Making connections outside the APS: The nature of engagement in whole of government activities
A sound whole of government approach requires understanding of how programs and policies come together to affect particular communities, social groups, sectors of the economy and/or regions. This can be greatly helped by creating a role for the relevant interest groups in policy formulation or implementing programs. Most whole of government priorities require close cooperation with external groups such as community organisations, businesses and other jurisdictions. Moreover, understanding the different perspectives of external groups is essential to the government's desire to see policies and programs make a constructive contribution 'on the ground', as well as in managing the risks associated with new initiatives.
The Australian Public Service (APS) has a significant role in making these connections work. While there will always be strong external links at the political level-ministers, members of parliament, ministerial staff-the APS also needs to foster and maintain close linkages to meet its responsibilities for comprehensive policy advising, and for effective implementation of government policies and programs.
The very nature of Australia's participatory democracy means that managing such interaction is a two-way exercise which requires the APS to have increasingly sophisticated professional skills and techniques. Government and the public expect external groups to contribute to the policy decision-making process itself and to the planning for implementation, in addition to being kept informed of decisions and actions and the reasons for them.
In the case of whole of government work, the issues involved are frequently complex and there are often different perspectives and interests among the external players involved. The APS capabilities required are therefore demanding, and include:
- identifying the widest possible range of views, representing those views in advice to government fairly, but also analysing those views and presenting recommendations to government for decisions-this requires high-level interpersonal and analytical skills
- communicating and consulting with the public skilfully to assist with informed decision making and to ensure effective program delivery
- in the case of coordinated community service delivery, having available 'clout on the ground'-employees with sufficient experience, skills and authority to interact with local communities and individuals and to take the necessary decisions on behalf of the agencies involved.
It is not always appropriate or possible to consult, and the timing and style of engagement needs to be considered carefully:
- The importance of seeking external views needs to be balanced against constraints, such as the need for confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations.
- The appropriate mix of top-down and bottom-up consultation will vary with the nature of the whole of government task.
- Astrong imperative to act on an issue, even where there is disagreement among interest groups, will assist a project, but a high degree of complexity may erode goodwill. These factors will also affect the appropriate style of engagement that should look to maximise commitment and minimise complexity.
Many whole of government priorities inevitably cross jurisdictional boundaries. Ensuring ongoing capacity to respond to emerging priorities that may cross jurisdictional boundaries requires continued close understanding of the policies and programs most likely to interact.
Formal funding relationships may also feature in whole of government work. The nature of such relationships (e.g. whether a tender process is undertaken or groups are invited to participate) should be tailored to the task at hand rather than a 'one size fits all' approach applied. Value for money and accountability will guide these decisions.
- Engagement by government with people and organisations external to it is an increasing feature of whole of government work.
- Expectations of government in this area are growing, aided by technological change. In addition, the government expects more of the APS in offering sound advice based on the widest possible range of views.
- Engagement is not just about government informing the public, but is about the public genuinely being part of policy making, decision making and implementation processes.
Whole of government work can focus on a community, an industry sector, a region or categories of individuals...
Most whole of government activities are about addressing the cumulative impact of government policies and programs on particular communities, industry sectors, regions or categories of individuals.
For example, the Industry Action Plans developed by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources (Industry) can examine the cumulative impact on a sector of industry- such as downstream petroleum, plastics or tourism-of the government's industry support, tariff, tax, competition, environment, labour and technology policies, in the context of the domestic and global markets in which the industry operates.
Similarly, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Indigenous Trials look at Australian government programs delivered by a range of agencies (e.g. Centrelink, Family and Community Services, Health and Ageing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service, Employment and Workplace Relations, Transport and Regional Services, and in some places Environment and Heritage), as well as state programs, from the viewpoint of particular Indigenous communities to see how they might better work together.
Sometimes the focus might be on a particular region, such as through the government's Sustainable Regions Program, or on a particular community group such as the unemployed, people with a disability, the educationally disadvantaged, families and so on.
The common concern is to optimise benefits and understand how policies and programs come together...
