Friday, October 30, 2009

Reform and the Role of Public Managers

This morning I participated in a seminar with several schools in the PolicyNet group. At some stage the visual of the seminar will end up here for those interested. Schools from Japan, China, Singapore, Canada participated so we had a great mix. Our local moderator was one of my star students Adeline Kooi and she did a terrific job as well as having some of the most challenging questions of the day.!

I started off with a short lecture explaining public managers and public management, setting out the eras/generations of reform, pointing to the current challenges facing public managers, and the emerging contenders for the "next big thing". It was a great chance to test out some of these ideas, and engage with students from across the globe on how these ideas resonate in their specific contexts. Nothing like several rooms full of bright students to keep you on your toes!!

Participants had some thought-provoking and insightful questions which got to the core of enduring debates in the field: what is the proper role of public managers? where is, or should be, the line of separation between politics and administration? how do we make reform and change "stick"? how do we overcome resistance to change? what tools can public managers use to gauge what the community wants? how does this approach fit into a developing country context? when does the backlash come to spur fundamental reform and what are the critical transition points? how do public managers balance competing demands from political and community domains? what happens when they get stuck between levels of government?

At the end of our two-hour session we had covered lots of ground and I was pleased to get such a great range of questions. These have take me back again to this enduring issue of politics and management - who does what, when, what is the proper role and so on. I am gearing up for a session in a few weeks an the Third Annual ANU Leadership Workshop where I will talk in some detail about these issues in an ethical context.