The future of work explores ongoing and future changes for the work of the public service; effective workplace and leadership culture; and best practice for delivering outcomes. Our expert panel shines a spotlight on new ways of working to ensure that government work practices are modern, efficient and allows room for the best possible capability.
Podcast host, Fleur Anderson, is joined by Vanessa Roarty, Branch Lead of Digital Profession, Australian Public Service Commission; Vanessa Doake, Chief People Officer at Art Processors and Co-Founder & Former COO of Code Like a Girl and Pia Andrews, Special Advisor, Digital & Client Data Workstream Lead for Employment and Social Development Canada.
Listen to Episode 1 on:
Fleur Anderson: Hello and welcome to the Digital Insights podcast. A podcast brought to you by the Australian government's digital professional, keeping the Australian public service digital ready. I'm Fleur Anderson and I'm your host. Today, I acknowledge that we are recording this podcast on the lens of the nun of all people, the traditional custodians of the land. I pay my respects to their elders past and present. I extend that request to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples listening.
Today, we'll be talking to our expert panel about the future of work. We'll explore ongoing and future changes for the work of the public service, effective workplace and leadership culture and best practice for delivering outcomes. Let's meet our panel. In true working from home style we have in New Zealand, Pia Andrews, an Australian who is a special advisor to the Canadian government. And she's leading the digital and client data work stream for employment and social development, Canada. In 2018 payer was listed as one of the world's 20 most influential people in digital government. And in 2014, recognized for innovation and named one of Australia's 100 women of influence. Hello, Pia.
Pia Andrews: Hello. Thank you so much for having me today.
Fleur Anderson: Thanks. And in Melbourne we have Vanessa Doake, chief people officer of art processes, an amazing creative technology company, which works with some of our most beloved public institutions here and around the world. Before joining art processes, Vanessa co-founded, code like a girl that wonderful groundbreaking social enterprise that aims to attract and retain girls from all walks of life in stem education and technology careers. Hello, Vanessa.
Vanessa Doake: Hello, great to be here.
Fleur Anderson: And now this is going to be interesting. We have another Vanessa as well here in Canberra, Vanessa Roarty. She leads the digital profession branch for the Australian public service commission. Vanessa has spent the last 20 years building up digital capability and digital services of state and federal governments. She's worked on some of the biggest digital initiatives in government, including digital identity, my gov and gov CMS. Hello, Vanessa.
Vanessa Roarty: Hello, everyone. Great to be here today.
Fleur Anderson: So I know Pia, you are really passionate about citizen centric design and the pragmatic, actual real life innovation in the public sector and beyond. So can you tell us a little bit about how you came to discover that this is your passion?
Pia Andrews: That's a interesting question. They, so I started, I've been working, I guess in the tech sector started about 22 or so years ago. And I enjoyed it very much, but always felt something was a little bit missing. I got poached to go work in a political office, even though I really dislike politics. But it was a good chance to learn how the system works, how democracy works. I do believe politics gets in the way of democracy sometimes, but it was a fabulous experience. And one of was there. I went back to finish actually my university studies in public policy and history. And that's when I started really learning about and understanding the role of public service and the role of the public service in a modern society as a, when it works well, a genuine platform, social economic, cultural platform upon which people and communities can thrive.
So I developed my passion for public service about 10 years ago and have committed my life ever since to trying to ensure that public services live up to that promise of serving the public, of supporting quality of life and for being a trusted mechanism for equitable life that people expect from their public services, particularly when there's emergency and particularly when they are in need and vulnerable. That role that we play is so critical. And, I'm now committed a 100% to that transformation and reform of governments to be everything people need it to be in 21st century.
Fleur Anderson: Well, that's fantastic. Thanks so much. So Vanessa Doake, you've got also a real commitment and yours is to social justice and gender equality. You want organizations to do better for their people. You've also had a really diverse career. Haven't you? Can you tell us a little bit more about you?
