“System stewardship”: antipodean academics explore options beyond outsourcing
- 30 July 2019
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: News
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that our friends in Australia and New Zealand got just as keen on the outsourcing model of public service provision as me did here in the UK — and, of course, they’ve hit a lot of the same problems, too. So they’re looking to go beyond the (Not So) New Public Management model… but the question on everyone’s lips is what to do instead.
With that in mind, ANZSOG — that’s the Australia and New Zealand School of Government to you and me — has an article in which they talk to Professor Janine O’Flynn, who was one of the top brains behind a recent report for the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service which identified some of these issues. Prof O’Flynn has a new paper out at the Journal of Policy Design and Practice titled “Rethinking relationships: clarity, contingency, and capabilities”, and it’s open access, meaning you can get stuck in there without needing any institutional library privileges… but the ANZSOG piece may provide a slightly less formal introduction to the same material.
A couple of highlights? Oh, go on, then… let’s start with the scale of the challenge:
Drawing on the APS Review report the article found that the Australian national government entered into 73,458 new procurement contracts for goods and services in 2017–2018. The majority were quite small, with 95per cent being worth less than $1 million, but a few major contracts account for billions of dollars in expenditure.
“We need to look at the scale and scope of contracts. There are a very small number of very big complex contracting arrangements which require a very different approach to things like managing IT or travel, which can be more transactional,” Professor O’Flynn said.
“The APS needs to think of itself as the designer of a much more complicated system, as ‘system stewards’ of a broader set of relationships.”
But what does that “system stewardship” involve, exactly? Well, it’s complex:
“We argue that we need to get a bit more relational for some, not all, of these contracts and think of them as long-term relationships that need to be nurtured. We may not be able to have competitive markets for some things, we may not be able to set down on contracts that set out every possibility.
“The APS needs to move towards the idea of strategic commissioning: which is much more than deciding who will do what services, it is really looking at what are the needs and aspiration of communities and how do we deliver on that? In some cases, government may have no role at all.”
But the real core of the issue is conceding that complexity, and finding new ways to work with it, rather than against it:
“When we look at how the work of government is actually done, we see this complexity clearly, but we continue to design systems, processes and relationships that seek uniformity, and which narrow our ability to delivery on the needs and aspirations of citizens and communities. We need new building blocks to guide us.”