IPANZ E-Update - 27 June 2023


Many of our articles this week centre on trust – upon which so much can be built, when it is strong. Another theme is the changed environment public servants are now working within – and the new ways of working this requires. Enjoy.

Kay Booth, Executive Director


Public servants must step up to the challenge of uncertainty post-COVID

In a recent article written by Paul ‘t Hart from the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), he says the world for public servants has changed dramatically and that much of the work required is at the system level. There are ever more expectations on public servants and greatly heightened uncertainty. A few of the things he mentions include:

  • Stop organising around ministers and portfolios, organise around a task or challenge and thereby diminish silos.
  • Stop the “hyper addiction” to machinery of government changes.
  • Get a much stronger sense of urgency.
  • Ensure you have an ethical compass separate from the politicians

How to be a political chameleon without being a political animal

IPANZ ran two sessions recently with ANZSOG exploring political nous. Political nous is essentially about being able to read and respond to the changing political environment, but without participating in it. A particular aspect of this environment is the way social media has enabled politicians to be better connected to their constituents and the pace of decision-making. There was a particular warning that political nous never requires a public servant to tell ministers only what they want to hear. Read more here.

Parliament can hold politicians to account if they do not tell the truth

A brief comment from the Institute of Government in the UK, relevant for New Zealand. It says that few people had heard of the Privileges Committee before it began its investigation into Boris Johnson. But in a post-truth world, the value of a mechanism which enables a small group of parliamentarians to enforce the principle that politicians must tell the truth, is of exceptional value to our democracy. Apparently, people in the United States are looking on with envy!

Poor evaluation – the gaping hole in policy-making

This will be music to the ears of some public servants – an Australian centre for evaluation is to be established. This is a push for more rigorous evaluation, including randomised control trials. As this article says “it’s easy to be seduced into believing ‘this will work’……. existing evaluation efforts are typically piecemeal and low-quality and rarely translate into better policymaking”. The New Zealand policy community will watch this with interest. It may, the article says, wean the Australian Public Service off advice by consulting firms.

There must be no complacency about trust in public services

The diminution of trust in governments and the public service has led to a plea for public servants to build more participatory mechanisms and a culture of engagement. A true culture of engagement revolves around trust — a two-way street that requires governments to have faith in their communities just as much as communities need to have faith in their leaders.

We must not be complacent about the trust New Zealanders have in the public service. We clearly have a great foundation to build on, but real and genuine engagement on many decisions is crucial if we are to retain trust. The author gives some good examples for us to think about in this article. She stresses ambitious leadership from our leaders, and the building of skills to do this work well.

Allen + Clarke’s Pro Bono Programme connects purpose-led organisations with free expert advice. Applications are open to all community focussed organisations. Find out more and how they could support you.

A challenge to trust in the media

This article from Newsroom outlines in some detail what the digital journalist, shown to have altered briefings from Reuters, actually wrote. That in itself is interesting. But the big message for public servants is that there was no red flagging and no oversight after repeated complaints. RNZ ratings have already dropped in relation to commercial stations. Trust in the media is so important and so fragile, there is a task ahead to re-establish trust.

A rethink for the public management system

The latest report from the Productivity Commission – ‘A fair chance for all’ – focusses on breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage. The recommendations to achieve this aspiration focus squarely on the public management system.

It covers ground familiar to IPANZ members as we have discussed many of these matters in recent years. This includes more locally-led models, accountability ideas as promoted by the Auditor-General, breaking down silos, more long-term thinking and giving better effect to te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The recommendations fall into three main areas: purpose and direction, accountability and learning, and voice. You can read the media release here and access the whole report from the Productivity Commission’s website.


• 1 August, Wellington (in person): Ian Axford Fellows in Public Policy report-back seminar - Fulbright New Zealand and the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand, bring you this year’s two Ian Axford Fellows. Register here to hear then present an overview of their research projects and key learnings. 

  • Rachel Wolbers - “Next Steps for the Christchurch Call to Action”
  • Sam Mulopulos - “Supply Chain Resiliency: A comparative Analysis of Policy Solutions in New Zealand and the United States”

• New Professionals: Meet the Chiefs series - Join the IPANZ New Professionals Leadership Team for a light breakfast and the opportunity to meet with Chief Executives from the public sector. It's an early start but well worth the effort to hear first-hand about their career paths, highlights and challenges.

  • Tuesday 4 July, Wellington (in person) - Mervin Singham, Chief Executive of the Ministry for Ethnic Communities - Register here.
  • Thursday 27 July, Auckland (in person) - Peter Reidy – Chief Executive of KiwiRail - Register here.


The public service can respond differently and reduce demand

This is a compelling list taken from ‘The Preventative State – Rebuilding our local, social and civic foundations’ published by Demos in April 2023.

Demand for services can sometimes overwhelm public servants, but the question is whether this level of demand can be diminished, benefitting New Zealanders by properly responding at an early stage and in a different manner. It is possible to impact this demand, to the benefit of service providers and communities – think about what it might take.

Public servants are conditioned to think about demand in terms of the silos of specific agencies. But we know the true source of demand is located much more deeply in the relationships within families, within neighbourhoods and communities. The State has a more important role in enabling the conditions for people to thrive. We can and must address this demand, each type demanding a different response.

TYPES OF UNWANTED PUBLIC SERVICE DEMAND (type of demand and explanation)

  • Failure: Demand caused by errors or poor processes
  • Avoidable: Demand arising from behaviours that can be changed
  • Excess: Demand created by providing more than is needed
  • Preventable: Demand arising from causes that could be removed earlier
  • Co-dependent: Demand that is unintentionally reinforced by dependence

Source: Randle & Kippin, RSA, 2014 cited in Curtis, Glover & O’Brien (2023)

If you have time, the whole 27-page document is worth reading.


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