Vanessa Doake: Sure. Yeah. I think very lucky to have a really varied career. A lot of it kind of happened by accident, but possibly, subconsciously fueled by and kind of internal passion for justice and for seeing certain opportunities. I think that's what makes digital exciting is that it has the opportunity to be such an equalizer for opportunities and to be able to enable people from regular walks of life to achieve their version of success. Working in people and culture roles has afforded me to work with some really incredible organizations like pro life ago, black women's legal service, and now working at art processes, very fortunate to be able to apply some of the things that I've learned about what that unequal kind of experience looks like through life. Particularly looking through a technology lens, some of the things that we can do as a society through early education to kind of ensure that the opportunity that technology does present to be an equalizer isn't missed.
Fleur Anderson: Fantastic. Thanks very much, Vanessa. And now we'll go to Vanessa R, Vanessa Roarty. You've also got a passion for human centered design. Now you're the lead of the digital profession branch for the Australian public service commission. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got where you are now?
Vanessa Roarty: Yeah, sure. So I've always had a real interest in technology and I started with technology, I guess, and that led me along the path to wanting to understand more about humans use technology. I'm proud to say I'm a long-term public servant. So I think I joined the APS back in 2002, and I joined an agency called the national office for the information economy, which is a very early version of the things like the digital transformation agency we know today. And throughout my whole career, I've kind of worked in this whole of government space.
So it's really been about how do we bring people together to build digital capability and to deliver better digital services. And this is a mission that I've followed throughout my career that has led me to where I am today, which has been lucky enough to lead up the digital profession program.
Fleur Anderson: Let's look at what digital profession looks like in practice, Vanessa Doake, you have been working in the private sector, but with public institutions. And when we spoke earlier, you described your work as a choose your own adventure. So, that sounds really interesting. And you have been working on a really exciting project that many people would be very familiar with. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Vanessa Doake: Sure. So art processes core to the work that we do is to have a positive impact on people that visit the cultural and tourism organizations we partner with. One of our flagship partnerships is with Mona in Hobart. And when we first were looking at what their goals were, and what they were wanting to achieve really key to their work was making sure that visitors were at the center of the experience. So having no wall labels, which is quite common in most institutions, the aim of having technology, architecture, people place all working in harmony to empower the visitor, to encourage their free thoughts, to put them at the center and to give them a voice, and also to make sure that we listened to it. It's having a person first, visitor centric and democratizing the museum experience goal in mind. And for me and my role leading People Cultural Art Processes, it gives me a really unique opportunity to look at how do you apply that in an organizational context?
How can I best represent that purpose and that mission from an employee experience perspective, how do you have that at the heart of the policies that you create, the benefits that you design? So that's pretty key to, how I try and take uptake my role at art processes.
Fleur Anderson: And so when we think about what it looks like when you go into somewhere like Mona. It's, as you said, there's no nothing on the walls, but it's dark. It's an experience where people have the headsets on their ears. And you can either, I think you mentioned you can vote for whether you like something or don't like something, or may have it very interactive that you're not just listening to some art curator who's telling you exactly what you need to think about one particular art piece. But it's more engaging and letting people impose their own understanding I suppose, is that right?
Vanessa Doake: Sure. I think that's definitely part of the invitation. So when you attend, you are given a device and that helps you navigate the space. It gives you access to a lot of information. Should you seek that out? So curators certainly play a really important role in institutions, but the way the technology works, it gives the visitor the opportunity to engage in those resources, in that information as much, or as little as they should choose. And yeah, there's some really fun features in the app as well, which allow you to engage with how you felt about what you are kind of consuming and looking at while you were there.
Fleur Anderson: And so you mentioned before that, in your work with people, you also try to apply that human centered approach to the way that organizations work. Now, there are some organizations that particularly in the US, isn't there, where that kind of real collaborative management is already taking place. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?
Vanessa Doake: Yeah. There's a interesting organization in the states called Morningstar tomatoes, even back, from the 80's, they were trying to change the common approach to how we bring together groups of people to work, to achieve a common goal. So as we moved from an industrial age, having a lot of policies, which dictate how people work, having lines of hierarchy or management, which are controlling work and delivery and things like that. They decided to take a completely different approach to having a flat management structure. And they've been particularly successful it seems, in being able to roll out that type of structure at scale in a largely manufacturing context, but there's been, yeah, since then a number of organizations and a lot of research that's been developed into a flat organizational structures and how they can be set up to achieve the best out of humans coming to work together.
