Public servants from middle management up are being told they need to think and act more like external consultants when dealing with issues in their teams and projects. That means more ruthless decisions being made but also greater creativity in approaches to policy and initiatives.
With every agency across the Australian Public Service ordered to review their reliance on consultants and contractors, leaders are bracing for a void in the expertise good consultancies bring to the sector.
Instructions are now being directed towards bringing some of those skills in-house, with APS personnel themselves needing to develop the skills that otherwise might have been outsourced.
Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher has already flagged a plan to build capacity inside the APS, but the strategy reaches beyond hands-on practical skills and ventures into a change of mindset needed if the service is to shed its excessive use of consultants and contractors.
And that goes to a change in culture requiring a preparedness to step out of the public service comfort zone and think more like outsiders.
“The APS is being told they need to be less risk averse and step away from what they know,” one source told Region.
“They have to start thinking more like consultants. Be less concerned about the impact their decisions will have on the status quo. Don’t be afraid to adversely affect others by making those decisions.”
Another said public servants were not typically good at shaking things up with people they had to work with every day.
The APS has long enjoyed a sweet spot of allowing consultants to come into the workforce as ‘fixers’ to make the tough decisions – and be blamed for any fallout.
That’s all about to change, with APS leaders soon to be required to step up to do more of the ‘dirty work’, as well as take more of the lead in the creativity stakes.
Such discussions are already taking place in training sessions of the APS Academy.
Sessions on what the service calls APS Craft and those on delivering policy advice are involving lessons in being better at telling it like it is and thinking outside of the box.
The Australian Public Service Commission did not wish to comment specifically when contacted by Region, but offered background on the APS Academy’s focus.
APS Craft is about learning the fundamental capabilities needed to deliver great policy and services.
The academy is seeking to provide learners with the necessary foundations of skills needed to deliver high quality, respected and trusted solutions to meet Australia’s challenges as an APS employee.
One example is the academy’s Human Centred Design program, which introduces the principles, tools and techniques of human centred design and shows how to apply them to service and policy design.
Another program from the academy’s Strategy, Policy and Evaluation Craft is that of Delivering Great Policy. The program is designed to arm rising and seasoned policy practitioners with a sound understanding of the model for great policy advice.
This is a peer learning program, where seasoned policy practitioners come together to share their expertise and experience, learn from each other, and are challenged to think differently about how to approach solving policy issues.