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IPAA Victoria Fellows: Exploring the current trends of the public purpose sector  

15 Nov 2023

IPAA Victoria recently engaged the distinguished cohort of Victorian Fellows to explore current and critical public sector issues, including the need to lead with integrity in times of crisis. This article includes a snapshot of the key themes that emerged from the thought-provoking discussion. 

IPAA Victoria was delighted to host the distinguished cohort of IPAA Victoria Fellows at an in-person event on Thursday 28 September 2023 to explore current and critical public sector issues.  

IPAA Victoria’s Fellowship recognises individuals for their outstanding contribution to public administration or the public purpose sector and their exemplary service to the broader community. Fellows uphold and demonstrate values of integrity and ethical and inclusive leadership. As a cohort, Fellows are a network that holds rich knowledge and wisdom to impart to professionals.  

Hosted by John Bradley, President, IPAA Victoria and Secretary, Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, the event was an opportunity for Fellows to reconnect, offer their invaluable insights, and express interest in mentoring opportunities, all while engaging in discussions on pertinent public sector topics. 

Katherine Whetton, Deputy Secretary, Mental Health and Wellbeing, Department of Health, Victoria, provided the keynote speech “Leading with Integrity in Times of Crisis,” where she shared her reflections on the new normal of relationships, rebuilding trust and rapport with executive peers across portfolios following the crisis management of  the COVID-19 pandemic. Katherine highlighted that the move to hybrid and online has benefited work life priorities on the one hand but may have constrained relationships to the superficial and transactional.  

Online meetings lend themselves to multi-tasking, emails, sending text, reading briefs, and therefore often we are only half present. There are tendencies to take issues offline when matters get challenging rather than having the connected, trusting relationships that can deal with an issue in the moment, thus the exercise of our integrity muscles go underutilised. In an environment where policy development or program delivery is intertwined, often tackling wicked problems or simply cross portfolio coordination is required to meet community expectations – we struggle to get traction because our reserves of rapport, interpersonal commitment and trust have diminished. Behaviours from the pandemic era have had enough time to set in, our routines of being online and accessible, longer work days, volume and pace have not yet fully adjusted to a new rhythm. Global trends are set to collide with community expectations of 24/7 service delivery and availability with four-day work week trials and our need to build resilience and trust to have dynamic conversations to support decision making. In order to pick up and build new, lasting and rewarding relationships, we can all bring inteentioanlity to our engagements, put the informal external  relationship building back onto the agenda and find those moments to connect in person, in the moment and check in with how our fellow colleagues are doing.  

Below is a snapshot of the key themes that emerged from this thought-provoking discussion. 

Supporting the sector: Building strong foundations  

The conversation commenced with a consensus on the need for all staff to understand the Westminster system in which the sector operates. Particularly, the public service’s role to impartially implement the government’s agenda and providefrank and fearless advice is different from independence, which is really reserved more for statutory appointments or agencies within the sector. In an ever-evolving landscape, a solid grounding in the essentials of governance and public administration is crucial. Equally important is efficient record-keeping requirements, which serve as the bedrock for transparency and accountability, and help to ensure the public sector’s sustained success. 

Coping with challenges: Navigating the fast pace 

The public sector continues to deliver at a fast pace in the face of increased community expectations of how the sector operates in line with the ambitious agenda set by the government. As a result of this pace, integrity can get compressed: to overcome this, we need to take time to pause, reflect, and consider before acting. We have seen significant integrity issues surface and these further highlight the need for leaders to scan their environments and raise issues when making critical decisions for the community. The discussion sought solutions for navigating these challenges effectively, emphasising the importance of resilience, adaptability, and continuing to learn from setbacks. 

Building trust to empower communities  

For communities to have trust in the public sector, the sector must trust communities to co-design solutions that work at-place. This requires control of decisions to be transferred to communities, which builds agency and trust in the sector. This involves deep listening, speaking to experts, collaborating, and working with government on options that support the community to lead their own outcomes. This often shines best in times of disaster and recovery, and these approaches can be better embedded in programs through their initial design. 

Sharing best practice: Learning from others 

The conversation reminded participants that we should continue to look to jurisdictions across Australia and internationally for best practice to explore the wealth of opportunities for innovation and improvement, ensuring that we stay at the forefront of public administration. Economic neoliberalism has long been the dominate held view in Westminster politics as a lens to consider budget policy settings, but we are of course seeing the growing fragmentation and divide of politics globally and to a lesser extent across Australia There are opportunities to consider in a fast-changing world, our systems, the way we account for public expenditure, and our ethical lenses to decision making at a time where bold new ideas are needed to solve some of the wicked problems facing current governments.  

Prioritising people over process: Rebuilding confidence 

Another resonant theme was recognising the need to continue to prioritise the hard-working people in the public sector and acknowledge the challenges they encounter while celebrating big and small wins. Continuing to foster an environment where confidence in the public service is high, valuing public servants’ sound judgment and dedication is paramount. As leaders in the sector, the role of stewardship is integral – safeguarding the institutions of good government, clear, frank and fearless advice and delivering the government of the day’s agenda with the community at the centre. Focusing on the welfare, connection, upskilling, and career progression of the people within the public service sends a clear message that a career in the service is a rewarding and noble profession that takes dedication, integrity and should evoke a great sense of pride in all the work undertaken.   

IPAA Victoria is a trusted partner and provider in building and strengthening those working in the public purpose sector through the delivery of events, learning and development, recognition programs and thought leadership initiatives. By equipping professionals with the knowledge, experiential learning, and tools they need, we empower them to excel in their roles.  

Again, we thank our Fellows for their dedication and commitment to supporting staff across the sector and for sharing their collective wisdom and lived experiences.

Learn more about the Fellowship here.