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May 27th, 2021
Innovation • Delivery • Justice
Thea Snow Director, ANZ

Reimagining government in Australia and New Zealand: what we’re learning

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Its been over a year since we explored our vision for better government in Australia & New Zealand. @theasnow reflects on what we're learning

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.@CPI_foundation in Australia & New Zealand has: built great relationships, grown, explored ideas, listened, learned and so much more! What next?

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Interested in exploring what it means to engage @CPI_foundation in Australia & New Zealand as a learning partner? Get in touch w/ @theasnow!

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In late February 2020, I took a deep breath and wrote this email to Adrian Brown, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Impact:

I was lying in bed very early this morning, thinking (as you do…) about what I’d really love to do. The idea of testing the viability of a CPI Australia sprung to mind and I felt energised and excited...

This email led to a conversation, which led to an agreement to run an experiment - we’d try things out and see whether there appeared to be enough interest to build a presence for CPI in Australia and New Zealand. Now, a year and a bit has passed, and, happily, the experiment is still going strong. 

As we pass this one year mark, now feels like a good time to pause, reflect, and share some of the key highlights around what we’ve done, what we’ve learnt, and where we’re going to be focussing our energy moving forward.

Looking back...

We’ve built relationships and developed some great partnerships. As I mentioned in my six-month reflection, we’ve developed a fantastic network of people and organisations who complement CPI’s vision to reimagine government. We’ve also developed some strong partners, for example the Australia and New Zealand School of Government - our partners for the Reimagining Government webinar series - and the 3A Institute, who we partnered with to explore the role of dignity in government AI Ethics frameworks. These relationships are the basis of all that we have done, and everything that we will do. In this work (all work!), relationships are everything.

We’ve grown. In February 2021, we recruited David Murikumthara. Doubling in size as a team (!) has been fantastic for many reasons. Unsurprisingly, having more capacity has opened new opportunities and allowed us to explore more, and more quickly. But bringing someone into the team has also slowed things down. It has required us to explore what self management means for a team of two. It has also forced me to let go of certain things, to enable David to step in. This has been - in all honesty - somewhat challenging, but also liberating, exciting and enriching. There is no doubt in my mind that CPI ANZ is better for it.

We’ve explored new ideas. A big part of the last year has been centred in exploring new ideas, and sharing what we’ve been learning through workshops, events, and writing. When I read back on some of the things I’ve written and said, I now see glaring holes and over simplifications, but this feels like an important part of the process. I look forward to continuing to learn through writing and sharing, getting things wrong, cringing, breathing deeply and improving.

We’ve hosted, presented and curated. At CPI, a core part of our role is finding, celebrating, and showcasing the stories of people who are realising our vision for better government. With this in mind, we’ve published guest blogs by people in different parts of Australia - from Tasmania, to Colac, to Bondi Beach (note to self - we need more from New Zealand!). We’ve also curated events and webinars as a way of creating a platform for our partners and colleagues to share their stories. Most recently, we’ve also established a Community of Practice to bring together people from across the world who are passionate about reimagining government.

We’ve listened and learnt. We’ve also spent a lot of time listening to people working in government in Australia and New Zealand in order to better understand what CPI can do to support public servants who are committed to working in ways that centre relationships, care and complexity. We’re using what we’re hearing to help us better support our partners as they work to reimagine government from within.

Looking forward...

These insights, together with a whole lot of thinking and conversations that have been taking place across our Europe and North America offices, have led us recently to share our thinking about what we’re learning about reimagining government. As Adrian outlines in this piece, where we’ve landed is that we feel the best role for CPI to play - both here in ANZ, and globally - is that of a learning partner.

Traditional government approaches to problem solving and policymaking - a linear process of evidence-gathering, analysis, planning, design, implementation and evaluation - are not effective in complex settings. In addition, the idea that those at the centre hold knowledge, power and the answers, must be challenged. We know that in the context of complex social challenges, in particular, those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. 

For this reason, in complex environments, it is critical for governments to place continuous learning, evolution and improvement at the centre of all that they do. Because change is constant, because different people experience the system differently, and because failures are inevitable in the face of complexity, we should seek to maximise the capacity of public systems to listen, learn, and adapt on an ongoing basis. Governments who optimise for constant learning and improvement, rather than control, will be best placed to support positive outcomes in peoples’ lives.

As we continue our journey here in Australia and New Zealand, we’re looking for partners who are interested in exploring what it means to engage CPI as a learning partner. 

We’re looking for those in and around government who recognise the importance of learning, but struggle to prioritise it amongst competing priorities and a culture which values delivery above almost anything else. 

We want to find partners to walk alongside to help create the space and time needed to more effectively listen, learn and adapt. If this is of interest, you can read more about our vision for reimagining government on our brand new landing page - we’d love to hear from you!

Reimagining Government in Australia and New Zealand Aotearoa

We help government, their partners and all changemakers to listen, learn and adapt so that power is shared and decisions are made closer to those impacted, with those impacted. Whether you work in government, public sector, the third sector or are a foundation seeking to support better outcomes for citizens, we would love to work with you.

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Written by:

Thea Snow Director, ANZ
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