The common concern in these whole of government activities is to optimise the benefits to particular regions, communities or industry sectors, as well as to understand how policies and programs delivered by different departments and agencies come together. Are they mutually supportive and aimed at the high priorities, or duplicative, possibly even offsetting? Are they known about, valued and easy to use? Do they provide the right incentives to encourage socially valuable outcomes? Do they allow scope for tailoring to individual, community, sectoral or regional priorities?
Community engagement can be vital to success...
One of the ways to find answers to these questions is to involve those who are affected (or their representatives) in policy development and review, and in some cases program delivery. While this is not always possible-for example, for reasons of financial risk to the Australian Government; unfair commercial, interest group or personal advantage; privacy requirements; or even political risk-experience has shown that carefully thought-through community engagement can be vital to the success of policy development and program delivery.
Some authors consider that the very nature of government is changing as it includes more structured input by external players to policies and services. Mulgan1 argues for a concept of 'governance' over 'government'-meaning a way of governing which involves non-government institutions in the processes of government. Edwards2 provides a range of suggestions for future collaboration to enhance government's understanding of the complexity of the voluntary sector and the voluntary sector's understanding of government processes. Podger3 points to the importance of increasing involvement in both policy development and implementation.
...and can take many forms
Community engagement can take many forms. Providing information, undertaking market research and conducting regular client satisfaction surveys (e.g. under service charter provisions) are forms of engagement regularly used in government, as well as the private sector. More formal consultation-both through open processes, often web-based, and/or in a more focused way through advisory bodies, consultative committees, taskforces and/or consultants hired for the purpose-is often a key part of policy development and program delivery and review. It allows informed participation but protects the government's obligation to make decisions on behalf of all Australians.
In some circumstances a degree of formal power sharing might be involved by providing for a decision-making role for other governments, non-government bodies or their representatives. This can be particularly relevant in intergovernment work, or where decisions can be delegated to, for example, regional bodies or non-government service providers within an agreed policy framework or contractual relationship. Which of these forms of engagement is appropriate requires careful thought.
Nature of engagement
The APS occupies a unique place in the structure of Australia's participatory democracy, at the intersection of the expectations that citizens have of the government and the government's expectations that the advice it receives is cogent and that its policies are being implemented.
Whole of government work is not likely to be fully effective unless it engages professionally with external players
The dialogue between government and its citizens as stakeholders is a fundamentally important part of our democratic system. The APS has a crucial role in this dialogue, and regardless of who the external players are or what interests they represent, whole of government work in the APS is not likely to be fully effective unless it engages professionally with external players.
Expectations of government
The public expects easier access to governments...
Increasing community expectations of government are reflected in much of the literature on modern approaches to whole of government issues, argueing that external engagement with government has increased over the 20th century and that public sector managers will need to rely more on interpersonal and interorganisational processes.4 There seems to be agreement in the literature that the frequency and importance of connections between governments and those outside government have increased, particularly on more complex cross-government issues.
This view is confirmed by the case studies to this report (appendix 2). In all but one of them, contact with external players features prominently. Indeed it is impossible to imagine some major whole of government projects not featuring, and in some ways being driven by, external interests: the Olympics, the Bali recovery, Sustainable Regions, the COAG Indigenous Trials, all have external involvement as central to their success for the Australian Government.
...and seamless service delivery
Australians expect to be engaged in the design and development of policies and programs that affect them. They also expect government programs and services to be delivered in a seamless manner, without the need to understand the distinctions between agencies and programs. These expectations are an important element of our participative democracy.
Approaches to meet increasing expectations for 'seamless services' include structural ...
It is not surprising that with increased frequency and ease of access through improvements in technology, the public's expectations of engaging with the whole of government have increased.
Many writers consider that citizens are increasingly demanding 'seamless services' and are frustrated with duplications, gaps and lack of integration. A range of approaches is being used to meet increased expectations.5
...organisational culture and personal skills
Some approaches are structural-for example, 'one-stop shops', a whole of government approach to serving the public. Centrelink is a ground-breaking Australian example of joining up delivery in the income support and employment field.6
Other approaches use organisational culture and personal skills to achieve a seamless delivery. The COAG Indigenous Trials are examples where high-level interpersonal skills, team work and strong leadership contribute to join up programs across government for particular Indigenous communities.
