Leadership and the Melbourne MPA

By The Mandarin

June 26, 2015

Tom Burton: All obviously sounds like it’s about leadership, I suppose, is the proposition. Can we unpack that proposition of how you think about leadership in this program?

Janine O’Flynn: Yes. For us, it’s in essence… one of the key parts of the program is about training our future leaders, in part, but also offering those who are already in leadership positions a chance to reflect, to come and make sense of their world by talking with others, while also being introduced to new ideas. We have a great collaboration with our colleagues here in the Centre for Workplace Leadership, which is a great team who contribute to our subject on managing effectively. They lead that subject, which is very focused on the development of individual leadership skills, looking at some of the challenges that people will confront in practice, but also a very confronting experience for some people, about taking stock of what they’re doing well, where they might improve in their own personal leadership style.

So we look at it from that individual leadership development perspective, but also more broadly in how you lead across boundaries — how do you lead reform programs, how do you design and change and innovate — and all of that is part and parcel of leadership roles as we know in this public sphere environment. How do you lead for reform, but how do you lobby for reform as well? These are different sets of skills that we see, and in the work that the school’s been doing — looking at the 21st century public servant and the workforce, which spans outside the sector now — we see this as the key parts of the skills and capabilities of being able to develop that workforce.

Tom Burton: Just to come back then, what I’m interested in is, you’ve thought through these challenges — how do you articulate those into a program, then? You’ve got a lot of executive programs and thinking, and a lot of good programs there, but how have you tried to really take those challenges and give them an essence within the program you’ve developed here?

Janine O’Flynn: We’ve just started our Master’s of Public Administration in 2014. In many ways, it was a return to roots at Melbourne. With one of my other hats on, I’m one of the editors of the Australian Journal of Public Administration, and in going back through the archives of that, as all great editors try to do, we’ve discovered that in the 1930s the University of Melbourne had its first Diploma of Public Administration. Sydney was first, and there was a great battle between some of the great figures of public administration in Australia for who went first in that. We were second.

But what we did in thinking about the MPA was really work together in a cross-faculty way at Melbourne, which in and of itself is a rare opportunity in the education space. And say, what are these big challenges? What are the things that leaders in that environment need to know about, and how do we reflect what’s going on in their professional world? So the first subject that we designed for the MPA, called The World of Public Administration, has a day-by-day analysis of those challenges. We work through them with the participants in the program, bringing in a range of experts to work with them on what I’d call public administration bootcamp, five days before the first semester, all in for that. That allows them to really get to know each other very well, to have a space where they can share those professional experiences, and that set of challenges really lays out the foundation for their program. They then go on to look at various areas of what we call essential disciplinary expertise, from public finance through to the rule of law and the nature of governing. So we cover off politics, economics, and political science. And then into more, what we call sort of professionally oriented subjects around ethical dilemmas, how do we understand the news evidence, and how do we manage effectively?

And so, these five challenges provide the springboard into those areas, and they capture the essence of what’s going on. Not just today in public administration, but, if I went back to those pieces in the 1930s, I’d say that we all had similar views about what those challenges were, we just looked at them in a really different way in those days.

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