Magazine article Public Sector

Stop, Look, Listen.And Learn?

Magazine article Public Sector

Stop, Look, Listen.And Learn?

Article excerpt

At the end of the Chinese year, just before the New Year celebrations, the tradition is to sweep clean the house, pay offall one's debts, and offer a prayer to mark the safe passage of the year just gone. In this way, the detritus of the past year is wiped clean and the new year can get offto a fresh start. Perhaps the end of a Parliamentary term should be looked at in the same way? Should we try to draw a line under what has taken place, take stock of where we are and seek to do better in the future?

I suggest that we should. And the need to do that in respect of the public service is perhaps more pressing than ever. Over the past couple of decades there has been massive change in the way that public policy is developed and public services are delivered. Technology has changed the way our society operates and has been an extraordinarily powerful enabler. Public policy issues have grown immeasurably more complex. The expectations of New Zealanders have expanded and deepened, both in terms of what they expect governments to deliver and in how they might influence what they do.

Those who deliver public services at both central government and local government levels have clearly responded to these new challenges. One has only to look at the annual IPANZ Gen-i Public Sector Excellence Awards to recognise just how innovative the public sector can be in New Zealand. Then, too, there is a recognition of the need for change at the political level, as is demonstrated, for example, by the legislative requirement in the State Services Amendment Act 2013 which explicitly sets out the need for departmental chief executives to take into account the concept of stewardship in the exercise of their responsibilities, as well as the drive to look to collaborative work across departmental boundaries to address some of New Zealand's most intractable issues, such as child welfare.

But not all the changes have necessar- ily been positive. Have the departmental restructurings, of which there have been many over recent years, achieved their objectives? And even where gains have been made, have they been sufficiently significant to outweigh the costs of long periods of disruption while new processes and systems are bedded in? The public sector has, as ever, responded to the demands for doing more with less, but how much evaluation has been carried out of the longer-term impact of this on a popu- lation that is increasing and changing in demographic composition? …

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