Mastering the art of free and frank advice

Andrew Kibblewhite

Andrew Kibblewhite
Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Below are excerpts from the speech to the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) by Andrew Kibblewhite, Head of the Policy Profession on 17 August 2016.

"I want to offer a few general thoughts about why free and frank advice from officials is so important. A politician in the UK recently suggested people are tired of listening to experts. Some commentators looking at events in recent months in the UK and the US have even suggested that we are entering a period of ‘post-fact’ politics.

As someone whose professional identity is grounded in the importance of facts, evidence and expertise, I find these trends worrying. I think deep, expert, apolitical advice matters more than ever for elected decision-makers in an increasingly messy, complex world...

Our responsibilities as advisors are more important than ever in an increasingly complex environment. The characteristics of good advice – and of good advisors – will be valuable now and in the future. My view is that we have great rules and infrastructure in place to make the partnership between ministers and officials work for the betterment of all New Zealanders.

But what counts is being able to put those rules into practice. Senior leaders have to set and reiterate clear expectations about what it means to be a great policy advisor, and to act as exemplars. Events like this one today are chances for you, the audience, to go back to your agencies to see if there are adequate guidelines and programmes in place in your agencies for people to learn, develop and gain experience in the art of providing free and frank advice. The Policy Project frameworks are a great foundation.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. I’ve described offering ministers free and frank advice as an important and challenging part of an advisors’ role. It’s also one of the most satisfying parts. In my experience, strong ministers welcome robust advice that points out the pitfalls as well as the opportunities in any course of action.

Moreover, they go back to officials who offer it, even when the conversations have been difficult. To be sought out for your advice will be one of the most valuable and satisfying experiences you can have in your public service career."

Read Andrew Kibblewhite’s entire speech Mastering the art of free and frank advice.

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