The Queensland Government recently outlined its six policy priorities for the years ahead. These ambitious priorities can improve the Queensland economy and society. The challenge the Government now faces is converting these words into action.
Queensland is different to other states. It is the most regionalised state, being home to a third of the 20 highest populated cities in the country. A larger percentage of Queenslanders work in the health care, retail and construction sectors than do other Australians.
Its economy is on the up, in part driven by employment growth rates in health care, education and manufacturing that are above the national average.
The budget is in surplus, productivity is improving for the first time in years, and Queensland leads the country on jobs growth. Now the challenge is to make sure this positive trend continues through public policy reform.
Reform opportunities fall into two categories – areas requiring the involvement of the Federal Government and areas that can be pursued by Queensland on its own.
The state of federal-state financial relations suggests the latter is the way forward right now. A financial imperative supports this view.
The recent interrogation of how GST is allocated and the non-renewal of various specific payments, including the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, is a reminder of the precariousness of Australia’s vertical fiscal imbalance.
Encouragingly, the Queensland Government recently articulated its vision for the future. It highlighted its six priorities for the years ahead – jobs, early childhood learning, health, safe communities, the Great Barrier Reef and being responsive to the needs of Queenslanders. These areas underpin the 2018-19 Budget.
The Government should be applauded for proactively identifying a vision for the state and it now has a real opportunity to lead a reform agenda across these six areas.
Nous Group has been privileged to work with a range of government departments and agencies, private sector firms and community-based organisations throughout Queensland in recent years. We have seen the challenge of policy reform from all sides – from the perspectives of policy makers, service deliverers and clients.
Here are seven reflections from our recent work in Queensland that we believe are instructive for future reform.
Solutions developed by governments with real-time, authentic input from businesses, not-for-profit organisations and communities are more likely to be effective and enduring. Co-designing in the public‑sector context combines government’s best practice policy approaches with the community’s practical experiences. This means genuine issues will be identified and solutions tailored.
Trade and Investment Queensland developed its annual strategy – the Global Partnership Plan for growing international education and training – with the international education and training industry. This demonstrates how a co-design approach can shape the government’s agenda: new issues and ideas emerge, and government is more responsive to industry needs. The conversation between government and the community will likely develop and mature over time, so persistence is rewarded.
‘Wicked’ public policy problems cut across traditional policy silos. These issues are multifaceted and driven by factors that are the responsibility of a range of government agencies. Approaches that harness experiences and skills from different areas (including from outside government) offer a way forward.
The Department of Education and Training worked with stakeholders to develop a student-centred approach to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students transitioning to post-school pathways. Facilitating the education sector to respond as a whole to feedback from students, parents, families and communities was the only way to develop a meaningful and sustainable response.
Piloting and reviewing approaches ahead of state-wide implementation has many benefits. Trialing new approaches in specific locations allows for testing of assumptions and theories of change in a live environment. Lessons learnt can be fed back into the design process ahead of a broader roll-out, limiting the risk of unintended consequences or design flaws.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme adopted a trial-first approach in its national rollout. Our broad reflection from working with both the responsible agencies and various disability service providers is that these regional pilots have made the significant transition to the NDIS more manageable, though no less challenging.
Policy design and implementation are subject to variations given election cycles, leadership disruption and machinery of government changes. Investing in capability and accountability through institutions can ensure that reforms endure.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in Townsville has been recognised internationally as the gold standard for marine park managers. The Authority has recently shifted its strategic focus to respond to changes in its operating environment, demonstrating the value of enduring institutions in contentious policy spaces. It can do so in a large part due to the clarity of its role, credibility established over decades of delivery, and strong government support.
Queensland is highly decentralised, so one-size-fits-all policy approaches do not usually work. That means good public policy involves developing local solutions, tailoring state-wide approaches, and setting high-level principles and leaving delivery to those closest to their clients.
Developing whole-of-government approaches in large service delivery areas such as housing and health, or more targeted activities such as international student attraction, need to consider relevant local circumstances, organisational strengths and weaknesses, and stakeholder perspectives. Local communities can provide unique local insights into both policy design and delivery, particularly in regional areas where there appear to be long-standing, intractable issues.
In an increasingly data-rich-insights-poor environment, policy design should start with a greater reliance on quantitative analysis of what communities really need. To do so, there is a need to overcome the initial challenges of incomplete data, disconnected datasets and systems limitations. With the right technical capability, some creativity, and the melding with qualitative intelligence, governments can piece together a rich and detailed evidence base to inform policy.
The Electoral Commission of Queensland has shown how insights from its own data can vastly improve processes and outcomes. The Commission streamlined voter compliance, resulting in an improved approach to dealing with non-voters.
Programs and services should be reviewed regularly to ensure we are achieving desired outcomes and taxpayer funds are being used efficiently and effectively. Too often evaluations are seen as a solution to a problem rather than as a natural part of the public policy life-cycle. A regular practice of evaluations is foundational for a culture of continuous improvement and increased frequency leads to improved evaluation capability, acceptance and influence.
Evaluations can be triggered by the recognition of a serious problem, a failure in policy design or governance, or a need for change. While all these are important reasons to involve an independent reviewer, a habit of periodic evaluations can ensure these dire triggers are fewer and farther between.
If embraced, these reflections will lead to more innovative and enduring reform solutions that improve the wellbeing of all Queenslanders.
We think they serve as a useful reminder for policy makers about how the Queensland Government’s six priorities can deliver a better Queensland.
Get in touch to see how Nous can help government agencies deliver on policy priorities.
This article was co-authored with Nous principal Jonathan Chew.