How bizarre: Being open to learning and sharing

We’ve all had moments when a lesson is burnt into our memory.

Christchurch sheep conesSome come from social awkwardness when you realise the words to the song are “How bizarre” not “How was I?”

Other moments are more serious, like realising that a term you’ve been using means something different to your counterparts in another agency. Learning from these experiences is an important part of improving our performance (and maintaining our personal ‘street cred’).

My colleague, Charles Fitzgerald, and I learned a great deal as we worked on the follow-up performance audit of repair work on pipes and roads in Christchurch by the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT).

Our follow-up report was published earlier this year (the Office first reported on SCIRT’s repair work in 2013). We found that SCIRT took a proactive approach to capturing, sharing, and applying lessons. It wasn’t waiting until the end of its construction programme – it was collecting lessons and innovations as it went, and applying what it learned (see Part 4 of our report for examples).

We carry out a post-project review after each performance audit, but we decided to give SCIRT’s expanded and continuous approach a go too.

At intervals throughout our audit, we talked about what had gone well, and not so well, and what we could do differently. We recorded these lessons in a document. If we thought of something between meetings, we noted it in the document for discussion at our next meeting.

The danger was that these gems would lay dormant. However, we found that:

  • when faced with déjà vu situations, we already had an alternative in mind;
  • when discussing work with our colleagues, we could share our insights more easily; and
  • when preparing for our next performance audits, we could use these lessons to help plan.

These lessons, feedback from the entities we audited, and comments from our internal stakeholders will be part of our post-project review. We’ll share our lessons and the conclusions from the post-project review with our colleagues to help improve performance across our Group.

You can share lessons formally or informally. For a formal example, in Part 6 of our report, we list some questions arising from our work on SCIRT as useful reminders for public entities about the complexities of programme governance and management with multiple parties. These questions focus on the challenges for:

  • ensuring that roles and responsibilities are clear;
  • promoting collaboration, and managing relationships in good faith; and
  • promoting continuous improvement.

Also, in recent years, the Office has produced a series of reports summarising common issues and challenges, and good and emerging practices, in the public sector. Each report focuses on a theme in our work programme. In April 2016, we published Reflections from our audits: Governance and accountability, which sets out eight elements of good governance for public entities to consider when looking at their own governance arrangements.

Some of what we learn has more impact when shared with others informally. I recently started attending classes to learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). In May, during NZSL Week, I held a casual session with some interested colleagues to share a few basic signs for saying hello, please, thank you, and ordering food and drink. The added bonus is I now get to practise at work because people start conversations with me in NZSL (mostly to ask for cake).

How about you – what helpful, obvious (but often overlooked), or bizarre lessons have you learned lately? Who else might be interested in them?

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