Friday, July 22, 2016

Teaching and Learning in Australia: Strategy Mapping, Public Art, and Resilient Leadership

During the last two weeks of May and first two weeks of June, John Bryson and I were visiting fellows with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), an impressive collaboration among national and state governments and universities. In a previous post, I wrote about our experience in New Zealand so here will concentrate on our work in Sydney and Melbourne, where we conducted workshops and presented research.

First, a quick description of ANZSOG: Aimed primarily at educating public servants, it offers an executive master’s degree, an array of workshops and forums on topics in public management and public affairs, and a variety of short courses. Several internationally respected public management and leadership scholars are on the faculty.
Being in Sydney in early June gave us the chance to be wowed by a public event called Vivid Sydney. At night, downtown buildings, including the iconic Sydney Opera House, were splashed with projections of colorful lights and animated patterns. Playful light sculptures were sprinkled along sidewalks and plazas. The event was a wonderful example of the power of public art to draw a diverse array of citizens (and visitors) into the heart of a major city.

In Sydney, John and I conducted a three-day workshop for national and state civil servants on strategic planning and visual strategy mapping. To prompt strategic thinking, we invited participants to compare the strategies employed by Alexander the Great and his commanders at Gaugemela and those used by community organizers in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In Melbourne, we conducted a day-long visual strategy mapping workshop for not-for-profit leaders aimed at strengthening their collaboration with government agencies. These leaders highlighted the importance of developing stronger cohesion and leadership within the not-for-profit sector as well as building greater mutual understanding between governments and nonprofits. We also gave a public talk on identifying collaborative advantage and we met with senior civil servants in the Victoria state government to convey insights from the not-for-profit workshop.

Being in Melbourne also gave John and me the chance to see a highly energetic production of Matilda, based on Roald Dahl’s story of resilient leadership from below, at the historic Princess Theatre. Toxic leaders in home and school were also on tragicomic display.

I’ll conclude with a couple of observations about public leadership and government in Australia: Like New Zealand, the Australian government has adopted much of the business-minded results-oriented approach of the New Public Management. The two countries have thus experienced benefits (e.g., attention to outcomes) and drawbacks (e.g., over-reliance on narrow cost-benefit analysis) of the approach. We detected (and tried to foster) growing interest in focusing on a wide range of public values (beyond efficiency) in developing public policies and programs. At the same time, we had to admire the relative efficiency of Australia’s national elections underway while we were there. Everyone was complaining about what citizens and commentators felt was an unusually lengthy campaign: all of two months.

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