...and use of technology
Other approaches rely on technology. There are many examples worldwide of internet access that attempts to be a single entry point to government for a particular sector or group of people. Australian government examples range from a single entry point for small businesses or to people in Australia's regions to a single site for all services and information relating to the recovery from the Bali bombings in 2002.
Citizens rightly expect governments to consult them...
There is wide agreement in Australia, and throughout the OECD countries, that citizens' expectations of their governments to engage them openly in public policy processes are appropriate and legitimate.
External engagement is particularly important for most whole of government activities, and the management of that external engagement for such activities presents particular challenges. External engagement covers a wide range of interests. Governments engage with individuals, families, communities, community groups, interest or lobby groups, industry groups, and other governments. The prominence of whole of government activities itself makes it more likely that external engagement will be required; moreover, the involvement of a range of agencies and portfolios escalates the chances that at least one has external interests that need to be involved directly in the activity. To be successful in addressing whole of government issues, especially where the challenges are complex and longstanding, requires the substantial involvement of the people and communities affected.
...and can be sophisticated in their dealings with government
In many cases, the external groups are increasingly capable and sophisticated in their dealings with government. They are represented by full-time, paid professionals and use expertise from academics and think tanks etc. Even where interest groups have relatively less sophisticated mechanisms, their contribution to the process of solving difficult social issues is another important component of our participative democracy. In either situation, engagement with them by government requires considerable professional capacity among APS employees, complementing the important linkages that can be expected at the political level-ministers, members of parliament and ministerial staff.
Expectations by government
Government expects the APS to engage more with the public
The government rightly expects the APS to be responsive to the Australian people. The APS needs to be conscious that governments are increasingly seeking advice from outside the bureaucracy. Many commentators have remarked on the new contestability of policy advice7, and the need for public servants to appreciate the perspectives of external groups if they are to provide comprehensive and relevant advice.
The Australian Government is bound by the constitution to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth, and the Australian people are free to participate in the public processes to give effect to this.
The bottom line of public policy is the national interest...
As citizens engage the government and exercise their right to seek to influence public policy decisions they tacitly acknowledge the equal rights of other Australians to seek also to influence government according to their preferences. Because external stakeholders often seek incompatible public policy outcomes, the government is routinely required to decide between competing demands. In making such judgements, the bottom line of public policy decision making is serving the nation's interest.
Final decisions are with government and the APS has an important role
...and final decisions rest with the government
The APS has an important role to play in ensuring that external players have a clear understanding of the public interest imperatives that necessarily underpin public policy. This includes helping stakeholders understand that the government remains the final decision maker.
The APS is expected to have close connections with external stakeholders to ensure it is well positioned to offer advice for informed government decision making, and to implement effective and responsive services. There is also an increasing requirement for the APS to be highly skilled in communicating and consulting with the public to assist with informed decision making and to ensure effective program delivery.
Engagement with external stakeholders, whether other governments or non-government organisations and members of the public, is always of close interest to ministers, and arrangements for such engagement need to be managed with the knowledge and confidence of ministers.
Developing and implementing government policy
Engagement by the APS of external players needs some level of ministerial authorisation
Policy making by definition is a political process. The engagement by the APS of external players in the policy development process therefore requires at least some level of ministerial authorisation. This will avoid any suggestion of manipulating outcomes or of running inappropriate political risks, but also in a practical sense it recognises that governments are increasingly seeking advice directly from outside the bureaucracy-unless care is taken channels of communication can become confused.
Although the APS is not the government's only source of advice, it remains the key source of advice addressing the public interest, and has a responsibility to provide its own professional advice including assessment of the views from external groups. The impartiality of the APS is an essential ingredient to the decision-making process, and the APS is required to provide frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice. The precise way this should be managed depends both on the approach to external engagement, and the process for coordinated development of the whole of government policy-see Chapter 2, particularly on the use of taskforces and interdepartmental committees (IDCs).
Engagement in policy development and program or service design
Engaging stakeholders has many benefits...
