Building a Victorian moral purpose public sector

As DPC heralds the transition to an outcome-driven ‘moral purpose’ public sector, we take a look at what this means, and where lie the roles and responsibilities for the commercial sector.

On 29 June 2016, Chris Eccles, Secretary Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), discussed at an Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) forum what the future public service may look like. His presentation had a very strong focus on an outcome-driven public sector with a ‘moral purpose’: building the moral purpose public sector.

I liked his focus on outcomes, rather than inputs or process ‘for process’s sake’. Any process used must support an outcome. With a strong procurement background, I have always supported process as an enabler, and Chris Eccles’ presentation aligned well with recent audits into the health of government projects, where the auditor general has quite reasonably asked why we are running projects if the outcomes and benefits are not clearly identified.

Thus this goal to refocus the public sector on a purpose, and a moral purpose at that, is very sound and timely.

However, I want to explore what this outcome focus means for building government business relationships and the responsibilities of business in this.

A major theme of Chris Eccles’ presentation (see transcript here) was how the public sector should be approaching public policy development, and how the sector should be structured to support this. In his words, in developing public policy we must:

  • start with a strong sense of moral purpose
  • have a well-defined and achievable goal
  • utilise all available new technologies
  • get diverse groups of people pursuing the same goals, and
  • enlist the entire community in the solution.

The moral purpose public sector and business

“It’s when our desired outcomes are based on the right moral purpose that we deliver public value to the people of Victoria. And I believe we can organise ourselves in better ways to achieve that goal.” — Chris Eccles

In organising the public sector to achieve that goal, Chris Eccles recognises that the responsibility is not only limited to the public sector, but the ecosystem that supports it. This ecosystem comprises the industry and institutions that supply to it, the community that it serves, and the media that reports on it, and helps to keep it accountable.

However, transforming an organisation as large and as traditional as the Victorian public sector to one that’s focused on outcomes is a very difficult task.

Even at a project level, a lot of resources tend to be focused on identifying the functional requirements and processes for measuring performance, rather than the purpose and goals, let alone outcomes. And outcomes are very different from performance. Performance is focused on how well a solution performs – not on the outcomes it achieves. Thus for public servants there tends often to be a stronger emphasis placed on the inputs, controls and processes used, rather than the outputs and benefits. A cultural change is required to shift this thinking and achieve the so-called moral purpose sector.

So what does this mean for businesses engaging with government?

Success for businesses must mean setting up the government for success. Every approach to government must be done within the context of outcome to the community, with well-defined and measurable goals. Government must also get better at prioritising investment decisions, so it follows suppliers must work to understand their costs and benefits of a proposed solution — all within the context of a moral purpose.

A consultant I admire asked me what I think is the key purpose of government. I still struggle with condensing that into a single purpose; however, I do feel that it’s around creating an environment where citizens feel safe and can thrive. If this is the role of government, then its suppliers must support other functions, including informing investment decisions to support those outcomes.

How government and industry must then collaboratively manage respective performance, governance, accountabilities, budget and share information and data will determine the extent of success.

Further changes to DPC Organisation Structure

To be successful, businesses must also understand the structure of the organisations they are targeting to work with. Our June newsletter foreshadowed further changes to the structure of DPC, on which Chris Eccles provided more detail in his presentation.

In recognising the role of the ecosystem to support this moral purpose public sector, Chris Eccles spoke about a more matrix-styled organisation where branches of DPC will be responsible for cross-cutting issues that underpin core government responses to major initiatives (specifically family violence, following the recent Royal Commission), steering away from a siloed, portfolio-driven approach. This is an example of how departments may be better structured to facilitate co-design and consultation with the broader community to become a moral purpose sector.

Structure changes will include:

  • The Co-Design, Consultation and Communications Branch will deliver on the government’s commitment to co-design and consult with the community, service sector and other stakeholders.
  • Development of the family violence policy and service response for communities that face unique challenges, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, will be led by the Diverse Communities Branch.
  • Two branches will support the rollout of the 17 new Support and Safety Hubs across Victoria: the Service Design Branch, which will develop a new approach to multi-agency safeguarding and access to services; and the Operations Branch, which will oversee the operational aspects of hub rollout and administration.
  • The Sector and Workforce Readiness Branch will lead funding, budget, and workforce reform, and will support the sector to transition to working in the new system.
  • Better information-sharing and data collection across the family violence response will be led by the Information and Data Reform Branch.
  • Coordination of key whole-of-government social policy reforms that interface with the family violence reforms will be undertaken by the Innovative Justice, Housing and Roadmap for Reform Branch.
  • The Delivery Unit will oversee the delivery of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, coordinate activity across government and be responsible for the delivery of the 10-year action plan and investment plan.


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