The Productivity Commission provides independent research and advice to the Australian Government on economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians. In 2021, the Commission sought awareness and communication skills training that would help them work better across a range of socio-cultural contexts.
In 2021, The assistant commissioner of the Inquiry and Research Group, Clare Sibly reached out to Polykala to help the Commission better appreciate their internal workplace culture with respect to demographic and viewpoint diversity.
The Productivity Commission provides critical advice to the Australian Federal Government on issues affecting the lives of all Australians. As with most of the Australian Public Service (APS), attending to its internal culture is often needed to align it with changing community standards and values. Afterall, the APS exists to provide comprehensive support to Australians and give frank and fearless advice to the Government so it may calibrate its policy settings and implementation. Fostering organisational culture that is more representative and tuned to the distinct lived experiences within the commission therefore formed a pressing need.
Working with 40 (mostly) economists over two 3.5 hour sessions online demanded deftness and precision from our delivery team. We broke the session into two parts.
The first part focused on understanding the texture of unconscious bias as a decision making heuristic rather than something to be demonised. We supported participants have conversations designed to refract perspectives through the prisms of values, lived experience and temperaments. These conversations, like the many hundreds we have conducted across the nation, dismantled the stigma of talking, for fear of getting it wrong or offending others. We taught one of the key insights from ‘Difficult Conversations’ (Heen, Patton & Stone) book helping participants to navigate fundamental attribution error where negative impact is conflated for mal-intent or the other way around.
The second session focussed on tools to have these conversations in a principled fashion. Here, the theory of diversity and inclusion was brought to life. Participants experimented with different ways of having tricky conversations about race, gender, sexuality and background in ways that built respect, fostered curiosity and supported belonging for staff at the Productivity Commission. Economists, like any other human being, need to feel they belong at their place of work to share their insights, ask questions of ‘the data’ and offer alternate readings on the evidence.
We’re delighted with the level of engagement we found during the two online sessions. Staff were at first a little apprehensive but quickly warmed to the virtual learning environment we created. Conversations in breakout rooms developed nuance and compassion with people recognising that intention and impact are critical features (impact counting as more important) in any conversation about potentially contentious topics. Working with Clare Sibly before the program was a wonderful experience; she was generous and open to our non-standard training methods and her trust seems to have paid off in the feedback.
“Thank you for a great program – I found it valuable and so have others. I have also received a number of very positive comments from attendees over the last 2 sessions. Polykala did a wonderful job.”Clare Sibly, Assistant Commissioner, Australian Government, Productivity Commission