Health policy as project-based work

a knowledge-based perspective

School of Business, UNSW at Canberra

Henry Linger1

Faculty of IT, Monash University

James Connor

School of Business, UNSW at Canberra

Vanessa McDermott

School of Sociology, ANU

Abstract

Project management (PM) tools and methodologies have proliferated into all work activity and are no longer limited to the creation of tangible artifacts. In these non-traditional areas, the complexity of the tasks poses a particular challenge to theorizing project management. To explore this challenge we analyze a policy undertaken by the Australian federal government that was highly complex and deeply contested. The single case study, the introduction of tobacco plain packaging (TPP) legislation, highlights the knowledge work required to manage the successful development and implementation of a complex policy initiative. We show how soft skills, governance, communication and engagement, uncertainty management, contingency planning, and the value proposition all inform how the project was carried out and how we can make sense of policy work as a project. Our case, TPP, is within the context of a global initiative, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). This Australian policy initiative is viewed internationally as the “test” case and first initiator, under the FCTC, of further legal restriction on the tobacco industry. While the case is specific to the Australian experience, the Australian policy processes are broadly recognizable and understood across all jurisdictions, especially those with a Westminster heritage. We show that policy work as a whole is not amenable to a traditional project management approach based on a control orientation and assumptions of rational action. Policy work is complex and contested, with a wide range of conflicting and contradictory stakeholders. It is uncertain, because it is a non-linear process, aimed at social benefits without clearly quantified outcomes and subject to constant change and challenge in terms of its social, political, commercial, and industrial impacts. It is also a social system, characterized by the intricate interactions between a very broad range of stakeholders. The key to navigating this complexity is to complement traditional project management tools and techniques with knowledge-based practices (KBPs) that privilege knowledge and experience to perform the formal, but especially the informal, aspects of policy activities.

Keywords: policy work; knowledge-based view; complexity; health policy

Introduction

The increasingly complex nature of production in the 19th century led to a plethora of normative work process control techniques, the “classic” factory management processes, as an attempt to control work activity for maximum efficiency (Littler, 1985; Taylor, 1998). However, the application of “scientific” methodologies did not resolve the fundamental problem of ensuring that work activity was performed not only efficiently but also effectively (jaffee, 2001). After World War II, this problem of performance became even more apparent in environments with advanced technologies such as the military and space exploration (Owen, Connor, & Linger, 2011).

The modern context for project management is shaped by a new competitive landscape that has been created by advances in information technology and globalization. This new landscape fundamentally changes the way the world works by compressing space and time. The increased complexity of this new landscape is expressed in increasingly complex projects that require innovative approaches to managing organizational work (Harvey, 1989; Whittington, Pettigrew, Peck, Fenton, & Conyon, 1999) and more flexibility in the conduct and management of these projects.

Historically, project management, as a formal field, emerged as another approach to address the problem of controlling production processes. Project management focuses on delivering often technically innovative outcomes within time and budgetary constraints (Maylor, 2001; Pollack, 2007). Project management is primarily concerned with the delivery of project objectives typically expressed as tangible physical artifacts. Projects have always been concerned with change manifested in the interrelationship of project outcomes and the artifacts, within their organizational and human contexts. More recently, projects have specifically addressed behavioral change in organizations. This dual agenda has allowed project management to extend from the traditional industry sectors of construction and engineering to other sectors such as banking and legal processes (Carden & Egan, 2008).

Traditional project management tools and methods, concerned with normative control, are not well suited to address the challenges posed by complex environments (Winter, Smith, Morris, & Cicmil, 2006). There is a growing understanding that proscriptive tools and methodologies do not adequately address complexity (e.g., Owen & Linger, 2011). Projects are no longer just technocentric and concerned with product creation, but they also focus on value creation and driving social and organizational changes. Such projects are complex because of organizational, technical, and project innovations; (Maylor, 2003; Maylor Vigdon & Carver 2008) social interactions (Cicmil & Marshall 2005, Lundin & Soderholm 1995); and the dynamics and lack of stability in the environment (Maylor, Vigden, & Carver, 2008). In this context, the parameters of the project are defined politically and subjectively and are negotiable over the lifespan of the project (Cicmil & Marshall, 2005).