Fleur Anderson: That's so interesting. So that might be one model for the future of work. Pia, you're leading the digital experience for service Canada. And part of your remit is showing that the digital profession is not just about delivering service. Isn't it? There's also other things involved like policy and the laws that protect our rights and how it all works together. Can you tell us about how governments need to change in the digital era?
Pia Andrews: Thank you. I think it goes back to your question about digital leadership. I think digital leadership is really two fundamental things. First of all, it's about bringing more humane public service in the context like our entire public service making a more humane in the context of the digital era. So user centered approach to everything from policy to services, bringing digital public infrastructure, a truly omni-channel and integrated services approach to the services provided by the public sector, exploring things like what does a re-imagining of the public sector look like in the digital era? So legislation as code, digital public infrastructure and a world where humans and machines each do what they do best humanely. But then the second part of it is how we act. They manage and run our public services in a more humane way. So looking at servant leadership, shifting away from pure managerialism and towards how to empower and support people right down to the most junior level to bring their whole selves, their creativity, their experience, their networks, and themselves to being true stewards of public good and true enablers of public outcomes.
It's about being more collaborative, bringing communities into the design and governance of the public service and ensuring that we're not just asking for trust from the public, but that we are actually operating in a trustworthy way, which in the 21st century is quite a different thing than it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a lot of our public institutions and processes were put into place. We need to have a fundamental re-imagining of our role and how to actually fulfill that role in the 21st century. So in Canada, the work is with service Canada is very exciting. We are looking at not just how to deliver true service excellence with service Canada, but also how to get policy agility.
The whole world has really come to understand that COVID was not the end, but rather the beginning of an era of rolling emergencies. And countries that have been dealing with that profoundly, which by the way, doesn't include Australia or New Zealand, countries that have been really struggling with the enormity of it are realizing that if they don't fundamentally shift to become more resilient, responsive, and proactive, then they are not actually suitable or set up to deal with rolling emergencies, whether they're health, financial, environmental, or even social. So true transformation of government is now not a nice to have. It is a urgent intervention to ensure that our public services can actually help ensure quality of life moving forward into these rolling emergencies.
Fleur Anderson: So Pia, you mentioned about collaboration knows a single person is able to come up with all the solutions. So freedom to innovate has to be built into it, doesn't it? So how do you encourage that in your teams?
Pia Andrews: So innovation is a funny thing. Because it is become a word that to many has become sadly a little bit meaningless. Because they've seen it done as something separate to them. Quite often, we put innovation into a particular job title. And then anyone else who wants to innovate is told you can't innovate because that's not your job title. Innovation, true innovation, systemic, and whole of organization innovation requires a couple of key things. It requires, first of all, a clear vision and purpose that helps everyone naturally and systemically walk in the same direction towards a common goal, regardless of their role, regardless of their expertise. It requires culture, a culture of servant leadership, which empowers, enables and gives permission and support to everyone at every level to be amazing, a culture which respects diversity and inclusiveness and the culture that provides a safe and kind and calm culture to work through ambiguity or difference of opinion, to always be seeking and engaging with difference in order to get to the best possible outcome, to the best possible solution.
But the final thing, which is required, which very rarely you see people actually prioritize is space and time. It is a precondition for someone to innovate that they have the space and time to do so. Quite often, people are told, well, you've got a 100% or 110% work to do. Please innovate on the side of that on your lunchtimes or after hours. And so a lot of people simply are, they're working at 110% of their time and they do not have any capacity to try something different, to experiment, to engage, to learn. And their bosses, if they propose to do it, I told, oh no, we're too busy for that, we can come back to another time. The amount of senior executives that I've had talked to me like my peers who say, "Oh, we're just so busy. We can't possibly innovate".
