UNSW Canberra grapples with the evolving role of the public service

| 28 Nov 2017

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As government agencies have changed how they design and deliver public services, their role has evolved into one of stewardship.

It’s a word that has gained traction in the Australian Public Service, but University of New South Wales Canberra (UNSW Canberra) academics believe the parameters around stewardship have not been clearly defined.

Associate Professor Helen Dickinson, Director of UNSW Canberra’s Public Service Research Group, said government agencies often designed their systems when they delivered their own services.

“We’ve had this shift in government agencies largely delivering their services to one where they have little responsibility for this anymore," Dr. Dickinson said.  

“Government agencies are now really grappling with the issue of what it is they do and what skills they need to be able to do some of that work.”

The Commonwealth Government’s 2017 report on human services reforms argued that stewardship was acrucial role for governments to undertake, however stewardship arrangements were ‘difficult to get right’.

In research paper Is all Stewardship equal? Developing a typology of public service stewardship, Dr. Dickinson, along with co-authors Dr. Katie Moon, Dr. Dru Marsh and Dr. Gemma Carey, has defined four different approaches to stewardship and how they can be applied in the public service.

“We thought this could be really useful for public service organisations when they’re thinking about their stewardship approach and the best way for this to operate,” Dr. Dickinson said.

The paper also suggests that workforce skills may need to evolve as the role of government agencies change.

“There is a real gap in terms of the evidence in this area,” Dr. Dickinson said.

“If stewardship is going to be the new way government works, what kind of workforce skills and competencies will be needed to discharge that function?”

The paper is part of the PSRG Paper Series, which will be launched at an invitation-only event at the National Portrait Gallery, 5.30pm on Wednesday 29 November.

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