Winner of the IPAA WA 2017 Young Professional 'Expand Your Horizons' Scholarship, Ms Cathryn Greville, reviews her experience at the IPAA 2017 National Conference in Canberra.

I was proud and honoured to represent WA, and in particular, IPAA WA, as the 2017 Young Professional Scholarship winner attending the IPAA National Conference in Canberra.  I would like to firstly thank IPAA WA, and its members, for the opportunity afforded to me through this Scholarship.

I am extremely passionate about the public service and the practice of high quality public administration.  I am also a strong supporter of the important role that IPAA plays both locally and nationally, particularly with respect to promoting the highest standards of ethics and professionalism across the sector.  So attending the conference not only aligned with my personal values, it also allowed me to bring a local perspective and support IPAA WA at a national level.

The topic for this year’s conference was ‘Thinking Differently: Building Trust.’  The sessions and surrounding discussion did not disappoint.

The conference theme was forward-thinking, and of great interest to me from a personal development perspective.  We face significant challenges in the coming years and central to overcoming those challenges is the need to think smarter, be innovative, flexible, proactive, collaborative and inclusive in our approach.  I was keen to attend the conference to engage on critical issues facing the sector, learn and bring back ideas that I could apply to my own practice and share with my colleagues for many years to come.

What I witnessed was an engaged and passionate group of approximately 500 public servants from across the country, and some from overseas, coming together to share experiences, admit failures and build a better understanding of what we can do to improve and deliver the best possible service across the sector. 

To begin, the Conference Dinner took place amongst the beautiful scenery of the National Arboretum, where the 2017 Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management were combined with the National Conference Opening Reception. We heard from keynote speaker Senator the Hon James McGrath; IPAA ACT’s Deputy President Carmel McGregor PSM; incoming National President, Professor Peter Shergold AC; along with award winners and honourees.  It was a great start to the conference and a taste of what was to come.

The conference itself was then held in the Great Hall in Parliament House.

The line-up of speakers was indeed impressive.  Along with several outstanding panel discussions, the highlight for me was the Garran Oration by Rt Hon Sir John Key GNZM, AC, former Prime Minister of New Zealand.   John spoke about his experiences in government, the concepts of trust and empowerment, and the shift from social spending to social investment.  In that regard, he spoke about the importance of the move towards a consumer-directed model – that is, allowing consumers to draw from a variety of options, rather than simply applying funds from top down. Not only does this move us beyond seeing people as beneficiaries/recipients, it supports them to take control of their own lives.

Of particular interest was John’s discussion of the KPIs introduced during his term to deliver significant goals, and his account that they would sometimes fail on some items – but were prepared to fail if positive improvement would be made regardless.  He acknowledged both excitement and frustration as to the limitations of what can be achieved, well understood by the audience.  However, John’s personal focus on achieving long-term satisfaction from making things better, particularly for those who need it most, certainly struck a chord with me.

Building on John’s oration, key takeaways and themes that ran throughout the conference included: 

Earning trust

  • Keeping public sector working in a way that is worthy of trust is key to our success (Mark Scott AO).
  • Trustworthiness is about what you do – not what you represent (Edwin Lau, OECD). 
  • We can accept what we don’t agree with, provided an appropriate, fair process is followed (Sir John Key GNZM, AC/Professor Peter Shergold AC).
  • In a world where people increasingly curate their own world view by what is available online, and where celebrity opinions are given equal political influence, public administration is ‘an anchor institution’ – the ‘last bastion of looking at all views and working through them’, with a large responsibility to bear (Peter Shergold AC). 
  • We should be constantly asking ourselves: ‘Are we true to label?’ (Mark Scott AO).

Public Engagement

  • The public must trust that we have the expertise to deliver, and that we’ve engaged them along the way (Sir John Key GNZM, AC). 
  • It is essential that the public understand what the government is doing, and why it is necessary (Peter Shergold AC).
  • The public sector cannot be an ideological think tank that only approaches issues from one perspective (Mark Scott AO).
  • It is imperative that we effectively engage with people in our community to ensure we are giving the right advice and able to run the best programs (Jane Halton AO PSM).  This requires respectful conversations and getting the not-for-profit, private and public sectors working together in the creation of public interest.
  • We have at our disposal the digital world and contemporary strategies (Carmel McGregor, PSM) – for example, analytics to build capacity on public policy issues.

It was also a great privilege to be in Parliament House’s on the morning of the announcement of the Same Sex Marriage Survey next door – to loud applause and delight throughout the Great Hall.

The discussion and networks I built at both the Conference and the Conference dinner have inspired me to continue to implement positive change within the sector and ‘make a difference’ for the benefit of our customers, organisations and those working within them.

Thank you again to IPAA WA for this fantastic privilege, and for the opportunity to speak to you this evening about the conference.

I encourage all Young Professional members to apply for next year’s Scholarship, and see what horizons it may open up for you.

To find out more about applying for the 2018 IPAA Young Professional Scholarship - click here.

View IPAA 2017 Conference Resources including videos of all sessions here.