The current academic literature on public administration is full of research on collaborative governance, integrated services and community participation. This research reflects a reality where boundaries between public, private and Third Sectors are increasingly blurred and where services are being redesigned to better meet rising public expectations at the same time as facing the challenges of austerity and Brexit. These themes are all discussed in modules such as ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ on our MPA programme.
From the earliest discussions in developing the MPA programme I knew that I wanted to include the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme as part of our postgraduate degree. There were some important reasons for this: 1) I knew that ACOSVO was an excellent organisation that reflected many of our values; 2) I felt it was important that a public services degree has a strong link with the Third Sector; and 3) I wanted to ensure that the MPA had an appropriate blend of theoretical content and practical application.
All of this was in line with the aims of our MPA programme to enable learners to:
- Build on their professional experience by engaging critically with, and reflecting on, themes and issues in public administration in order to better shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.
- Critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration as a tool for public service improvement.
- Be critically reflective leaders who contribute to the social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve.
Having been through the first year of this programme I am delighted with the results. Firstly, it has been a pleasure to work with ACOSVO. As part of the development of the programme I went on a leadership exchange myself and found the experience invaluable. Some of my colleagues have since done the same and have reported similar valuable learning experiences.
What has been most rewarding about the experience has been the feedback I have received from students. This has been overwhelmingly positive. It has proven difficult for some to find exchange partners, particularly given that our students are conducting the Leadership Exchange as part of the MPA. However, everyone has been matched and all have really enjoyed working with their exchange partners.
Comments I have received include from one student who noted that she was reassured to see just how much the theory of our programme related to practice in different organisational contexts. Having seen public administration from both the theoretical and practical perspectives gave her a new found appreciation of the subject and the value of her learning on the programme. For another student the experience in working with his exchange partner had also proven just how much the challenges facing our public services cut across organisational boundaries. He planned to continue the exchange process beyond his studies and has set up a number of ongoing meetings with his exchange partner to continue the learning. Finally, another student had noted that he had been partnered with a senior manager within a Third Sector organisation. Coming from the public sector he had little prior experience of the Third Sector and admitted that he had previously held views of Third Sector organisations that proved to be out of step with reality. He was now open to the idea of a future career in the Third Sector thanks to his experience in the exchange programme.
My overall view is that our MPA programme could not achieve it’s aim ‘to enable students to critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration’ without the strong industry links that have been facilitated through our partnership with ACOSVO. And so much current public administration research and practice involves collaboration – it would be a nonsense if we didn’t practise what we preach!