority

Judges said: “Overall, produced hard copy annual reports that were of a good standard, and reflected their more focused purpose and functions. The high quality of reports submitted is reflected in the decision to make three awards in this category. However, no single report met all the assessment criteria to the high standard to make a gold award on this occasion.”

Hard copy reports — CAC bodies

Gold: Indigenous Business Australia
Silver: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Bronze: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Bronze: Food Standards Australia and New Zealand

Hard copy reports — ACT Government

Silver: ACT Policing
Bronze: Education and Training Directorate
Bronze: Health Directorate

Judges said: “While many annual reports provide information on activities undertaken during the year, there was a lack of emphasis on key decisions made. Performance reporting was generally comprehensive, but could have been enhanced with explanations of links between initiatives and outcomes. When the reports provided a picture of what happened during the year, further explanation is needed on why it happened. The role of directorates was generally clear with some annual reports providing concise explanation of their role down to output level. … Opportunities exist for improvement in the areas of further analysis of multi-year trends, specificity of achievement in the reporting year, and more detailed discussion of lessons learnt from under-performance. Further consideration of the length of some individual reports is also needed given the ACT guidelines require ACT annual reports to be ‘modest documents’ that provide an objective account of performance.”

Online reports — large and medium FMA agencies

Gold: Department of Communications
Bronze: ComSuper
Bronze: Department of Human Services

Judges said: “In a predominantly and rapidly changing digital world, with increasing community reliance on tablet computer and smart phone software applications, agencies generally need to give more attention improving their online reports. As most readers will access online versions of annual reports, simply posting a PDF or Word version is no longer considered adequate. Indeed, in many ways a better online version makes annual reports more accessible and useful to everyone.”

Online reports — small FMA Agencies

Bronze: Australian Transport Safety Bureau
Highly Commended: National Blood Authority

Judges said: “As for the large/medium agencies, assessors scored small agency online annual reports significantly lower than hard copy documents. Moreover the gap between large/medium agencies and small agencies is quite significant. It would seem that small agencies need more support, perhaps through a community of practice, to enhance their online report presence. Two agencies were considered to merit recognition through awards.”

Online reports — CAC Bodies

Gold: Clean Energy Finance Corporation
Silver: Indigenous Business Australia
Bronze: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Highly Commended: Food Standards Australia and New Zealand

Online reports — ACT Government

Silver: Education and Training Directorate
Silver: Health Directorate

Judges said: “The availability and accessibility of online reports is similar to last year but with increasing stakeholder access to online annual reports, expectations are increasing. In most instances the online version is either a PDF format or an HTML format with limited use of the functionality that HTML can provide. … The high expectations of the gold award for accessibility and navigation were not met and this provides opportunity for improvement next year.”

Read more at The Mandarin: Halton’s annual report overhaul: ‘next year will be different’

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.