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Doing Things Differently in the NSW Public Sector

22 April 2014 at 11:04 am
Staff Reporter
Enhancing public value depends on empowering public servants to have a greater capacity to manage (rather than avoid) risks, writes Peter Shergold, Chair of the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board.

Staff Reporter | 22 April 2014 at 11:04 am


Doing Things Differently in the NSW Public Sector
22 April 2014 at 11:04 am

Enhancing public value depends on empowering public servants to have a greater capacity to manage (rather than avoid) risks, writes Peter Shergold, Chair of the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board.

Just before Easter I had the pleasure of launching a publication on how public servants in NSW might better measure and improve their capacity to deliver public value. It was called Doing Things Differently and is available on-line. The succinct document focussed on three key areas: raising productivity, improving service and enhancing collaboration.

Metaphorically speaking, I cut the ‘red-tape ribbon’ in my capacity as Chair of the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board.

It’s a diverse, interested and interesting group, firmly committed to helping the Public Service Commissioner, Graeme Head, drive a process of continuous improvement. Its members are Chris Eccles, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet; Maree O’Halloran, Director of the Welfare Rights Centre, and a former President of the NSW Teachers’ Federation; Martin Laverty, CEO of Catholic Health Australia and a board member of the National Heart Foundation; Paul McClintock, Chairman of Myer, Thales Australia and NSW Ports, director of St Vincent’s Health and head of the Cabinet Policy Unit in Canberra from 2000 to 2003; and Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman.

Our shared view is that our most useful role is to develop a strategic view of the future of the NSW public sector. Change is imperative. Yet, as I often note, the continuing sense of pride in vocation that many of the State’s public servants feel provides a strong foundation on which to build. Enhancing public value depends, in large part, on empowering those public servants to have a greater capacity to manage (rather than avoid) risks.

Much political and media commentary focuses on the need to raise productivity in the public sector. The trouble is that it’s notoriously difficult to measure. Whilst the calculation of inputs, so-called, ‘factors of production’, is relatively straightforward, it is very much harder to calculate the value of outputs.

Public sectors provide not only regulated services (such as electricity and water) but also individual goods (such as health, education and aged or disability care) and collective goods (such as road safety or law and order). In the absence of a market which can use prices as proxies for the value of goods and services, as occurs in the private sector, it is difficult to estimate the value which citizens place on government activities.

What is rather easier is to use the cost of delivering services in particular areas of government. These statistics can then be used to monitor performance over time.

That certainly helps evidence-based decision-making. The report, perhaps not surprisingly, concludes that the key elements which can raise public sector productivity are likely to be the application of new technologies, increased labour flexibility, the provision of individual and team-based incentives and greater contestability in the provision of government services.

The challenge is that in order to see how effective such interventions can be we need to measure the value created by identifying the most appropriate outputs and outcomes. Metrics do matter.

With respect to customer service the Board has been a strong supporter of the role of the new NSW Customer Service Commissioner, Michael Pratt, in simplifying and streamlining the 40 million Government transactions undertaken each year.

Beyond more effective call centres and superior on-line capability to improve access, the Commissioner has called for something far bolder – ‘citizen led co-design and innovation’. That is a vision the Board embraces.

Again, however, we need data. We need to be able to find out if the manifold reform initiatives being rolled out are improving quality from the point of view of the ‘customer’ for public services. Doing Things Differently reports on two initiatives to further this goal.

The first was an evaluation conducted across NSW public sector agencies on how they measure and report customer feedback. It turns out that at least 83 government agencies collect data but it is not always being used in a structured way to inform improvement and the statistical evidence is too rarely shared as ‘best practice’.

The second more ambitious task was to develop a whole-of-government customer satisfaction measurement instrument.

A number of methodologies were extensively tested. In all, 21 separate attributes of satisfaction were identified. They ranged from wanting public servants to “get things done as quickly as possible” and to be “proactive in helping” to their capacity “see things from my perspective”.

Incidentally, the survey process found that there was significant dissonance between citizen’s positive personal experience with particular NSW public services and the negative stereotypical image of the ‘typical’ unhelpful public servant.

The Customer Services Commissioner has now taken on responsibility for the implementation of his service-wide index of customer satisfaction.

The pursuit of collaboration across the public, private and Not for Profit sectors is, as I admitted at the launch, an issue on which I have exhibited proselytizing zeal over the last five years.

The full research report, compiled by the Nous Group, is appropriately far more considered. It is particularly valuable in identifying the range of collaborative models that are presently being trialled and piloted across Government jurisdictions.

Some are based on a financial arrangement whilst others represent a coordination of collective interests. Some are relatively informal networks of consultation and cooperation while others, with significantly greater difficulty, are taking the nature of alliances or partnerships.

The report identifies both the potential barriers to cross-sectoral collaboration and, conversely, the enablers. It is emphasised that collaborations can be costly and, if they are poorly designed, do not always deliver the anticipated benefits. However an emphasis on the facilitation of partnership is recognised as a critical dimension of the NSW public sector being ‘open for business’.

Planned and implemented carefully, collaborations can deliver substantially better outcomes for citizen ‘customers’.

This is a section of the report for which the Board intends to retain oversight. Our goal is to find practical examples of collaboration across a range of agencies and functional areas in order to demonstrate more clearly the costs, the benefits and the ingredients for success.

Having chaired the Partnership Forum in Western Australia for over three years, and having last year written a report on the Victorian community sector which led to the establishment of the State’s Community Sector Reform Council, my hope is that the NSW public sector can now become its own trail-blazer in finding more collaborative ways by which to create public value.

Doing Things Differently, including my introduction, can be found here.

Readers in the Not for Profit sector are likely to have a particular interest in the separate research report on Collaboration between sectors which can be found here.

About the Author: Peter Shergold is former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and founder of the Centre for Social Impact. Shergold was the Macquarie Group Foundation Professor at the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) at UNSW. He was the founding CEO of CSI from 2008 – 2011. He is currently Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney and Chair of the Federal Aged Care Sector Committee and the NSW Public Service Commission Advisory Board.

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews


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