In 2015 I was privileged to take part in a discussion about Women in Leadership at the National Gallery of Victoria to coincide with the exhibition there, Masterpieces from the Hermitage. Radio National’s Amanda Smith drew on Catherine the Great’s life and attitudes to guide a conversation about modern day women and leadership.
While universities may not have too much in common with Imperial Russia, political nous is an essential skill for anyone in a leadership position in the tertiary sector. It is not the only skill by any means, but it is one I have been working away in multiple leadership roles: as Foundation Director of a network based School of Government at the University of Melbourne, as Director of the Crawford School of Public Policy, the leading graduate school in the Asia-Pacific region, and now as Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. In 2019 I devised an Executive Masters course to support my co-learning with other practitioners.
Bridging research and practice
My career is defined by a long-term commitment to bridging the gap between research and policy. I have tried to do this from both sides, though most of my career has been on the academic side. There are multiple opportunities to improve the interaction between academia and practice including better research translation, demand driven research, co-design, co-commissioning, and co-publication. I have led big formal initiatives, such as the The University of Birmingham Policy Commission, and the Melbourne School of Government, contributed to university/public service joint initiatives, including as a board member of the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation, and tried influence everyday practices through my engagement with practitioners including through membership of institutions such as the Institute of Public Administration Australia .
In addition to researching collaboration I spend much of my working life trying to get better at practicing it. So much of what we do in academia relies on collaboration, with researchers from different disciplines, with colleagues at universities across the world, and often with funders or commissioners of research and education. In public policy and administration there is the added emphasis on collaboration between academia and practice in order to improve the generation of new knowledge, its translation, the successful implementation of a policy, and/or its evaluation. As a senior leader in a university where power is still largely devolved, collaboration between different actors across the system is essential if the university is to achieve its full capacity. It’s not easy though.
As a Welsh migrant to Australia I acknowledge that I am living and working on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands, and that these lands were never ceded. I am conscious that the colonisers of these lands were British and therefore part of my own history. I am learning both about the custodians of the lands I now live and work on, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, and about the role of my Welsh ancestors in practices of colonisation.