Public sector innovators challenged to make collaboration real for government

By Harley Dennett

October 20, 2016

Can the public sector reshape its ethos and culture in an up-to-the-minute context? Or does it constrain innovation and collaboration?

Calls for reform never really end in government circles, but there has rarely been as many state, territory and Commonwealth leaders singularly focused on pushing the bureaucracy to create innovative approaching to complex problems.

Public servants from across Australia are congregating in Adelaide this week to explore themes of collaboration and partnerships as a means to innovation. As melting pots go, there’s a lot on offer: the IPAA 2016 National Conference, the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, Integrity 2016, International Association of Public Participation’s Australasian Conference, and plenty more as part of the inaugural Open State.

Daniel Butler, the program curator of IPAA 2016, says these discussions won’t be without their controversies: “While the call for public sector reform continues to be heard in all jurisdictions, the move toward an increasing political control over public sector organisations often puts those reform programs in jeopardy.”

Is the public sector ready to hear how it, sometimes, sabotages reform? The Mandarin will keep you informed as the discussions progress throughout the week, along with the examples of successful collaboration across sectors that has led to innovative approaches to problems.

Fling open the court doors

The rarefied and sometimes closed network of senior bureaucrats will get a shake-up this year. A welcome shift will be the inclusion of more young public servants, graduates and trainees, as part of the conversations. South Australia’s public sector workforce will be bringing participants of its Jobs4Youth program, perhaps bringing a unique perspective.

Fitting the theme of collaboration, some panels and conversations will be opened to NGO and private sector crowds, including a couple of off-site sessions with senior executives from the corporate world.

Premier Jay Weatherill will deliver the 2016 Garran Oration later on Thursday, and although we don’t know the details of his speech yet, he has been a vocal proponent of increased transparency and accountability reforms for the public sector. Deliberative democracy, such as citizen juries, has also been a hallmark of SA’s public sector reforms of late.

Other key speakers will be George Megalogenis, Professor Anne Tiernan, Lucy Turnbull, Laura Tingle, and Erma Ranieri.

One of the highlights for us will be a conversation about building diversity, when the national identity continues to revert to a traditional “Anglo” view of itself.

Another, closer to home for most public servants, will be a provocative discussion on Mark Moore’s “Public Value”, and its contentious application in public sector reform.

Local government issues don’t often get much airing at these events, but that’s starting to change. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made the “30 minute city” part of is agenda and state governments are also finding more reasons to collaborate with local government on issues like climate change. There will be a discussion of carbon neutral cities and smart cities — particularly Adelaide’s future as a Smart City.

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