As someone who regularly has to decipher ACT Government tenders and bureaucratic language generally, the meaningless mash of buzzwords that Canberra Institute of Technology served up this week in a vain bid to explain just what services it would get from a nearly $5 million contract was breathtaking.
CIT tried to explain it away as something not meant for public consumption but for the market.
Well, when $8.5 million of taxpayers’ money is involved over four years, in this case going to a consultant, Patrick Hollingworth, who describes himself as a “complexity and systems thinker”, the public needs to know just what they are paying for.
The CIT’s tenders aren’t much help, talking about “strategic guidance and mentoring services to executives and staff” and “design structures and elements that enable greater coordination of analysis and decision-making in relation to products, offerings and services”.
The requirements of the two-year $5 million contract awarded in March include:
- developing system wide capabilities of situational awareness, early/weak signal
detection and noise sorting;
- developing both context-specific and generalised responses to the multitude of
situations it encounters;
- developing iterative capacity to cycle through adaptive/renewal processes across
multiple spatial and temporal scales;
- the utility and application of relevant knowledge, tools, artefacts and approaches
in enabling CIT to become a system that learns; and
- the utility and application of various organisational structures which promote
better adherence to and governance of all the above practices.
The deliverables are even denser and a sociology degree might come in handy to make any sense of them.
We still don’t know what the money was for, beyond vague terms such as mentoring and workshops, despite a CIT media statement and CEO Leanne Cover’s train wreck of a radio interview that only reinforces the view that the public is being kept in the dark.
Apparently, the services are helping CIT adapt to rapid changes and major disruptions in skills training.
“The services that we need are around that co-design and co-development of solutions that are context-specific for CIT,” Ms Cover said.
Or try the CIT statement: “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 co-design context-specific solutions.”
Skills Minister Chris Steel, the subject of Opposition attacks, isn’t buying it and wants a please explain from CIT within a week.
His out is that CIT operates independently from government but, as the responsible minister, that isn’t stopping Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, who is understandably linking the matter to growing perceptions that government procurement is on the nose.
The latest contract, which was 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”, came in just $10 short of the $5 million mark that would have attracted scrutiny from the government procurement board.
That should also ring alarm bells.
Consultants make good livings from government contracts, and while no one is saying Mr Hollingworth and his services are not legitimate, the public deserves to know just what those services actually are and whether they represent value for money.
$5 million would want to buy a lot more than mentoring or workshops.
Ms Cover said it would make sure CIT staff can identify the new courses that will be required to meet the challenges of the future.
On the surface, that seems like a lot of money to pay to a consultant to work out.
No matter how many times Ms Cover mentions “fully transparent” and “value for money”, we are still no wiser about how the contractor was actually going to do it.
The issue also points to an underlying problem of government and government-funded entities relying on arguably overpaid private consultants at taxpayer expense to provide services that could be in-house or provided more cheaply.
The opaque and butchered language deployed in tenders and contracts only provides cover for those running them.
Mr Steel, who knew and was concerned about the earlier lesser contracts in March last year, is in the hot seat, the Opposition isn’t going to let up and the public deserves answers.