IPANZ E-Update - 11 October 2023


We have refreshed our IPANZ strategy. We highly value our independence – we serve the public sector but from a neutral position outside of the public sector. This allows us to shine a light on subjects that it can be hard to do from the ‘inside’. We set our sights on being ‘courageous’. We will serve the public service by using our ‘outside’ voice to courageously talk about those things you want us to raise. Please contact me and tell me what you want us to dig into, talk or write about.

Kay Booth, Executive Director - kay@ipanz.org.nz


A deep understanding of political neutrality

The importance of political neutrality is no more evident than during an election period – we covered navigating the pre- and post-election periods in the last e-update.

We expand on political neutrality in the Spring issue of the Public Sector journal in this article. As part of this rich discussion, a few points stand out:

  • We need ministers to understand the notion of political neutrality and to respect the public service in discharging their duty.
  • A tendency to please ministers at any cost, self-censorship or the desire to make a minister feel comfortable, is damaging to political neutrality.
  • An uncritical disposition to simply implement what the government desires destroys political neutrality on account of partisan obeisance.
  • The type of tenure (permanent vs. limited-term contract) of a chief executive does not make a difference to political neutrality.

There are other great articles in the Spring issue of the Public Sector journal.

Need for a long-term focus in the public sector

Legislation in Wales requires the Welsh government to demonstrate how, when making decisions, they are meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

An article about the Welsh Future Generations Commissioner in our latest Public Sector journal talks about the impact the Commissioner has had on Welsh governments, including policy areas as varied as roading and the school curriculum. But the mindset shift it has brought is just as important.

The need for something similar in Aotearoa New Zealand has been called for. The Productivity Commission recommended consideration of this in a recent enquiry. At an April 2022 select committee hearing, the Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes noted that there was a diminution of the capability to think strategically across time in the public sector. That capability needs rebuilding.

We are in the middle of a climate crisis, exponential change in technology, spread of disinformation and an ageing population – and the system is not effective enough at getting in front of these challenges.

Performance of the public sector

“Whatever the outcome of [the] election, the pressure will come onto the public service to perform – and to prove it” (BusinessDesk). The Auditor-General has strongly recommended more work on accountability to the public – showing the people of Aotearoa New Zealand what the public sector has achieved in terms that are meaningful for them.

Te Kuhu Tuatini State of the Public Service was an assessment of performance. It presented rather a rosy picture, but the Public Service Commissioner provided directions for improved future performance (look at page 11-12). This included, for example:

  • the Public Service stepping aside when communities can deliver a service better themselves.
  • more joining up of digital and face-to-face services around individuals, whānau and communities.

Whilst aspirations were clear, there did not appear to be a plan or indicators to track progress in the performance on these directions. Will the targets and evaluation of this be formalised? Are the principles and the values in the Public Service Act 2020, including the spirit of service, being assessed, including having an impact on outcomes for New Zealanders?

The public sector must become less risk averse to be more effective

At a recent address the outgoing head of the Australian Productivity Commission talked about how to make the public sector more productive. This theme is likely to be a focus post-election in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The most important thing that is required, he says, is a healthy and strong risk appetite. A culture that says… “fail early and often”. He also mentions:

  • A good flow of staff between the private and public sectors.
  • Real innovation in the education, justice and other sectors using AI and other digital technologies ensuring no slowing down of take up.
  • Regulatory systems that encourage new business models.

However, the media’s continual focus on “gotcha” stories parading “failures” is hardly conducive to encouraging a less risk-averse public sector. Change must come from many parts of the system.

Ideas on how to address public sector risk aversion

This article by Dr Ben Hamer provides insights from his research on risk aversion. Of course, the public sector is taking care of public money and is beholden to ministers – a commitment to managing risk is important. Here are some ideas to shift the dial safely:

  • Avoiding micro-management because this creates distrust and poor motivation for public sector employees in their approach to risk.
  • Changing the emphasis from continuous improvement, which can simply augment existing practice, to more radical innovation.
  • Greater autonomy for employees, devolving decision-making authority to the lowest possible level.
  • Leaders driving a culture with less focus on process and more focus on outcomes – not so inward looking.
  • Providing a safe environment for employees to take educated risks – fail and learn without fear of consequences.

You could use this brief article as a springboard for discussions about addressing excessive risk aversion in your teams and organisations.

It’s complex, not complicated

This article articulates how the public service is constantly operating within uncertain waters. All the big outcomes we aim to improve are complex, so the way forward is experimenting with approaches that are safe-to-fail but designed to teach us what can work. The wrong approach is to rely on experts when there’s no blueprint they could possibly create for us. Because there is no one answer, it is a continual process of discovering, learning, improving – these complex societal problems are rarely “solved”.

Organisations must adopt an agile mindset of continuously and quickly learning, adapting and improving. But a crucial first step is to design an organisational structure that enables the process. This may require a radically different operating model.


  • Thursday 26 October, Auckland, 5.30 - 7.00pm: New Professionals: Empowered Voices: Intersectionality in the Public Sector - The IPANZ new professionals, Auckland Government Women's Network and the Pan-Asian Public Sector Network brings you this panel discussion that will delve into the experiences of women and gender-diverse people who are young professionals in the public sector. This event will cover topics such as fostering inclusive work environments, identity in the workplace and career journeys. Register here.

  • Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 November, Wellington, 9.30am - 4.30pm: Effective Engagement with Māori - This sell-out two-day workshop is back. Register now to secure your spot! Designed to help public service kaimahi, workers, gain a greater understanding of Te Ao Māori (Māori world view), Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and provide practical tools and techniques for effectively engaging with Māori.


      Make the Move Learning Series

      Inspiring Communities is excited to offer this learning series, designed for public sector professionals to build capability for centrally-enabled, locally-led change.

      To create the conditions for change in public policy, we need to focus on relationships and on creating spaces where people can collaborate to bring about innovation. Using a learn-connect-catalyse approach, the programme will be practical, creative, honest, collaborative and joyful.

      • Duration: Three half-day in-person sessions, (9:00am – 1:00pm, Thursdays: 23 Nov, 15 Feb, 11 April)
      • Location: Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington (venue TBC)

      Registrations are now open, click here to learn more.


        You may have read ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus. It has received excellent reviews such as from The Guardian – “… a rare beast; a polished, funny, thought-provoking story”. It struck us that the assumptions and treatment of women described in this book were experienced in the lives of our mothers or grandmothers. And are still felt by many women today. For those who are striving to achieve fairness, recognition, respect and equality for women – thank you for all that you do.


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