Edited by Andrew Massey and Karen Johnston
Chapter 14: Capacity, complexity and public sector reform in Australia
Developing government capacity to address complex and intractable problems has become increasingly a priority for Australian central government. The propensity to address complex capacity questions depends on the extent to which governments engage directly in institutional design and support its successful implementation. A public service system consists of different types of capacity, which may be utilized depending on government goals. Capacity for complex issues is a more specialized matter because it generally involves multiple actors and cross-boundary arrangements. Capacity and reform are directly related, as invariably a major reform agenda encompasses capacity elements. However, different emphases have been accorded to capacity in reform agendas. In order to explore the emergent options, two narratives are identified. The first follows the trajectory of public sector reforms, and is both state-centric and inclined towards greater collaboration, even though the results have been underwhelming. A neoliberal narrative envisages a smaller role for government and greater reliance on third parties, and will dominate the immediate future. The chapter examines several types and elements of capacity and how they relate to reform. A range of instruments is employed for basic coordination and collaboration to address complex problems. Narratives of reform suggest different ways of handling the design of the public service, with significant implication for capacity and complexity.
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