Involving external players in policy development or the design of services and programs has many benefits. Policies and services will more closely meet public needs if they are developed with the help of people affected by them. Policies will be better informed and based on evidence. Involvement is also likely to improve acceptance of policy measures and satisfaction with services.
...but there can be constraints to wide consultation
Stakeholder involvement is not always appropriate, however, despite the potential benefits of closer alignment to public needs and reduced risk of problems at the implementation stage. In particular, constraints such as time criticality, security, funding availability, conflicts of interest and the privacy of individuals, as well as the government's perception of the political climate, need to be balanced against the importance and benefits of stakeholder engagement. On occasions, the government will simply decide that a matter is not (or no longer) open for debate.
The extent of external engagement for informing whole of government policy development is a matter for judgement on a case-by-case basis. So too is the style of engagement.
Some issues are intractable and stakeholders do not always agree
All whole of government issues are complex, but some sit at the extreme end of the complexity scale and are intractable. Further, not all issues attract the same level of stakeholder commitment to resolve them. The style of engagement with stakeholders needs to be chosen with these variables in mind. A strong imperative to act on an issue, even where there is disagreement among interest groups, will assist a project, but a high degree of complexity may erode goodwill. These factors will affect the appropriate style of engagement that should look to maximise commitment and minimise complexity.
A high level of engagement is appropriate where solutions need to be created externally
A high level of engagement is likely to be appropriate where the solutions need to be created by the external stakeholders themselves. The right solution to a problem might not be known. There might be many possible solutions and the one which will work best will be the one 'owned' by the people affected. The Goodna case study is a good example of this. There had been a crisis in the disadvantaged community of Goodna in Queensland. Governments took a back-seat, facilitative role, helping the people of Goodna to work out processes to plan a better future for themselves. It was important to take time in this process as there were many possible solutions. Local commitment was needed to make necessary changes to their community (appendix 2).
Bottom-up approaches such as this are sometimes called 'capacity-building' or 'community development' approaches because they build the capacity of people to help themselves. This notion of 'partnership' between government and regions or communities as they develop their own solutions to local problems is a fundamental principle outlined by the government in its regional policy statement 'Stronger Regions, Stronger Australia'. It underpins the work of the government's Area Consultative Committees and its Sustainable Regions and Regional Partnerships programs.
Targeted engagement can also be appropriate
A much more targeted engagement of stakeholders would be appropriate where there are major confidentiality or timing constraints.
The Australians Working Together case study describes how a small group of high-profile, eminent experts in welfare was involved with APS employees in the entire policy development process to reform Australia's welfare system. They worked in a budget-in-confidence environment, had direct access to the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, in particular, and were vital to the form and acceptance of the proposed changes.
The Advisory Council on the Government's National Illicit Drugs Strategy is another example of targeted engagement. In this case, the council reported to the Prime Minister and its meetings were attended by a member of his Office. The Council also had access to the other ministers involved. Employees from various agencies assisted the council, but were not direct members. The council assisted in both policy development and monitoring of implementation.
The appropriate mix of top-down and bottom-up consultation will vary with the nature of the whole of government task. Sometimes a structured top-down approach is the most appropriate: the very complexity and political profile of many whole of government activities may make formal, coordinated approaches attractive. These include advisory committees or taskforces of external representatives, appointed by ministers and with direct access to them, and serviced by a lead agency.
Other approaches to assist engagement include: the use of third parties to manage consultations with interest groups and clients, and provide independent reports to ministers; and market research to test aspects of policy proposals and implementation plans.
All approaches need to carefully consider accountability requirements
Whatever approach is decided upon, careful consideration needs to be given to the well established accountability requirements for the APS, including value for money, acting with care and diligence, maintaining appropriate confidentiality, compliance with the applicable law, and using Australian government resources in a proper manner.
Sustaining engagement through program implementation
A number of the whole of government organisational arrangements covered in Chapter 2, Structures and Processes, require the APS to maintain long-term engagement with external stakeholders, generally to implement or refine a policy or program.
