Being a public servant is nuanced no matter what job you have. In this E-Update I’ve included perspectives on some of these things – co-governance, futures thinking, political nous, ethics and how your thinking can influence your success. Enjoy.
Kay Booth, Executive Director
Take a look at this interesting article, recently re-published in E-Tangata from 2022. Chris Finlayson, a former Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, believes power sharing will have enormous benefit for us all. He asks us to read about the injustices, recognise that co-governance is not co–government, and acknowledge that the State so often fails or can itself be part of the problem.
He said: “I find these days in central government that there are many people who have learned a few mihi, can do a karakia, or can sing a waiata, but they still don’t truly get it. They’re obsessed with the form but not the substance. While those superficial things may help people feel good, they don’t capture what is required for our future”.
In this article OPSI – OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation – outlines ideas on how to get futures thinking more embedded in government. It makes the point that there is cognitive bias towards the status quo and, strikingly, that there are more political rewards for managing a crisis than planning to avoid crises.
Three requirements of government agencies are outlined in this article:
- Demand for strategic foresight work from senior decision-makers.
- The knowledge and skills required to do the work.
- The organisational conditions (including governance) to connect futures thinking into present-day actions.
This next article gives some inspiration on the development of futures capability and institutions. Singapore and Finland are known for their excellence and commitment to long term thinking.
Here is a snippet from Singapore
At the heart of the foresight system in Singapore is the investment in a ‘futures-literate’ civil service to generate a culture of foresight through consistent training and empowerment. These skills are rewarded: successful performance in the civil service correlates with one’s foresight abilities.
And from Finland
The striking thing about Finland is its foresight system – including an early (1992) Futures Research Centre and a National Foresight Network in the Prime Minister’s Office – in other words, strong institutions and cross-sectoral foresight infrastructure.
There are still challenges for these two countries of course, but Aotearoa New Zealand has much to learn and more to implement. Surely we can do it.
IPANZ is running a series of events on the subject of political nous, in partnership with ANZSOG – see details in our Upcoming Events section below.
So it’s worth thinking more about political nous in advance...
In this article, reported in The Mandarin, the experience of senior New Zealand and Australian public servants is shared in what they call the “purple zone” – the area on the cusp between politics and public service. It is desirable to strive for a separation between the two realms, but in reality it is less clear-cut and getting harder to sharply delineate.
The article talks of the role of sense-making for public servants – awareness of the political constraints so that the political feasibility of ideas is taken into account. But as one informant said: “You cannot have too much political nous, but you can be too political”.
As an experiment, IPANZ asked a question about political nous of the AI chatbot ‘ChatGPT’. We have published the question and the response received on our website.
We think you will agree that such subtle, complex notions, which require judgement, wisdom and appreciation of context, is not well handled by ChatGPT. Political nous is gained through commitment to public service principles underlying the concept, but also through repeated experience, helped by observation of others and honed over time, with continual learning.
And in case you’re wondering, GPT stands for “generative pre-trained transformer”.
Ethical behaviour is so important in the Public Sector. This article furthers our understanding, and encourages self-reflection, about the slippery slope to unethical behaviour. Three major dangers are noted. First, omnipotence: when someone feels so special or entitled that they seem to believe the rules of decent behaviour don’t apply to them. Second, cultural numbness: when others play along and gradually begin to accept and embody deviant norms. Third, justified neglect: when people don’t speak up about ethical breaches because they think about staying on a good footing with the powerful. The article expands on these ideas.
McKinsey has drawn upon considerable research into mindsets for success. They say that the mindsets of great problem solvers are just as important as the methods they employ. When conditions of uncertainty are at their peak, they’re at their brilliant best.
Six mutually reinforcing approaches underlie their success:
1. being ever-curious about every element of a problem;
2. being imperfectionists, with a high tolerance for ambiguity;
3. having a ‘dragonfly eye’ view of the world, to see through multiple lenses;
4. pursuing occurrent behaviour and experimenting relentlessly;
5. tapping into the collective intelligence, acknowledging that the smartest people are not in the room; and
6. practicing ‘show and tell’ because storytelling begets action.
• 16 March: IPANZ New Professionals: How to Engage Effectively With… Senior Managers - it's not too late to sign up for this event. The event will involve a panel discussion with senior leaders who will help new professionals better understand their role, what they care about most, and what this means for how you should approach engaging with and influencing them. Register here.
• 28 & 29 March: Effective Engagement with Māori - while these dates are currently sold out you can add your name to the waitlist to register your interest for soon to be announced upcoming dates. Register here.
• 26 April: Ministers and Officials: Building the relationship with political nous - IPANZ and ANZSOG are partnering to explore issues at the political administrative interface. This event will delve into this vital topic with a panel well versed in the relationship between politicians and officials. Register here.
• Parliament in Practice - If you missed out on this months popular seminar we have good news, registrations are now open for further 2023 dates.
Designed for departmental and crown entity kaimahi (workers) who are new to the public sector. Join us for a unique opportunity to learn about the operations of Parliament, from those working within Parliament walls and tasked with supporting Parliament.
IPANZ New Professionals recruitment drive
IPANZ New Professionals are still looking for new additions to their Auckland and Wellington based New Professional Leadership Team. Join a leadership team of awesome volunteers who put on impactful events that support the development of, and foster connections between, the best and brightest of public sector future leaders. If you are, or know of, a young public sector professional based in Tāmaki Makaurau or Te Whanganui-a-Tara who would be a good fit and/or would like to know more, please reach out at email@example.com.
Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission is inviting agencies to submit entries for Te Hāpai Hapori | Spirit of Service Awards 2023. These awards celebrate outstanding public sector governance, young leaders, and initiatives. This year the Commission is running an EOI process to help agencies identify the best initiatives and people for these awards.
Organisations and individuals across central and local government, including all Crown entities, are eligible to enter. The winners will be announced at the awards event at Te Papa in August/September 2023 (date TBC).
You can find out more about the categories, eligibility, EOIs, entry forms, and previous winners on their website.
WHAT WE ARE READING
We have been looking at the The Big Con by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington.
The authors researched how the consulting industry works with the public sector in various parts of the world, albeit no reference to New Zealand. They found questionable activities of the big consultancy firms which they outline in detail. There are some sweeping claims about the consulting sector – Ms Mazzucato seems to be on a mission here. There are, however, some hints towards the end of the book on how to manage consultants better.
There are at least two important claims: that overuse of consultants “hollows out” the public service, and that exciting work, which should and could be undertaken by public servants, gets outsourced.
It could be of value to analyse more specifically the use of consultants or contractors and show where it is value for money and, on the other hand, where it is ill-advised and depletes public service capability.
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