Public sector governance is more challenging than it has ever been. Low trust, digital transformation and skill shortages were front of mind at the Public Sector Governance Forum:19 held recently in Canberra by the AICD and the Institute of Public Administration.
1. The way the public sector gains trust is changing
“Confidence and trust in the public sector will at least in part reflect people’s experiences in dealing with public servants,” Dr Steven Kennedy PSM, the new Treasury Secretary, said in the opening keynote at the conference.
Increasingly as more and more interactions happen online rather than face-to-face with a public servant, the quality and integrity of those interactions will drive trust. “Trust for the public service in a digital world will be built on how data is handled and stored, how privacy is respected, and on the security of government IT systems and infrastructure,” Dr Kennedy said.
2. A one-size-fits-all approach will fail the most vulnerable
For groups where there is entrenched disadvantaged, the public service must offer help tailored to their circumstances. For those affected by mental illness, chronic disease or entrenched intergenerational poverty, standard government interventions will be ineffective, Dr Kennedy said.
As the public service undergoes digital transformation generally, these groups will likely continue to require face-to-face support. It was a point echoed by Kate Griffiths, a senior associate at the Grattan Institute, who called for more public servants to get out among the community where appropriate.
3. The public sector must look internally to close skill gaps
With technical and data proficiency at a premium for all organisations, the public service needs to skill up its own staff as looking to bring in external talent will be prohibitively expensive, an expert panel on public sector capability building said.
It should also not be afraid of losing staff to the private sector. Rather, managers should encourage their staff to leave and come back, former senior public servant Martin Bowles said.
4. In a world beset by uncertainty, Australia must be smart
With trust in governments at a low and uncertain economic conditions globally, Australia is in a delicate position, particularly by the US-China trade war. Dr Stephanie Fahey, CEO of Austrade, urged caution.
At the same time, Clare Walsh, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said Australia cannot be shy in spruiking itself on the world stage.
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