For instance, taskforces or joint teams would be expected to routinely work with external stakeholders over a prolonged period. Similarly, where external organisations are to be directly involved under various purchaser-provider models, longer-term engagement would be normal. Such arrangements are increasingly prevalent, particularly in activities addressing complex and longstanding problems requiring flexibility in service delivery and high sensitivity to complex individual and community needs.
Ongoing whole of government partnership arrangements with private for-profit and private not-for-profit organisations raise particular management and accountability complexities for the APS.
Government commitment to coalitions, including government, businesses and communities who join together to respond to local priorities, provides a mechanism for determining priorities for government expenditure and activity in a given community. Equally, this approach presents challenges for the APS in terms of balancing responsiveness to communities and business with traditional accountability requirements.8
There can be tensions between external partnerships and public accountability
There can be tensions between the needs of innovative whole of government partnerships with external players and the risk of diffusion of accountability back to government. These must be addressed directly and openly.
The APS Code of Conduct9, for instance, requires an APS employee not to make improper use of inside information for personal gain or for the gain of any other person. This has particular resonance when the core business of an agency requires long-term engagement with one or more private organisations. In these circumstances the potential for conflicts of interest would appear to be significantly raised.
This has important implications for risk management strategies. Numerous APS publications espouse the need for a robust risk management framework that supports both the development of innovative ideas and practices to support government priorities, and informs policy proposals that come forward for government consideration.
Understanding the nature of a formal relationship can help
There may be merit in analysing the nature of the formal relationship with stakeholders in terms of: the process for selecting partners; the nature of the partnership; how partners are managed; the performance measures in place; and the balance of risks each party carries. Possible approaches under each of these form a continuum:
- Under selecting partners, appropriate possibilities could involve the use of traditional competitive tenders, submission-based selections, invitations to participate, and community development approaches designed to work with a community in a way which they direct-that is, bottom-up.
- The nature of the partnership can range from the more traditional purchase of service approaches through to arrangements based on complementary or shared goals. Sometimes the partnership might involve sharing the same values as the non-government organisation.
- Managing partnerships can take the form of contract management, contract and relationship management, relationship management only, or an equal relationship based on trust.
- In terms of measuring performance of a partnership, the range of options includes measuring inputs (such as how much money is being spent on Indigenous non-government health organisations), measuring outputs (such as the number of Indigenous health workers employed) or assessing outcomes (such as the extent to which Indigenous health improved). Sometimes both parties are in the project for exactly the same outcomes.
- Risk controls are important in any external relationship. Commonly each party would carry different risks. The risk to government of a relationship not working might lie in the risk to government policy or reputation. The risk to a nongovernment organisation might be its financial viability. Sometimes risks are genuinely shared.
Using this approach to briefly analyse two of the case studies shows how important insights can be gained for determining the appropriate partnership arrangements and risk and accountability regimes.
The COAG Indigenous Trials involves shared outcomes agreements
A community development approach has been taken to engaging with Indigenous communities in the COAG Indigenous Trials case study. Improvements in Indigenous outcomes are the key to the trials. Communities themselves must own solutions. Clearly, it would not be appropriate to ask a remote Indigenous community facing intractable issues to compete in an open tender process in order to get assistance from government. The accountability framework for the trials involves the development of shared outcomes agreements. APS goals for the trials complement the Indigenous communities' goals but would not be exactly the same. The success of the trials will to some extent depend on levels of trust that governments and the communities will deliver respectively what they promise.
The Goodna case study shows a different way of engaging with a community. Once again a community development approach was appropriate to sort out intractable problems in this disadvantaged community. Goals were shared-the community and government needed a response to a community crisis. Contracts were used between key players to progress various issues. Outputs were measured as well as outcomes. Risks were different for both parties.
Clout on the ground
Having 'clout on the ground' matters
A critical issue for community or regional-level management of whole of government projects is the authority available at that level. It is important for the APS to be able to offer 'clout on the ground'10 by having employees or contracted third parties skilled to interact with local communities, authorities and individuals, and also having authority from the range of agencies involved in the project.
The COAG Indigenous Trials are testing the use of quite senior (executive level) APS employees as project officers for each community involved. For its Indigenous Health Trials, the Department of Health and Ageing has, with state departments, contracted community organisations to employ experienced project managers. Both approaches involve considerable 'clout on the ground', with one emphasising the authority back to the sponsoring agencies and the other emphasising the responsiveness to the community.
