19 March 2019

Governing by looking back: learning from success and failures

In May 2018, the Australian government announced an Independent Review of the Australian Public Service (APS). The main function of the Review was to ensure the APS is fit-for-purpose in the coming decades. To support this Review, Paul ‘t Hart and Jo Luetjens from the Successful Public Governance project at the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG) have produced Governing by looking back: learning from success and failures. They observe a structural imbalance within the APS, being more concerned with failure than success – which potentially has negative consequences for policy.

Governing by looking back

Evaluating and learning from failure and success

Governing by looking back examines how governments investigate and learn in a more ad-hoc fashion, from parts of their past that already have become labelled as a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ in professional, public and political arenas. Learning from failures aims to avoid its repetition, while learning from success aims to determine what can be emulated and transplanted. The main argument is that there is a structural imbalance that sees the APS more concerned with failure than success and that this has potentially negative consequences for policy.

Governing by looking back forms one part of a larger suite of commissioned research explicitly focusing on understanding and strengthening the role of evaluation and learning in the APS. Here, Paul ‘t Hart, together with colleagues from the Australian National University, discuss the evaluation capacity and capability of the APS. This report outlines the need for a cultural shift and an institutional framework that embeds the strategic importance and processes of institutional learning.

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Full report: Governing by looking back: learning from success and failures.

A brief outline of the project can be found in the Research Series section of The Mandarin.