With pizzas being delivered to emergency wards and entire cities standing on sidewalks clapping their frontline public service, COVID-19 has taught us many things. One that stands out is that dedication to public service has never been more applauded.
At last count, there were over two million people employed in the Australian public sector, which equates to about 1 in 5 in the workforce today. For a long time ‘public service’ has been at best misunderstood.
The reasons to take on a career in the public sector, often with high standards for personal conduct, would not be the first choice for many. As we have come to understand over the past month, these public servants’ value what has been invisible to us for some time. They are focussed on delivering public value. The term originally coined by Harvard professor Mark H. Moore who equated shareholder value with public value has been a driving force behind government agendas ever since.
According to QUT Professor Vicky Browning who has a long-term commitment to the sector as the academic lead of the Public Sector Management Program (PSMP), which is postgraduate study where the final capstone workplace project is an opportunity to showcase public value orientation.
“The delivery of public value as a key measure for the public sector with an explicit agenda to create public value is explored in the final unit of study in the PSMP.”
“The current students completing the final unit in the Program have been challenged to reset goals and re-orient project delivery in these COVID-19 times. Their response has been nothing but inspirational.”
Public sector management programs like the PSMP delivered by QUT have been under pressure to deliver education in these uncertain times with a complete transfer to online delivery completed in the past month.
“The response from our students has been exemplary. It is testament to their structured approach, supportive managers, and the individuals themselves continuing to service our community, while still enhancing their ability to create and deliver public value.”
“With the Australian public service in the hands of motivated individuals who genuinely consider the community as their client and their reason for making sacrifices, we are immensely proud,” concluded Professor Browning.
We have had many recent conversations with public sector employees. These conversations have been with current Public Sector Management Program participants, and with graduates of the Program. As facilitators in the Program, we hear a consistent theme. It is about extraordinary pride in the work that they are doing, especially in this complex environment. And also pride in what they have learned about themselves and the capabilities and confidence they have gained. The stories and achievements are both incremental, and at times monumental. But the comment thread is that these have been the result of courage, and personal and professional growth.
The expression ‘frank and fearless’ is one we hear frequently in our work. It is an expectation of our public sector members. But is it a realistic expectation? We have examined over 600 Public Sector Management Program workplace projects. These projects reflect countless exemplars of such frankness and fearlessness. The personal stories that are shared with us, to accompany these projects, are powerful and at times provocative and heart-warming.
We sense the great pride that these people have in their work. And this work is amplified by scope. Because there are over 12,000 graduates since the program began in 1991, these projects have had a measurable impact on change and achievement in the Australian public service landscape. Also because the Program is national, the learning and capability development is shared and leveraged across jurisdictions. This sharing and pairing enables the kinds of virtuous circles to evolve and grow.
So on a final note, respect for the public sector is thought to be at an all-time high, and there is no better time to be a public servant and in the words of Karl Weick ‘small things often being the igniting of significant change and growth’ we look forward to the future of public value.
Co-authored with Dr Tony Peloso