Getting the balance right requires careful consideration, and the appropriate solution will be different for different whole of government activities and projects. Where impartiality is essential the use of APS employees is to be preferred over contracted community organisations.
Strategic plans can help achieve coordination and responsiveness
Other mechanisms for achieving community or regional coordination and responsiveness include the development of local strategic plans negotiated with the community that are in turn endorsed by the sponsoring agencies as a basis for subsequent funding and substantial delegation of detailed implementation to the community level. This approach is common in regional development and environmental activities requiring substantial whole of government cooperation. It underpins the approach taken to both the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Plan on Salinity and Water Quality. Ensuring that there are the appropriate balance of skills and interests in community bodies, that strategic plans properly reflect national and state-wide priorities in addition to the local concerns, and that delegated action is underpinned by good monitoring of accurate financial and practical outcomes is critical to making these arrangements work in a way that is effective and fair.
The balance between such bottom-up approaches to engagement and top-down approaches depends on the nature of the whole of government activity. Top-down or centralised approaches may be best where the choices are fairly clear, where external players are on-side and well engaged, when timelines are tight and/or where there are significant security or commercial sensitivities that could inhibit a less controlled approach. Typically, this is the case for crisis management (see Chapter 7), for dealing with sensitive international issues and for some economic and tax decisions. But for complex social problems, solutions frequently need to be created by the external people themselves, and the right solution is simply not known in advance. And for some issues, engagement of the affected communities in the policy development process can be critical to securing support for important changes.
Complex social problems often need to be solved by the external people themselves...
More details on balancing top-down and bottom-up approaches are included in the Good Practice Guides published as a companion document to this report.
Technology is increasing access to government...
Technology is both a key driver and a key component of the engagement with external players, particularly in whole of government activities. The internet in particular makes interactions easier, and makes personal knowledge of the relevant employee or agency less relevant. Technology assists the participation of citizens in public policy and programs.
Many governments are committed to 'e-government' as a way of offering the public easy access to government, and vice versa, and of bypassing organisational boundaries. In Britain, electronic service delivery was pursued explicitly to break down silo-based delivery networks and allow the public to interact with government when and where they chose.11
In Australia in June 2000, the government established the 'More Accessible Government' initiative, led by the Department of Transport and Regional Services, to improve and simplify regional communities' access to federal government grant programs across Financial Management Act agencies. Some significant achievements have flowed from this work including the establishment of the GrantsLINK website, the implementation of a common front section for application forms, and the development of standardised funding agreements.
At the end of 2002 the 'Better Services, Better Government' strategy was released, providing a framework for developing e-government at a federal level.12 Subsequent work includes the development of linked government websites. In a previous report, the Management Advisory Committee recognised the benefits of collaboration and proposed a two-tier governance structure for Australian government departments13 to address whole of government benefits while ensuring investments meet the business requirements of agencies.
There is wide recognition of the role of technology in enhancing engagement
There is wide recognition in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries of the importance of information and communication technologies for enhancing government engagement with citizens. The OECD considers that 'engaging citizens in policy-making is a sound investment in the design and delivery of better public policies and a core element of good governance'. It acknowledges that experience with using information and communication technology tools for policy development is limited and sees an 'imperative for building on the experience of others and the need for further comparative work'.
The OECD nonetheless points to some emerging lessons: 'technology is an enabler not the solution'; 'the online provision of information is an essential precondition for engagement, but quantity does not mean quality'; and 'the barriers to greater online citizen engagement in policy making are cultural, organisational and constitutional not technological'.14
Interactions between levels of government
Connections between different levels of government seem to be a common feature of complex whole of government work in Australia
Interactions between different levels of government, especially between the Australian government, state and territory and local governments, are a key focus for external connections in many whole of government activities.
Processes for intergovernmental engagement have evolved over the life of the federation in Australia. The formal responsibilities of different levels of government are distinguished by law and precedent, but there are many areas of shared interest, and many complex problems require solutions involving close cooperation. For the most part, these will continue to be managed through formal processes and structures such as COAG, various financial agreements and a large number of councils of ministers.