It's like if you've got a dollar or a hundred million dollars, put 10% into innovation, put 10% into playtime. When you encourage and support a program that says any public servant that wants to can have a 10% to explore, experiment, innovate, the other nine days of that fortnight, they will work extra hard because they're so motivated by that 10th day where they get to try something new, they get to explore, they get to automate or experiment. That 10% playtime is Google causer, because we'd never be able to call something playtime and government. But that tends to an experiment time, innovation time is such an enabler for everyone being able to bring their whole self, their creativity, their curiosity, their networks, their experience and expertise into solving real problems that they can see and sometimes uniquely see from their role.
And then of course, once you have time, you still need space. You still need safe places for people to experiment that can feed into and draw from operations, but obviously not get in the way of the critical services that people need from government. So, those three things are really critical, vision, culture, and space and time.
Fleur Anderson: You're listening to the digital profession insight series. Be digital ready and join the digital profession today, visit digitalprofession.gov.au for more information.
Well, that sounds really interesting. And I personally love the idea of a mandated 10% playtime. Vanessa Roarty. Now, you're leading the digital profession branch, are you going to be introducing 10% playtime?
Vanessa Roarty: I actually think that's a great idea. And I think it's something we should actually seriously work towards and strive towards. I also liked the idea though I'm thinking about how we can introduce that playtime into everything that we do. And I think some of the methods that we promote through the digital profession, things like human centered design methods actually do help us bring that play in that experimentation into just doing our everyday jobs. A great example and something I love to do when I'm sort of running design workshops and things like that, is to hand out colored texters and pieces of paper and ask people to actually storyboard what they think and experience might be what they're trying to deliver, whatever that thing is that they're trying to design actually get them to draw it.
And that kind of unlocking of a different part of people's brain, that activity of just doing something a little bit different can be really powerful. So it's great to think about how we can build playtime into everything that we do. And I do also love actually the, when we work in more agile and lean methods, there's actually a lot of playtime built into some of those methods as well. And I've been in some very serious government meetings where we prioritizing features on really big products and we use planning, poker cards and things like that, which actually just help us think a little bit differently about what we're doing. I also think that what we can do when we think about playtime and innovation is thinking about how we interact with others. And I love what you said before about an era of extreme collaboration.
I think I would love to think that we are entering into an era of extreme collaboration. We have amazing tools at our hands. We have these human centered and system focused design methods, which help us think about things differently and think about how we work together. 15 or 20 years ago, it was actually really hard to talk to people across the country. It was really hard to collaborate on a document. We didn't always have a place we could sit down together and talk virtually like we are today. So I think the conditions are ripe. The, the pandemic times have proven to us that we are better when we work differently together. And I think the number one skill any public servant should have and should be regularly exercising is the ability to collaborate with others. And it isn't always easy. I know we always get to these points when we get really excited about working together.
And then it's like-
Fleur Anderson: It's a bit nerve wracking, isn't it?
Vanessa Roarty: Yeah.
Fleur Anderson: Having to show your working to others and say, what do you think?
Vanessa Roarty: Exactly.
Fleur Anderson: How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that trust aspect?
Vanessa Roarty: That's exactly right. You get to that point. It's like, I'm not actually sure if, am I allowed to do this, am I allowed to share this. And I think you're right and it's hard is trust. And I think that I love communities of practice. Because they bring people together who work in different roles and they establish those networks of trust. And it's upon that trust that we can then go forth and collaborate. So I think if I could throw a couple of challenges out there, it'd be to get out there to network, to join a community, and then to actually start collaborating with the people in your community.
Fleur Anderson: That's so interesting because things are changing. It's not like a production line these days, is there? There's no sort of rigid. This is how you do things. It's now very much a, well ever moving feast, I suppose.
Vanessa Roarty: That's right. We don't have the luxury of getting really good at delivering one solution to a problem, because the problems keep changing on us. And I think that some of the digital ways of working that where we're trying to proliferate across government, what they do really well is help us cope with that uncertainty and help us cope with that changing problem space. This isn't about assembly lines anymore. This is about how we can actually still deliver small bits of value constantly while we're still learning as we go, while we're still understanding well as we go. And that applies to how we learn as well. It's thinking not about developing one particular skill or that particular skill, but thinking about how we come become better learners, how we can get access to more flexible ways of learning. So we can constantly respond to those shifting needs of government.
