Vic integrity strategy using behavioural insights to help clean up

By David Donaldson

Tuesday May 17, 2016

Victoria will use behavioural insights and data mining in its fight to clean up the public service, according to the Victorian Public Sector Commission’s new Integrity Strategy 2016-17.

The strategy, released Monday, aims for cultural change in the bureaucracy through a focus on compliance and shared public sector values.

Recent high profile integrity failures “have highlighted a clear need for a strong, coordinated approach to strengthening integrity across the Victorian public sector,” says Victorian public sector commissioner Belinda Clark.

The strategy is part of a broader move in Victoria to clean up the public sector following corruption inquiry hearings into the Department of Education’s handling of a major IT contract and so-called ‘banker schools’ system, as well as charges of corruption being brought against former Transport bureaucrats.

“The Victorian public sector must sustain strong community and government trust if it is to effectively serve the government of the day and the Victorian community. The VPSC’s Integrity Strategy outlines key initiatives to drive positive behaviours that are consistent with community expectations,” Clark argues.

Until recently there has been an absence of sustained central coordination of efforts to tackle integrity problems, the document notes.

Part of the job is just ensuring there’s across-the-board agreement on what an integrity-focused public service looks like — data indicate a lack of understanding within the sector about how to apply public sector values and codes of conduct to everyday work.

The VPSC says it will work with the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s new Behavioural Insights Unit to help build policies and procedures that make compliance easy and attractive.

The commission will create a database of data from complaints, reviews and the annual People Matters Survey of staff to assist in identifying and monitoring integrity issues.

There are eight priority initiatives currently underway or proposed to commence in 2016:

  • Promote one sector and values — the VPSC will develop a suite of promotional activities to foster a “one public sector” identity. It will advocate for the universal adoption of the public sector values and raise awareness of them. The application of behavioural insights will be a key focus of this initiative.
  • Revise values and ethics resources — focus will be on conflicts of interest, gifts, benefits and hospitality, the Ethics Resource Kit and guidance on dealing with breaches of the code of conduct.
  • Public sector employment standards — this will include the development of new standards with the aim of fostering a career public service and upholding the state’s charter of human rights.
  • Develop and launch a VPSC Integrity Portal — the VPSC will develop a portal on its website to provide a one stop shop featuring contemporary media and relevant information on behaving with integrity for public sector employees and organisations.
  • Develop the Speak Up initiative — the VPSC will identify the core requirements of effective “speak up” systems for employees to call out poor behaviour. The commission will recommend departments adopt these elements, with any adaptations relevant to their operating environment, so that all departments have a consistent process to centrally receive, consider and act on employee notifications.
  • Integrity communications — the VPSC will develop a strategic approach to communicating with public sector leaders on integrity matters. This will include regular updates on the findings from the People Matter Survey, VPSC data mining and advice about current and emerging risk areas across the public sector.
  • Undertake values reviews of organisations — the VPSC will introduce rolling reviews to examine how individual public sector organisations have embedded the code of conduct, public sector values and employment principles. This will provide organisations with feedback on their integrity efforts and provide the VPSC with a deeper understanding of integrity risks and mitigation challenges. Two reviews will be conducted each year and the VPSC will report on the outcomes to the Victorian Secretaries Board as part of its stewardship role.
  • Establish VPSC integrity data mining — the VPSC will establish a database to collate and analyse its integrity related information, including from People Matter Survey, reviews of actions, complaints and organisational reviews. This will inform the VPSC’s integrity functions and initiatives to identify and monitor key issues and trends.

Additionally, an evaluation plan with clear measurement criteria will be developed for each initiative targeting change in specific behaviours. This will be built into each initiative at the project design stage and at the completion of each initiative this evaluation will feed into the evaluation of the overarching strategy.

The strategy’s release follows the VPSC’s recent update of the Code of Conduct for Directors of Victorian Public Entities, which strengthens the binding behavioural requirements on public entity directors including in relation to conflicts of interest and duty.

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