While the report does not address intergovernment relations in any detail, it should be noted that many whole of government priorities inevitably cross jurisdictional boundaries. Just as redefining the boundaries of agency responsibilities rarely solves whole of government challenges, reviewing the roles and responsibilities of the Australian Government and the states and territories and local government is unlikely to resolve many of the key whole of government challenges facing Australia. Some clarity about respective roles and responsibilities is important for accountability and achieving results, just as clear lines of responsibilities between portfolios and agencies has assisted program efficiency and effectiveness. No particular allocation of responsibilities will, however, avoid the need for crossing organisational boundaries, including intergovernmental boundaries, and this need is likely to continue to increase for the reasons set out in Chapter 1.
There are considerable benefits in taking a highly pragmatic approach. This may encompass high-level intergovernment endorsement of relevant priorities (e.g. through COAG or one of its ministerial councils) and appropriate project management and accountability processes (drawing on the suggestions in Chapters 2 and 5, in particular, and suggestions set out above for 'clout on the ground'). Ensuring ongoing capacity to respond to emerging priorities that may cross jurisdictional boundaries also requires continued close understanding of the policies and programs most likely to interact.
Ongoing forums can foster understanding of wider issues
One approach to this is to establish ongoing forums and information exchanges that foster not only understanding by employees of the issues inside their areas of control and influence but also the appreciation of wider issues and activities that may impact on those areas.
I have always seen some merit.in a pragmatic approach based on what might be called the 'control, influence, appreciate' principle. Under this approach, who controls what might be defined as firmly as possible.but it is recognised that each level of government will wish to influence the others in a number of areas; and, as these areas change from time to time under different governments and in the fact of different situations, it is important for public servants to have and maintain a good appreciation across the whole, including the areas under the control of another level that your level of government may want to influence in the future.15
Formal funding relationships may also feature in whole of government work. The nature of such relationships (e.g. the use of pooled funds, matching arrangements, conditional grants etc., and any contract arrangements with service providers either on a tender basis or partnership arrangement) should be tailored to the task. Value for money and accountability will guide these choices.
Clear division of responsibilities allows clearer accountability
A key challenge in this area is managing accountability. Clear division of responsibilities allows clearer lines of accountability, and has important advantages in terms of efficient and timely delivery of services. Where problems require shared solutions, particularly where an integrated package of services from different levels of government is required, agreement needs to be reached on how effective overall performance is to be measured, and how the contributions of each agency and level of government are to be monitored.
Central to this are both the shared understanding of the problem and the commitment to a shared solution. Public servants can contribute substantially to both by close ongoing networks across jurisdictions.
The Goodna Service Integration Project (SIP) case study provides an excellent model for shared accountability. Ongoing accountability was exercised through the production of standardised briefings, which were issued to the directorsgeneral of all participating agencies and to elected representatives of the three tiers of government from the CEO of Ipswich City Council on behalf of the SIP.
When communications regarding SIP activities were developed they were issued under multiple signatories to demonstrate an integrated approach.
Supporting external engagement: some practical issues
Engaging stakeholders requires new ways of working
Engaging stakeholders in whole of government activities is a growing area of public administration. To some extent this entails adopting new ways of working in the APS, requiring both new and upgraded skills, as well as supporting structures and tools.
High level of communication skills are needed
Whole of government work has increased the importance of stakeholder management skills, especially the ability to communicate directly with a more complex mix of people.
If communication with external stakeholders includes formal market research to understand stakeholders' views or is a structured campaign involving advertising, public relations or similar, it is necessary to seek advice from the Government Communications Unit (GCU) in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The role of the GCU is to provide advice and support on communications issues to the Australian Government and the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications and to manage the Central Advertising System.
Where the project involves community development or a partnering arrangement, a long-term communication effort may be required. Sustaining stakeholder relationships over time can be particularly challenging.
Stakeholders in whole of government matters often disagree, and some use sophisticated communication techniques, including media campaigns, to support their particular point of view or to discredit others. APS managers can need high-order communications expertise in these circumstances.
