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New times demand a new public servant

So what would a new public servant look like in the States?

Last weeks Public Sector Informant published an article by Terry Fewtrell on the implications of the work done by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce. Terry is principal consultant with Yellow Edge Consulting. The article New times demand a new public servant, highlights the fundamental changes to leadership and management that will be needed in a Web 2.0 world and the challenges these changes will pose for agencies.

My take on this is ‘Command and Control VS Collaboration and Engagement’ so melding the two will be a challenge on the ground. I playfully call this ‘The culture wars’.

So are you a new public servant? And how will the issue of organisational culture play out? War or a sensible and workable transition from the old to the new.

For those of you not in Canberra or Australia the Informant is a freebie publication of the Canberra Times. Thanks to the Canberra Times for providing a pdf of the article.


Steve D

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Mark Hammer

Which public servant? We tend to forget that the majority of “public servants” are simply providing services. They are doing honourable and valuable work to the best of their ability, but ultimately it isn’t all that different, in many instances, than they might do for an insurance company, accountant firm, law office, grocery chain, or ISP. Does Gov 2.0 hold anything different for them? Personally, I don’t think so. Maybe more manuals to read and e-mail to sift through, but that’s about it.

The “new public servant” we speak of is chiefly those in the policy community, and in the leadership cadré, which is likely less than 10% of any public service. An important 10%, yes, but let’s not get too narcissistic about it.

Several years ago, someone on the job analysis listserv asked what members felt were the top 10 competencies of the future. Without missing a beat, I replied “Explanatory skill”. I still hold to that view, and most especially in the public sector.

As we move towards Gov 2.0 (whatever the hell THAT is), the expectations of transparency will be that much greater from the public, and from other stakeholders within government. Acceptance of traditional handwaving and bureau-speak obfuscation will not be tolerated quite as much. The new public leader will have to be a master orator leaning more in the direction of Barack Obama: someone who can efficiently and consistently make things clear to ALL stakeholders at a level they comprehend, using referrents they comprehend and treat as valid. Initiatives that spread over multiple agencies have a tendency to be couched in fairly abstract terms. The new public service leader is someone who will be able to move effortlessly from the abstract to concrete world, as they both engage in the planning and implementation of programs and motivate both staff and peers.

Equally important, more and more decisions in government are supposed to be not only evidence-based, but values-based. The new leader will have to be skilled in articulating how the evidence and outcomes, and the procedures used to derive them, correspond to the values espoused.

That’s a tall order in any organization, public or otherwise. Prepare to be disappointed regularly, and prepare for a public that will grumble more.

Nathanael Boehm

Thanks Steve, handy – after my massive 3-page ranty email to my team leader yesterday about the need to transcend just implementing tools and standards and instead focus on people to work towards a culture of internal collaboration posing the question “If we can’t even engage with our own staff how can we hope to engage with citizens [Gov 2.0]”.

I’ll be distributing that article around for sure!

Adriel Hampton

Mark, quite a cynical opening remark to a comment that goes on to articulate many of the principals of the Gov 2.0 movement. I would hope that customer-facing public servants especially would be interested in increased engagement and responsiveness as they go about their jobs. In fact, high-level initiatives will have little impact without moving the hearts of line staff.

Darron Passlow

What are we talking about here. It is not about individual public servants. We are talking about a whole new way of doing business (focused on Government). This requires major cultural changes and it involves change at all levels. We need to change the “modus operandi” of all public servants from the top through the line manager and particularly down to the “foot soldiers”. It is a huge task but one that (I think) everyone agrees needs to be considered (and implemented).
One concern I have (from a marketing perspective) is that it is a shame that the “movement” has picked up a “technocratic” title – Gov2.0. I would much prefer to see it referred to as “Innovative Government for the new Century” (i.e. what it is trying to achieve).
My suggestion is;
1 Let us get the concept/approach blessed by executive (PM etc)
2 Lets see the cash to do something
3 Lets start in small pockets (of willing participants) and get some successes (and experience)
4 Move it out to the masses (slowly but surely)
All for now. Regards

Paul Roberts

Steve, I’m not sure the alternaives you suggest capture the challenge. The phrase a “sensible and workable solution” suggests that Gov 2.0 is just another problem to be solved, and the APS is fill of problem-solvers. Gov 2.0 is a new paradigm where the APS engage. That engagement would take the form of being a resource (information & analysis or service) through to being a facilitator or partner. Problem solving then becomes less valued relative to relationship and communication skills. That is not so much of a transition. It is a transformatiom. That’s the challenge.

Stephan Borau

It’s not so much a new public servant that’s required… it’s more about a new public service and a new government. We become the kinds of public servants that we are in response to the organisations we work in. The organisations will need to change before its employees will be able to sustain any degree of significant change in the work they do.

This is an incredibly ambitous plan set out by this taskforce, but it really does start moving the Australian Public Service to a much better place. And it’s not just about the public service; this will affect the citizens and the politicians in increasingly significant ways as well. It’s about changing how the gov’t works, as well as the kind of work the gov’t does (policy professionals will need to become facilitators rather than being experts). The public servants, the politicians, the citizens, and the private sector are all going to be affected by this massive transformation.