8 June 2022

CIT under spotlight for awarding 'ill-defined' $5 million contract to a 'systems thinker'

| Lottie Twyford
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Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee with a redacted document of work completed as part of the contract. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

The Canberra Institute of Technology has been asked to explain what a nearly $5 million contract awarded to a “complexity and systems thinker” was for.

It was revealed yesterday (7 June) that CIT had, over time, paid out contracts worth more than $8 million to consultant Patrick Hollingworth’s companies Think Garden and Redrouge Nominees Limited since 2018.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee demanded answers from the Minister for Skills, Chris Steel, about why so much public money was being funnelled towards Mr Hollingworth – whose website described him as a “complexity and systems thinker” who “looks for patterns and weak signals”.

Tender documents say the latest contract – which came in just $10 shy of the $5 million threshold at which contracts go before the government’s procurement board – was intended to “establish and self-sustain practices that allow for iterative learning cycles across a range of temporal (weeks, months, years and decades) and spatial (individuals, teams, departments, colleges/divisions) scales”.

Chris Steel

Minister for Skills Chris Steel has now written to CIT to demand a jargon-free explanation of the contracts. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Steel has now written to CIT and has given them one week to provide a jargon-free explanation of what the contracts were for.

The Minister also noted he’d already raised questions about these contracts, although they had previously been for much smaller sums of money.

In a letter to the chair of the CIT board, Mr Steel said the government had “flagged concerns that [the previous] contracts may not represent an efficient use of public funds in line with community expectations”.

“I am therefore concerned that CIT has entered into another, significantly larger contract with this provider, following those discussions and advice,” his letter read.

“I have reviewed the tender documentation and contract for this procurement and am unable to determine the specific work to be delivered through it, based on the use of jargon and an ill-defined statement of requirements.”

Mr Steel’s letter questioned whether lower-cost alternatives had been examined.

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When asked for a simple explanation, a spokesperson for CIT said: “This language is appropriate for the market for the specific technical services for which CIT required as part of operationalising the aspiration and intent of the strategy set by the CIT Board.

“It means that CIT wish to progress the strategy it has been using, which is based on systems complexity, to build the adaptive capacity of CIT to constantly change and produce better outcomes for industry and students. The work will include expanding the ability to experiment and test ideas and codesign context-specific solutions.”

Ms Lee argued the contracts’ vague language immediately sounded alarm bells and they were “wilfully opaque”.

“What is it? How do we know we get value for delivering whatever that is?” she questioned.

“The key information missing from these contracts is what you would expect to see and certainly what you see in other government contracts, which is to outline the personnel, their qualifications and their charge out rate whether it’s daily or hourly, and milestones.”

Ms Lee said it was yet another example of the culture of secrecy fostered by the ACT Government.

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The Canberra Liberals moved a motion calling for the government to commission an independent audit of all the contracts awarded to Mr Hollingworth.

Mr Steel also urged the Auditor-General to look into them.

A spokesperson for Mr Steel’s office said the release and negotiation of external contracts are matters for the CIT board and executive as it operates with an executive independent of government.

Nevertheless, “as the public provider for skills and training in the ACT, the government expects the CIT to use public funds appropriately and efficiently in pursuit of its mission to deliver high-quality education for Canberrans”.

The Minister said he only became aware of the latest contract on Monday (6 June) afternoon.

CIT has until 14 June to respond to Mr Steel.

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Well done for uncovering yet another unaffordable expenditure. ‘Growth’ is the Ponzi-esque mantra of contemporary economics. All while light rail justifies town centre expansions for the benefit of building conglomerates and the public pays for all infrastructure.

OpenYourMind11:09 am 10 Jun 22

This contract is horrendous, specially given the shortage of funds suffered in many programs within CIT, but to put this in perspective, this is $100 wasted per Canberra household (calculated over one year working on 82,000 ACT households). The waste in spend on Woden light rail will be $36,000 per household (calculated on one year assuming total cost $3billion). What would you rather $36,000 retained in your household and people just using the existing faster bus, or wasteful light rail?

Just on the maths side, these contracts have been over a number of years and there are far more than 82k households in the ACT.

Labor government for last 20 plus years. But this is a liberal issue lol

HiddenDragon7:24 pm 08 Jun 22

Barr should follow the example of his former colleague, now federal Finance Minister, and commission a line-by-line review of the ACT budget.

It would be far too much to hope that any such review would arrest the rate of growth in ACT government spending (because it’s never the right time to cut ACT government spending) but it might at least see some of the money currently being squandered on off-with-the-pixies frolics and indulgences diverted to more socially useful purposes.

Ms. Lee is right on the money with this. Imagine being a CIT staff member and having to listen to all this guff instead of getting on with your real work. As Ms Lee said in the assembly, there is a culture of fear and if you speak up you are told to shut up or……There was a high turnover of Chief Operating Officers at the start of these contracts as their concerns about expenditure were ignored. CIT has great staff and students and contributes greatly to Canberra and the region. They deserve better than this.

That’s gold Chewy.

CIT students are often complaining that they are no longer being taught the technical basics of their chosen trade. But, they are obviously ignoring that they have a better understanding of transdisciplinary complexity, environmental and social challenges whilst being able to adopt the adaptive renewal cycle.

My nephew complained that CIT told the class they didn’t have the funds to repair some of the tools he needs to learn to use in his class, I reckon just a tiny proportion of that $8 million would have helped CIT teachers better skill Canberra’s apprentices, than what they blew all this money on.

If you ever got an email from CIT, you can tell those bunch love long winded overly complex buzz words and phrases.

Tom Worthington3:39 pm 08 Jun 22

I am fluent in management-education-waffle, from 19 years working in bureaucracy, 20 years teaching in higher education, and a Masters in Open, Digital, and Distance Education. If one of my students submitted CIT’s explanation of their contract to me, I would ask which buzz word generator they used, and tell them to start again. 😉

If you think their statement is “interesting”, take a look at the company’s website.

https://www.think.garden/

It will certainly prove transformational to your day.

That’s hold Chewy.

CIT students are often complaining that they aren’t being taught the technical basics of their chosen trade but they are obviously ignoring that they have a better understanding of transdisciplinary complexity, environmental and social challenges whilst being able to adopt the adaptive renewal cycle.

It sure has. All I can think is this mob feeds a lot of chickens.

Be interesting to see if anyone gets a straight answer as to what this contract is really for!

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