There is a large volume of APS literature providing guidance on the general question of public accountability, and much of it has direct relevance to whole of government programs involving engagement with external stakeholders.
Accountability can be blurred
The contest for ideas that is routinely associated with whole of government work can, however, blur the assessment of agency or individual accountability. This is particularly so when one or more parties to a debate are inflexible or actively work to defeat the preferred option of another party. In these circumstances it can be extremely difficult to measure results in terms of outcomes.
There is no simple formula for designing or applying an accountability regime to such a complex whole of government program, but scrutiny cannot, and should not, be avoided. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge in relevant business plans the complicating issues that stakeholder engagement can cause.
Engagement with stakeholders is about delivering results
In the final analysis, the APS engages stakeholders to help deliver results. Many structures and processes can help or hinder this work. These are covered in some detail in other chapters of this report. Some particularly significant considerations for stakeholder engagement include:
- being open to the views and needs of stakeholders, without losing sight of the government's policy objectives-the mindset of the manager is a critical factor in this
- getting the right governance arrangements in place for the particular set of stakeholders-there is little point in writing letters from an IDC when help on the ground is being sought
- keeping channels of communication open and active-there are many lessons in the case studies about the importance of good communication
- understanding who is accountable for what, and making sure that stakeholders understand that the national interest cannot be divorced from public policy processes.
1 R Mulgan, 'Accountability Issues in the New Model of Governance', Discussion Paper No. 91, Graduate Program in Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra, 2002.
2 M Edwards, 'Participatory governance', Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration, vol. 107, March, pp. 1-6, 2003.
3 A Podger , 'Whole of Government Innovations and Challenges', keynote address to Innovations and Impacts seminar, IPAA National Conference, Adelaide, 16 November 2002.
4 DF Kettl, The Global Public Management Revolution, A Report on the Transformation of Governance, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 2000; DF Kettl, 'The Transformation of Governance: Globalization, Devolution, and the Role of Government', in Public Administration Review, 60(6), Blackwell, 2000.
5 T Fitzpatrick, 'Horizontal Management-Trend in Governance and Accountability', Action Research Roundtable on the Management of Horizontal Issues, Canadian Centre for Management Development, 2000; T Ling, 'Delivering Joined Up Government in the UK: Dimensions, Issues and Problems', Public Administration, 80(4), 2002, pp. 615-42.
6 Centrelink, 'Partnering the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla: Centrelink doing government differently', paper for the Canberra Summit, Social Entrepreneurs Network, 22-23 May 2003; P Conn, Planning into Action: The Centrelink Business Planning Experience, paper presented at the IPAA National Conference, Powerful Connections, 2002; D Rosalky, 'Ministers, Secretaries and Boards. A perspective from a seat on the Centrelink Board', address to the seminar series, The Public Sector in the New Millennium, Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration 107 (March): 41-7, 2003; R Worthington, 'A case study of strategic partnering in Australia', OECD Public Affairs and Communications, Paris, 1999.
7 M Edwards and J Langford (eds), New players, partners and processes: a public sector without boundaries?, 2002, Proceedings of the National Institute for Governance (University of Canberra) and the School of Public Administration (University of Victoria) Symposium, held in Canberra, April 2001.
8 M Edwards, 'Public Sector Governance: Future Issues for Australia', Australian Journal of Public Administration, 61(2), 2002; G Mulgan, 'Joined Up Government in the United Kingdom: Past Present and Future', Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration, No. 105, September, pp. 25-9, 2002.
9 Australian Public Service Act 1999, section 13.
10 A Podger, (op. cit.)
11 Cabinet Office (United Kingdom), Wiring It Up, Whitehall's Management of Cross Cutting Policies and Services, a Performance and Innovation Unit report, 2000.
12 National Office of the Information Economy, Better Services, Better Government: The Federal Government's E-government Strategy, November 2002.
13 Management Advisory Committee, Australian Government Use of Information and Communications Technology, 2002.
14 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Promises and Problems of E-democracy: Challenges of Online Citizen Engagement, 2003.
15 A Podger, (op. cit.) pg 8