The changing landscape of project management suggests there is a need to broaden the theoretical base upon which project management research is built (Cicmil & Hodgson, 2006; Koskela & Howell, 2002; Shenhar & Dvir 1996). However, despite the increasing complexity of projects and their contexts, project management research remains focused on the rational, mechanistic, universal methodologies and “hard” tools emphasizing planning and control (Pollack, 2007; Winter et al., 2006). To address complexity, project management needs to build on its rational deterministic base to incorporate improvisation (Leybourne & Sadler-Smith, 2006; Sauer & Reich, 2009) that is needed to accommodate complex or chaotic phenomena, emergent and self-organizing behaviors, and adaption to situational dynamics (Owen, Connor, & Linger, 2011). Project management, as a derivative discipline of mainstream management, needs to continue to draw on those organizational and management theories that deal with complexity in all its manifestations. But those theories should not be adopted uncritically; rather they need to be adapted in a way that is applicable to project management (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995).

In this paper we argue for a knowledge-based view of project management that focuses on the ability of actors to utilize their knowledge and experience to negotiate (and navigate) the complexity of projects and their contexts. These practices, which we call knowledge-based practices (KBPs) (Owen & Linger, 2011), complement the rational approach to managing and implementing projects but are also key factors that allow complexity to be addressed in an innovative and flexible manner.

Our aim in this paper is to critically examine governmental policy work, to consider if project management is an appropriate approach to organizing and managing complex policy work, to understand the limitations of traditional approaches to project management, and to broaden the project management repertoire to address the complexity inherent in policy work. Although project management research has focused on the application of traditional project tools and methodologies to manage complex projects (e.g., Winch, Meunier, Head, & Russ, 2012), there is little research on project management being applied to policy intended to drive behavior change (via legislative change), such as in the development of health policy. Policy work is a “wicked” problem (Rittel & Webber, 1973) because it has an explicit change agenda, usually expressed in terms of (often highly contested) social (and societal) outcomes, even if these are delivered through a physical artifact such as a hospital or school. It also involves a high level of complexity that stems from the range of organizations and stakeholders involved and the social, behavioral, political, commercial, and industrial issues that impact the change agenda. We argue that the knowledge-based view provides a theoretical grounding to articulate project management methods and practices that are suited to the imperatives of policy work and by extension other “wicked” problems.

To explore the knowledge-based view of project management, the paper examines an Australian government health policy, specifically the TPP legislation. Our study draws on secondary data, based on publically available government and parliamentary documents, media and judicial reports, as well as published academic literature dealing with the issues covered by the legislation. Although our study of policy work and the TPP legislation is an Australian case, the TPP initiative was conducted in a global context where the Australian legislation is seen as “the first cab off the rank” in a worldwide push towards further legal restriction on the tobacco industry. While each jurisdiction has its own policy processes, the Australian policy processes are broadly recognizable and understood across all jurisdictions, especially those with a Westminster heritage. Nevertheless, our findings need to be interpreted and moderated by a range of diverse social, economic, and political factors that impact the specific policy environments.

Background

Policy Work

The role and functions of modern government include the provision of a range of goods and services, often targeted to specific groups, as well as intervention in the economy (Keating, 1989). The pluralistic nature of modern life, comprised of social groups with competing interests as well as differing attitudes and values, makes reaching clear and agreed solutions to complex policy issues problematic (Head, 2010).

Our examination of policy work in Australia is restricted to the work of the federal government. The federal system in Australia means is set up so that there is a constitutional division of power between the states and the federal government. Delivery of healthcare is a state responsibility, but this is mainly funded by the federal government through a levy on wages (collected through the tax system, a federal responsibility) and from general revenue. Our policy case study, TPP, is a federal responsibility because the legislation seeks to regulate commerce, with implications for interstate commerce.

