A Pilot Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design

[Ken Pettifer is acting Deputy Secretary at the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education] 

One of the ideas included in the Australian Public Service (APS) Innovation Action Plan released in 2011 was the establishment of an APS Design Centre that could assist in developing and testing new approaches to complex policy challenges and to enhance government program delivery. This in turn was based on a recommendation within Empowering Change that the APS establish a MindLab style collaborative experimentation program.

In December the Secretary of my Department, Dr Don Russell, gained agreement and support from the Secretaries Board for an 18 month pilot. This will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the value of design thinking across the APS and to ensure the Centre’s activities complement the growing body of design expertise the already exists within a number of APS agencies.   

We are now working to establish the ‘Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design’. The Centre will be hosted by the Australian National University and it is planned that it will commence work in the first half of 2012.

One of the key steps in establishing the Centre is finding a person who can lead the Centre and demonstrate the value of this new approach and the contributions of innovation and design thinking in delivering better outcomes. We have called for expressions of interest for the CEO role (advertisement available in word, rtf) and I encourage you to bring the opportunity to the attention of any candidates that you might think suitable for this senior and important role in the APS innovation agenda.

Many of the other details of the Centre are still being finalised, and the team will aim to provide updates when appropriate.

I look forward to the establishment of the pilot Centre and its potential in showing how public sector innovation and design thinking can help achieve better solutions and stronger engagement with those we serve.

Posted in APS 200 Project, DesignGov, General, Innovation in Practice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 trackbacks

Notes from: National Design Policy Forum, 8 May 2012 | Not Easily Obvious
May 14, 2012 at 11:13 am
Centre for Excellence – Charter and Governance | Public Sector Innovation Toolkit
March 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm
Centre for Excellence – CEO | Public Sector Innovation Toolkit
March 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm


  1. Hi Ken and Alex
    The centre has been a long time in the making.
    I understand that a CEO was appointed some 9 months ago ( comments on this site).
    What has been achieved to date?
    Where can I get more information and track progress on this important initiative?
    I have seen nothing since my last post here 12 months ago.
    Appreciate your reply.

  2. Hmm,

    Set up a new silo, get a CEO, and round up some usual suspects; and then “they will look at the projects and the way in which they will be conducted”. Yep, that’s “the process”, and the problem. http://www.governanceinstitute.edu.au/about-us/media-centre/multimedia-gallery/videos/55/what-happens-when-citizens-decide-identifying-what-works#!prettyPhoto

    You might like this. Europe is starting to focus on the core problem. i.e. having an e-id for every citizen, so they can start to identify what ‘works’ regardless of whether they work in some government’s agency or are part of the crowd. http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome

    • Hi Simon,

      I had the same response as you to the creation of a centre. My comment to a colleague in the VPS at the time was that if the APS was clever it would employee a bunch of young punks and wizened anarchists and let them go nuts. With multi-level and segment collaboration at the centre of the approach – try and design think our way out of some wicked problems.

      Having worked in both the APS (at the ATO) and the VPS my reflection is that public sector architecture does not need evolution, it needs a revolution.

      Be well and happy,

  3. Any updates on progress? Thanks!

    • Hi Jess – The establishment of the Centre is underway and we do hope to provide an update in the near future – we expect to be able to post some more news in early May.

      • Hi Alex,
        Just a couple of things which would be useful while your bashing ideas around.
        First up, would you consider including some of the guys from aarnet (the local NREN) in this discussion. It’s quite a common thing, if you are looking to design new public (online) services, to leave the network perspective out of the design. There are quite a few good (unbiased) minds who are kept out of the loop at most levelsof gov, even though they are doing some ground breaking stuff in the edu sector. e.g. http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamessankar
        And could you consider some kind of “users’ panel”. I haven’t an australian equivilent of the mindlab. i.e. including businesses,,, AND citizens. Seems there’s something unique about the Aussie space = designing a service (or even writing a spec) without input from the users.

        • Simon – the projects that will be looked at by the Centre, and the way in which they will be conducted, will be determined by the CEO and the Centre’s Board. I cannot say at this time whether the projects will be about new services, or even involve online elements. Like MindLab and other design areas, including those already existing within individiual Australian Public Service agencies, I am however sure there will be close engagement with the end users (whoever they might be for the projects that are chosen).

  4. Hi
    Great that Simon triggered some further interest in this initiative,
    I am surprised that I have not heard more.
    How are we going with our search for a competent CEO (this persion is needed to add some drive and enthusiasm to the initiative)
    please advise and by all means lets get moving on this so that it is not another idle promise!
    Keep thinking innovation

    • Hi Darron – the process is currently underway and there is a lot of work going on in the background. We will post again about the Centre’s establishment once we have finalised some key steps. As you may know, when starting anything new like this, there are a number of issues that arise and have to be worked through.

  5. Hi Ken,
    Just giving this one some thought, while attempting to look at things from an Aussie perspective. The greatest difference between developments of what might be called e-gov around the world hinge on point 2 of the APS Plan = “Involve the user/citizen in the design and development of “our” services and policies”. It’s a catch 22 that until we have citizens -some on the inside, some on the outer – involved in the design and improvement of gov services we’re not going to have citizens using them.

    There’s only one person who has proved to have the drive and imagination, and doesn’t seem to mind living near Canberra. You’ve seen her stuff. http://www.katelundy.com.au/author/pia/

    • Just to be clear,

      Not pointing at Kate, although she’s pretty wonderful in adding some digital lubrication to the public sphere. Pia’s the one who has proved she has the imagination and ability to implement what Kate thinks and says.

  6. Ken and Don
    Well done. A very well thought out initiative that should have a real impact.
    Cannot wait to follow its progress.

  7. Tweeted! I can’t say I have many followers but I hope it helps. 🙂

  8. Hi Alex,

    Is the CEO role an APS appointment or are they outside the APS?



    • Hi Craig – The selected candidate will be engaged as a contractor with the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education and will not be employed in an APS position. Alex

  9. Have tweeted and broadcast to LinkedIn… Good luck!

    • Thanks Jason, much appreciated.

      • Have distributed job details via Twitter and Linked In and looking forward fto the outcomes from this project

    • Thanks Steve, Alex

      • I’ve sent it out through my Twitter and LinkedIn networks. Looks like a fanastic role! Cheers, Paul