Pia Andrews: Can I suggest that it never used to be a, what did you call it? A factory line? Like it actually didn't used to be that way. And then in the 80's and 90's, they started to introduce mechanisms that slowed things down. We used to have people that had expertise on social services, right? Social services, legislation, and regulation. We used to have multidisciplinary teams where the government was structured around programs, but in the 90's and the 80's, it was restructured. And we introduced the idea that the public service should just operate like a business. So it's not that we are having to undo something that is the way it's always been done. We're actually having to undo a couple of decades worth of misalignment that, and get back to being a bit more of a holistic humane public service. So I think that some people think that we're going into completely uncharted territory. I would suggest that some of it's getting back to what we used to be, and then introducing a layering on top of that, the context of the digital era.
Fleur Anderson: It's such an interesting point of, well, I suppose the industrial age that calling it the fourth industrial revolution, and it's also changing the way that we structure our own governance within organizations. So I guess for government, there's always the issue of accountability. It's always front of mind, and it's much easier if it is a production line, that's very rigid and not that flexible approach. Vanessa Doake, your organization has actually made a really conscious decision to take a different cultural approach when it comes to accountabilities and rules. Haven't you it's, in fact, you've got no rules. So can you explain to us how that works?
Vanessa Doake: No. Not quite no rules, but just the minimum that we feel that we need to have to work together effectively. I think people in culture or what was traditionally known as human resources has a bit of a historical bad reputation of being the police officers in the organization, kind of imposing policies and rules, which often felt to me to be driven by risk and fear. So what if this were to occur or we better put a policy in place to make sure that doesn't protect the interests of the organization. I think what a lot of technology companies brought to changing organizational culture, which really resonated with me was instead of building policies and the way that we operate together around maybe the 10% of people who might make the wrong decision or might do the wrong thing. What would happen if we wrote the rules around the 90% of people who are going to do the right thing.
And that's definitely something that I've tried to apply to be in harmony with our processes, mission and vision, that we try to empower individuals through cultural institutions. So things like policies, I think that's so integral that we have this group of incredibly creative and highly intelligent people who outside of work, generally are very high functioning individuals who can navigate decisions about life without having rules imposed about what they should wear or how they come to interact with other people. So we made the approach, particularly without benefits as well, to be on the generous side, respecting and understanding people's entire life cycle of who you are as a human being at work and what support you might need through different stages and different challenges that you might have, which require you to call on compassionately or bereavemently even. If we were just to rely on the minimum that our industrial instruments say that we should afford people at work, you're talking about giving people two days off to get through some of the most challenging and heartbreaking experiences that they might go through.
And so instead of using that approach of what is the minimum that we need to do to get by, or what is the, how might someone abuse this benefit or rule? And so let's craft a policy around that. My instinct has been to do the opposite to overwhelmingly have respect for the people that you have respect for their high level of intelligence and generally high ethical standards. And I can't remember where this thing comes from, but generosity breeds generosity. And I think if an organization responds to you in that way, you're far more likely to respond that way back. And sure there are anomalies that happen sometimes and you deal with those as, and when they arise that overall it creates for a much more enjoyable work experience. If I think you're treated with generosity and a high functioning adult who can navigate those basics and kind of life and work equally.
Fleur Anderson: That's so interesting that you've taken elements of design thinking and human centered design to the very way that you treat your own employees. So in terms of help for carers, I think when you were talking about it being across the life cycle, not just, for example, the first six months of having a baby. But looking at across the life cycle, it might be that you might be just having a terrible week. You might be looking after your older parents and your kids and whatever else might be going on. And what you really need is, I think you mentioned the other day, Vanessa, a meal service or domestic assistance. How did you come to that? Did you work with the team on working out what that looks like?
Vanessa Doake: Yeah, definitely. So we do some, a workforce demographic report to understand on a broad number of factors. What is the experience of each individual holistically, to understand what other things they're trying to balance outside of work? I think from a technology company, cultural perspective, there were really arbitrary benefits around having beer or drinks or table tennis and fun things, or to respond to a lack of women in particular, in technical roles or leadership roles, it felt like a competition around who could give the most number of weeks leave. And when you're at that point of meeting time off, that's a really great benefit, but that's not the end of it. How do you support parents returning from work? But also the challenge that my CEO gave me was, well, how do you apply a benefit to be as exhaustive as possible and to apply to as many people as possible to support them?
