Our Research

Our Research

Effective public leadership is critical to rigorous policy development, sound public administration and productive political engagement.

According to public perception Australia is facing a crisis of confidence towards its public leaders, resulting in deteriorating engagement with political figures and initiatives. Given the fracturing of Western political culture and the rise of divisive identity politics, now more than ever there is a need for a ground-breaking academic program that will develop the practice of public leadership based on sound academic research. UNSW Canberra has made significant progress in this field, establishing the Public Leadership Research Group (PLRG).

'Just as strong public leadership can shape a great nation, so too can poor leadership dampen a nation’s spirit and strength.'

The PLRG aims to influence the approaches of political parties, government departments and community organisations.

The critical work undertaken by the PLRG adds new clarity and context to these roles by clearly defining the principles and practice of public governance, and whom or what constitutes ‘the public’. By examining key challenges in conjunction with the achievements of public leaders, past and present, the research distinguishes genuine leadership from government oversight and bureaucratic regulation. Such challenges will include the distorting effects of special pleading on policy and procedures that are meant to serve all citizens.


The PLRG combines exploration of the public interest with research into the ‘Howard years’. The PLRG is sponsoring the Howard Government Retrospective Series drawing on nearly 12 years of unpublished documents from John Howard's papers held at UNSW Canberra. With contributions from John Howard, other politicians, media commentators, key public servants and academics, these volumes will inform future assessments of the Howard Government, its place in Australian history future discussion of public policy objectives and outcomes. In conjunction with the Office of the NSW Ombudsman the PLRG is also exploring the philosophical and political challenges associated with the public interest and examines the legal, ethical and institutional strategies for its promotion. Who Defines the Public Interest?, released in 2019, is the first in a series of edited volumes that will inform debate and inspire new approaches to controversial policy issues.

Capabilities and Resources

The PLRG hosts the Doctorate in Public Leadership (DPL) degree program which prepares candidates for the highest level of professional practice. Graduates are expected to contribute significantly to the development of the multi-disciplinary study of Public Leadership within their own vocations. The thesis develops and hones the research skills necessary for an experienced practitioner to be able to make a significant contribution to the continuous improvement of their discipline’s professional practice. A Master of Public Leadership and Policy is also available to postgraduate students.