This is the third and final section of the article based on my interview with Glyn Davis, CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation and former Vice Chancellor of the universities of Melbourne and Griffith and a former senior public servant.
In this short conclusion, Glyn reflects on the Foundation’s ability to be both bold and creative, engaging public work challenges without some of the constraints of government.
If it’s worth doing, he thinks, it’s worth doing boldly.
Part 3 starts here.
Davis’ new role as CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation carries with it a personal ambition to take risks and push boundaries of creativity and new practice that aren’t possible in government.
“That’s the attraction,” he explained. “Here’s money to make a difference for the most disadvantaged Australians.”
For Davis and for the Foundation, the opportunity is to do it in a collaborative way that allows, perhaps even invites, intelligent risk-taking that marries rigour and discipline with passion and creativity.
This is often about people who are “doing it tough.” You can’t do anything they don’t want to do, and you shouldn’t, but they’re probably up for trying things. And in his new role, Davis and his team can argue for funds to push those boundaries and to try new things alongside detailed evaluations.
The result should be that “gradually, we learn what works” so the team can then argue the case to government on policy grounds that there are better approaches to standard problems.
And if you think about each of those projects as a social science experiment, and if it’s properly evaluated and written up and shared, the Foundation can also share the experiences and insights. Davis suggests “it’s like running a Cabinet Office.”
If it’s worth doing well, Davis concludes with perhaps a line that might serve as the Foundation’s mission statement, it’s worth doing boldly.
After more than 35 years in the field, and having played in many different positions and roles, Davis believes in the power of ideas, the value of public work and the need to tend carefully to the health and relevance of public institutions.
It’s been a lifetime’s work which has been given a new and powerful twist in his new role.
But it’s a creed that is as realistic as it is powerful and pervasive.
Big institutions can be slow to learn and often struggle to do what they know, even when clear evidence of “better” is presented to them from what are often the edges of promising practice keen to usher in new dimensions of performance (which is how Peter Drucker once defined innovation).
But living with, and learning how to navigate and gradually change, those constraints and frustrations for public purpose and public value is exactly the policy game Davis has been playing throughout his career.
It’s a game that has to be played long.
But according to this practiced and self-effacing leader, it’s the best game in town because, at its best, it’s how people get a chance to change their lives and to shift from despair and fear to hope and opportunity.