In Australia, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) plays a central role in coordinating policy development and implementation across the government. The PM&C is involved in technical and strategic elements of policy work and works with other government departments in order to ensure that policy proposals brought before the Cabinet are developed in a coherent, informed, and coordinated fashion (Hamburger, Stevens, & Weller, 2011). Within the PM&C, the Cabinet Implementation Unit (CIU)2 monitors the rollout of government policies to ensure timely and responsive delivery (Halligan, 2007). The CIU conducts many of the functions that are associated with a program management office (PMO) including project governance, resource allocation, stakeholder management, risk management, and planning (Hobbs, Aubry, & Thuillier, 2008).

The challenge for the Australian Public Service (APS) is a policy environment characterized by the growth and diversity of actors influencing policy debates, policy issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries, and processes that do not conform to bureaucratic routines. Within the APS there is widespread recognition of the need to improve the APS’s ability to design and deliver policy (Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, 2010; Lindquist & Tiernan, 2011). There is a demand for improved capability for innovative practices, “hard” skills for efficient performance (Podger, 2003), and “soft” skills in relation building and strategic thinking (Halligan & Adams, 2004). A number of initiatives have been developed to build the capacity of the APS in terms of program and project management (Australian National Audit Office, 2006). Underpinning such initiatives are structural reforms within the APS with a move to a “whole-of-government” approach or an integrated governance model (Halligan, 2007) that acknowledge the complexity of government work that spans the usual divisional boundaries.

Knowledge-Based View of Projects

Using the “project” as a lens for policy work emphasizes the temporal nature of this work. From this perspective, policy is understood as a temporary endeavor (Kenis, Janowicz-Panjaitan, & Cambré, 2009; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995) with a start and end, even if the time scale is elastic or perhaps unknown at the beginning. It is an endeavor that has a broad range of stakeholders who can change over the lifespan of the endeavor. Policy, by definition, is a new endeavor that is always in some way unique. While some aspects might be shared with previous policy initiatives, it always has innovative aspects and requires a degree of creativity across its many phases. Policy is also a risky business in that there are no guarantees that it will be adopted or funded, that it will meet its objective, or that it will not be transformed and re-directed to alternate goals. Thus, a policy initiative can be considered a series of projects and understood as a program in the sense that is used in project management (Morris & Pinto, 2010), while each project needs to be conceptualized very broadly to account for changing contexts and the complexity and uncertainty inherent in the endeavor.

The control orientation of project management (Hirschheim, Klein, & Lyytinen, 1996) makes important assumptions about the project and its context, mainly that requirements are known and the project is conducted in a stable environment. Any variations, either in requirements or context, are deemed to be within the homeostatic limits of the project and its management. The weakness of this position is that it does not account for the intrinsic complexity of projects, their management, and the complex environment in which they are conducted. Moreover, given the focus on project management as a rational, deterministic system, “soft” skills are not emphasized in formal approaches to project management.

Complexity requires KBPs such as experimentation, innovation, flexibility, collaboration, negotiation, and an understanding of the personal, social, and political structures (Owen & Linger, 2011). These practices allow existing knowledge and skills to be exploited to create new knowledge to respond adequately to complexity (Brown & Duguid, 1998; Burns & Stalker, 1961; March, 1999). KBPs, complemented by traditional project management tools and techniques, provide the means to address the complex, dynamic, and evolutionary nature of projects (Reich, Gemino, & Sauer, 2008). KBPs capture activities that are directed to exploring, understanding, and making sense of specific situations, sharing that understanding, and using the understanding to inform actions that will impact the situation (March, 1991; Owen, Connor, & Linger, 2011).

