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Seeing the policy big picture

03 May 2018

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It’s the policy equivalent of ‘whack-a-mole’ – you attempt to change one policy area, only to find that it has had unforseen and unwanted consequences in another. So how can we better understand how the often-complex systems that underpin public policy interact and work together? That’s the subject of a special event at the National Portrait Gallery next week.

The breakfast event on Thursday 10 May – Activating systems change: methodological foundations and opportunities – will bring together two international experts on systems to help public servants and those involved in policy implementation to see the big picture.

The event is designed for people who are interested in policy implementation and thinking about policy as a system.

The special guest speakers are Professor Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Director of the Institute for Environmental Systems Research at the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and Assistant Professor Datu Buyung Agusdinata from the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Event organiser Professor Deborah Blackman said all-too-often important reforms were failing because policy and policymakers tended to focus on a specific aspect of a problem.

“Only this week we’ve had calls for a reform of the public service. That’s great, but we’ve had seven of these types of reforms before and none have worked. We need to stop and ask why we keep having reforms that don’t make a difference.”

“I’d say that they’re not making a difference because while we may talk about complex systems, when we try and analyse them we break them down into bits. That helps us understand the bit, but often has unintended consequences elsewhere in the system.”

She added that the recent reports about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) highlighted the challenges for policy practitioners in understanding complex systems.

“I understand why governments want to change things so often, but doing it makes it hard to recognise when things are going to work or not. The NDIS report showed there are systemic problems. That’s because nobody really understood the way people were really going to behave in that system, as opposed to how they thought people would behave in that system.”

“At the event, we’ll be discussing how we can look at systems in a more effective way, and how that will impact on research feeding into practice,” said Professor Blackman.

“We need to better understand systems without having to break them down.”

The event is organised by the Public Service Research Group, School of Business at UNSW Canberra, and sponsored by Crawford School. To find out more and register go to https://psrgcrawfordbreakfast.eventbrite.com.au

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Updated:  24 March 2017/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team