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Part A: Principles

1. What we mean by 'immersive development'

Experiences which involve an employee performing a role or undertaking an activity away from their standard role, with the expectation that they will learn and develop as a result, are known as immersive development experiences. These experiences include:

  • Secondments

    , where an employee from one organisation moves to another on a short to medium-term basis. The employee retains their employment status at their home organisation while performing duties at the host organisation.

  • Study

    , where an employee undertakes agency-endorsed research at an academic institution.

  • Role moves

    , where an employee undertakes a specific time-limited role. This could include performing an executive officer or departmental liaison officer role.

  • Visits and frontline experiences

    , where employees spend time working with customers or client groups or observing agency work.

2. Benefits of immersive development

According to research, there are a broad range of benefits to be gained from secondments and other forms of immersive development, including:

  • Developing skills and capability[3].

    Employees are exposed to different work environments, including new tasks, processes and approaches. This strengthens current skills as they are applied in new contexts, and builds new skills.

  • Gaining new perspectives[4]

    . Employees build insights and networks across organisations, sectors and jurisdiction, bridging the boundaries between organisations.

  • Building resilience[5].

    Moving to an unfamiliar organisation for a period has been found to foster problem-solving, adaptability and autonomy.

People often experience transformational growth as a result of immersive experiences. This type of development is of immense value to the APS. According to research from Harvard[6], today's environment requires more complex thinking skills, including learning agility, self-awareness, and comfort with ambiguity. These skills are honed through immersive experiences, as individuals make sense of new organisations, new environments
and new roles. Immersive experiences provide opportunities for both horizontal development (new skills, abilities, and behaviours – technical learning), and for vertical development – essentially an expansion in the way people see the world that deepens their ability to engage with complexity
and challenge. Immersive experiences help 'grow bigger minds'. People at higher levels of vertical development perform better in more complex environments. For the APS, the argument for immersive development is powerful.

3. Immersive development principles

Three principles underpin the effective use of immersive development in the APS:

  • They must be targeted interventions.

    Care must be taken to identify employees who would benefit most from an immersive experience, with equal care taken to match available opportunities to employees.

  • They must benefit the APS.

    Immersive experiences are not opportunities for employees to 'test' a new career before leaving the APS. Employees are expected to bring the benefits of their experience back to the APS.

  • They must be well supported.

    Processes must be in place to make sure employees get the most out of every experience. This includes having clear development goals linked to the experience, supporting the employee before, during and after the experience, and evaluating experiences to support continuous improvement.

4. The immersive development lifecycle

Agencies determine the types of immersive experiences they support. The reasons for offering immersive opportunities should be linked to agency business or people strategies. This will help identify which employees to select for particular activities. From here, immersive activities generally unfold
in six stages:

  1. 1.


    Arrangements are negotiated and each party prepares for the activity
  2. 2.


    This period covers the first few days and weeks of the activity
  3. 3.


    Employees and their hosts begin the adjustment process
  4. 4.


    The employee settles into the new role
  5. 5.


    The employee completes the immersive activity and works with their agency to develop a re-entry plan that makes the best use of the experience
  6. 6.


    The employee returns to their agency.

Figure 1: The immersive development lifecycle


Practical suggestions to support this cycle are in Part B.

5. Accessing immersive development in the APS

Immersive activities can be accessed through:

  • Agency programs.

    Immersive development activities, such as secondments, can be arranged on a regular or ad hoc basis with stakeholder organisations or postings to international organisations. Agencies are encouraged to consider other roles and activities which can be used as immersive development, including executive
    officer and departmental liaison officer roles, frontline experiences, and study, including scholarships.

  • APS-wide activities.

    Agencies can opt-in to APS-wide immersive development programs, including the Jawun program which brokers secondments with Indigenous organisations and the Sir Roland Wilson PhD Scholarship program.

[3] Longden, W. (1991). Making secondments work. Education + Training, 33(1), 11-12.

[4] Lewis, D. (2008). Using life histories in social policy research: the case for third sector / public sector boundary crossing. Journal of Social Policy [HW Wilson – SSA], 37, 559.

[5] Hamilton J & Wilkie, C. (2001). An appraisal on the use of secondment within a large teaching hospital. Journal of Nursing Management, 9(6), 315-320.

[6] Petrie, N. (2014) Future Trends in Leadership Development. Center for Creative Leadership White Paper. Included a review of approaches to developing leaders across the schools of the university (Education, Business, Law, Government, Psychology); a literature review; interviews with 30 experts in the field.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018