Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections on my return to the not for profit sector

It's been a hectic week, marked at the end by a computer crash. It's power problem rather than the dreaded blue screen of death. My biggest problem is loss of emails. Hopefully the computer guy will be able to do something once I can get the box to him.

For much of the last eight years, the contract work that I have done to support my writing addiction has been back in the government sector, this time at state rather than federal level. This came after a period in both the private sector and not for profit world. It will be no secret to readers of this blog that I found the government work frustrating, triggering some now familiar themes.

I am now back in the not for profit world in a new slice that has linkages to some of the government work  that I was  doing previously. It's a national role, allowing me to see differences in circumstance and approach between the various jurisdictions. Even where concepts and language are similar, geography and political circumstance dictate difference. That's interesting.

It's also interesting looking at the dynamics internally and at a sector level. Increasingly, governments in this country and elsewhere seek to shift or at least delegate service delivery to both private and not for profit sectors. They do so partly to achieve cost savings that depend to a degree on differential tax treatment, partly seeking efficiencies, partly seeking leverage in an increasingly budget constrained environment. The idea of introduced competition is central to policy approaches: competition between public agencies and alternative delivery forms; competition between not for profit and profit suppliers; competition among not for profits.

This approach sets up its own dynamics: new sectors are created with their own culture and approach; organisations form or change to meet the new circumstances; new controls are introduced to try to manage the process; in some cases, previous voluntary activities are regulated or crowded out. I have watched these dynamics mainly as an observer, although my board membership of the New England Writers' Centre has certainly given me an internal feel in the arts space. However, now I am observing as a staff member in a defined role that includes responding to Government as a customer.

Finally, its been interesting and indeed rewarding moving back into a more nitty gritty role. In my Government contract policy work, policy came first, operations second. I could identify operational issues or problems, but there wasn't a lot I could do about them because they were outside scope in a world of choked channels. Now the operational problems, the question of how we might deliver, has to be taken into account as a central issue. There are still scope boundaries, but they have shifted.

One side effect is that I am using personal knowledge and skills that had to be put aside previously. That's actually quite challenging. It's not so much atrophy of the knowledge or skills themselves, although refreshment is required in some cases. Rather, it's the question of selecting what is important in the new circumstances, of determining new scope boundaries.

I suspect I am going to write more on this. I am a reflective person and like to share the things I learn!  


Anonymous said...

Jim, pleased for you that you have your teeth into something new-but-old in terms of your past career.

But anyways, believing feedback is important to any conversation (hint: your last two posts were interesting, and would have been better with your further comments) I'd like to just paste a note to an article which includes the following observation - on something I wasn't aware of:

The fourth reason to be less concerned about our foreign liabilities is the seldom noted but extraordinary phenomenon – unusual in all our history – that Australia has become a net owner of foreign equity. That means we own more foreign assets than they own of ours. That's mostly due to our large and ever growing pool of superannuation money, much of which is invested directly offshore.

- from this SMH article:


ps with usual caveats about relying upon somebody else's accurate summation...

Jim Belshaw said...

Sorry about the slow comment response, kvd. I will do better! I actually have a part written post on some of the discussion. Friday or Saturday.

Sadly, I am out of my free 30 SMH page limit and cannot check the story. The last time I looked, Australia's net international position was still negative, but that includes debt. If its true on the equity side, and it might well be, super would certainly have played a major role.

There are so few investment opportunities in Oz, although that's partly a structural thing, that the only way to handle big capital pools is via offshore. It's actually not unique to Australia. The Canadian Pension fund is another example