Nine priority areas for the APS review

By David Donaldson

Thursday August 2, 2018

The APS needs to start thinking about integrity as institutional quality rather than a set of rules, argues ANZSOG’s submission to the Thodey review. 

Concerned about the decline in trust in public institutions, the Australia and New Zealand School of Government is urging a rethink across nine priority areas.

Governments are facing increasing challenges and need to think strategically about what they require for the future, says ANZSOG Dean and CEO Ken Smith.

“New skills are required to manage digital transformation, disruptive innovation, demographic diversity, loss of trust, and the rise of anti-expert, anti-evidence, and populist movements,” he thinks.

The Thodey review, announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in May, was set up to produce “an ambitious program of transformational reforms to ensure the APS is fit-for-purpose for the coming decades, and to guide and accelerate future reform activities”.

‘Institution-first’ approach to integrity

One of ANZSOG’s nine priorities is to move to what it calls an “institution-first” approach to integrity.

“Unfortunately, agencies often seek to build integrity through a rule-based regime that views the issue of integrity very narrowly as simply the absence of corruption,” the submission reads.

Instead the focus should be on institutional quality first, and individual behaviour second. ANZSOG quotes Dr Nikolas Kirby, an Australian and director of the building integrity in government program at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford:

“A public institution has integrity if and only if it has a robust disposition through it constitutive parts, to legitimately cohere to its legitimate purpose, consistent with its own comments, across time and circumstance. And a public officer if and only if she has the robust disposition to support the integrity of her institution.”

Or to put it another way, integrity requires a “should I do it?” rather than a “can I do it?” mentality.

To further this, ANZSOG recommends the APS develop a set of common concepts of institutional integrity that allow for consistent and broad support for integrity across the APS.

The nine priority areas are:

  1. Recognising the significant role of the non-profit and private sector in service delivery requires greater capability for commissioning and contracting, and attention to the capability of these counterpart organisations.
  2. Providing access to systematic and ongoing targeted research to support innovation.
  3. Delivering high quality policy advice through an assessment of policy capability, and developing ways to better use research and collaboration for policy advice.
  4. Acting with integrity to strengthen public trust, through an institution-first approach to integrity.
  5. Leading effective organisations, through prioritising appropriate leadership for effectiveness rather than simply relying on ongoing structural change.
  6. Working across the Federation, through attention to the interfaces between jurisdictions and the responsibilities of each level of government.
  7. Strengthening Indigenous leadership in the APS, by building the status of Indigenous public servants and the capability of the APS to engage with Indigenous communities and other jurisdictions/organisations.
  8. Creating greater public value through innovation, drawing on research and new learning and development methods.
  9. Making better use of data, recognising the potential of digital transformation and  technical and strategic challenges.

The review’s final report is expected to be handed down by the end of next year.

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