So when you might have a lot of benefits that are tied specifically to say your parental leave policy, it might be around having meal services or access to domestic support. But if you break that down, what if you have a family member traveling for work? And so there's more responsibility at home on you, which makes your work at week that, at that particular time really challenging. If you have caring responsibilities for an elderly parent, maybe someone with a disability, if you have a lifestyle choice of offering foster care, if even if it's not permanent rest, whatever it might be, there are so many instances, regardless of if you're a parent or not, where having access to a meal service might be really helpful for you that week. So while a lot of benefits we offer could be more traditionally applied to a particular group of people.
We've tried to break that down and apply it as agnostically as possible. I think one great story that I heard was around flexibility and how often, again, if you are going to apply the industrial instruments that we have, like stability needs to add the minimum, be afforded to people with caring responsibilities. And I remember someone saying they had someone in their organization that was like, it's great that this person, who's a parent has flexibility to finish to pick up their children from school or what have you. But I'm single. And if I'm the one that has to stay back late, because only flexibility is applied to people carrying responsibilities. I'm not able to kind of meet someone and potentially be in that position to be a parent. And they carry responsibility. So that person who wants to finish work at a reasonable hour because they need flexibility and work-life balance to meet someone or pursue interests that they might have is equally valid.
And they should be entitled to the same degree of flexibility or support. And work-life balance just like someone who might need that time for another thing. So, having flexibility, agnostic and equalized for anyone to access it in the organization, it's a really great way to look at it.
Fleur Anderson: That's terrific. So we're getting towards the end of our Q and A, but just next month, we're going to be having an episode on leadership at all levels. And while I've got you all here, I'd love it, if we could hear very quick, top of mind, what does a digital leader look like to you? Vanessa, what's your take?
Vanessa Roarty: Yeah, so we have some amazing people at all levels of the public service. So I'd be really keen to think about how we can empower some of our specialists to take more of a leadership role. And I also think there's something that's happening, around some of the things we used to associate with leaders. So the corner office, the power suit, the working light back late in the office. We're starting to check these out the window as we get more flexible and technology enabled. And I think this creates an opportunity for a much wider variety of leaders. So I think digital leaders should look much more diverse than they do right now.
Fleur Anderson: Fantastic. Pia, what's your quick take? What does a digital leader look like to you?
Pia Andrews: A person who brings uncompromising humane outcomes in the digital world. A person who ensures high trust, not just high trust with their staff, but high trust with the citizens and the people and communities that we serve. A person who brings a different knowledge systems into their work environment, not just from different cultures, but explicitly looks at how their department and their work and their programs and services can connect to country and then to indigenous knowledge systems and communities. And someone who has enough vision to be always understanding and striving for a responsive, resilient public service, in the context of continuous change and continuous emergencies. But who was always again, unrelentingly focused on being a steward for sustained and ongoing public good, not just for whatever's expedient right now, or whatever's cheap or whatever's going to get efficiency or effectiveness, but what's focused on ethical outcomes from our public services.
Fleur Anderson: Great. Thank you. And Vanessa Doake, what does a digital leader look like to you?
Vanessa Doake: They're very strong suggestion, so I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to add much. But I think what comes to mind is, I think things around maintaining curiosity, openness about adaptability to change, and I think overwhelmingly balancing the intersection between digital and technology with the human aspect as well.
Fleur Anderson: Wonderful. Thank you again for listening and thank you, Vanessa, Vanessa and Pia. So thanks again. Bye.
Fleur Anderson: You've been listening to the digital professions insights podcast. Find the digital insights podcast on all major podcast services. Stay up to date by following us on LinkedIn or Facebook. And of course, if you haven't done so yet joining the profession today, you'll get access to exclusive learning opportunities, accreditation of your skills and the chance to connect with peers across government. Visit digitalprofession.gov.au for more information. See you next time.