The theoretical underpinning of such an expanded project management toolset is the knowledge-based view of the firm (KBV) (Grant, 1996; Kogut & Zander, 1992; Spender, 2003). The KBV posits that knowledge, and the ability to apply it, is the most strategic asset of an organization. The rationale is that organizations operate in an evolutionary, dynamic, and complex environment (Santos & Eisenhardt, 2005) and need to innovate to survive. Innovation occurs where knowledge is acquired, negotiated, and integrated (Grant, 1996; Santos & Eisenhardt, 2005; Swan, Newell, Scarbrough, & Hislop, 1999); hence, the primary resource to resolve issues is knowledge (Grant, 1996). In the KBV, knowledge resides with the individual, while the firm is an integrator and enabler of the creation of knowledge (Grant, 1996; Kogut & Zander, 1992; Spender, 2003). Innovation is seen as “a complex, time phased, politically charged design and decision process often involving multiple social groups within the organization” (Swan et al., 1999, p. 263). In the modern context, organizations are confronted by multiple stakeholders and require processes that allow them to simultaneously network with them all (Swan et al., 1999). This allows the organization to tap professional networks and personal contacts that fall outside the traditional boundaries of organizations and processes in order to create a wider, more diverse group to resolve emerging issues.

In the KBV approach, complexity and resolution of emergent issues are made explicit in order to facilitate problem solving across permeable and changing structures and boundaries. This allows broader ramifications, diverse stakeholders, and alternate value propositions to be considered in solving problems. Such problem solving needs to be removed from the constraints of the performance of the project to a more strategic level where knowledge, experience, and authority exist to resolve the issue (Nickerson & Zenger, 2004). This strategic level extends the project boundary and requires a broader conceptualization of the project. However, this level could be informal and is often ad hoc, created on a “just-in-time” basis (Denning, 2006; Snowden, 2002).

Research Approach

TPP was a carefully considered choice for study of policy work. It is a policy initiative situated in a global and historic context. It has national and international implications for a large range of actors and involves numerous government departments, a broad range of lobby groups, and diverse industry actors. This case represents “a single example of a class of phenomena” (Abercrombie, Hill, & Turner, 1984, p. 34) and as such is well matched to the research agenda as it represents phenomena that are not limited to the usual complex problems that are managed as projects. Our research is very specific in terms of its focus and objectives. It is concerned with complex social and behavioral change, intrinsic to policy in the healthcare sector, and theorizing project management practices to determine if project management can in fact be appropriately applied to this complex domain.

Our analysis of the TPP case is based on secondary data in the public domain. We made a deliberate decision to limit data collection and analysis to secondary data sources on the public record and published literature. The advantage of a high-profile case like TPP is the volume of data that is readily available. In government policy work, much of the process is conducted in the public domain and is well documented in government materials, such as legislation, ministerial speeches, explanatory memoranda, policy documentation, commentary submission guidelines, and submissions to Parliamentary Committees. Additionally, healthcare policy is often controversial, so there is extensive data in the public media.

To identify the documentary materials we used keywords against databases such as Australian Public Affairs, Australian Public Affairs Information Service, JSTOR, and ProQuest, among others. To capture a diversity of stakeholder views that may not be discussed in more academic forums, we used standardized Google Alerts and combinations of search strings with phrases including “tobacco industry,” “tobacco legislation,” “big tobacco,” and “tobacco control in Australia.” Our analysis was an iterative process moving between the public record of the TPP case with literature review in order to draw out relevant themes to guide our conceptualization of both policy work and project management. This conceptualization characterizes policy work in terms that highlight the implications for project management. We do not claim they are exhaustive in the sense of reaching theoretical saturation (Glaser, 1978), but rather they provide the underpinning of the conceptual framework of a knowledge-based view of project management.

The most important consideration of our research strategy is using a single case as the basis for our theorizing (Flyvbjerg, 2006). Our intention to build a conceptual framework of a knowledge-based view of project management represents a theory as explanation of phenomena (Gregor, 2006). This type of theory does not aim to put forward predictions or propositions but provides the constructs that accommodate an expanded understanding of project management. The framework also works as a means for sensitize readers to view project management as a knowledge-based practice (Klein & Myers, 1999). We understand the TPP case to be a strategic sample in the sense that it represents a most favorable case to demonstrate the characteristics of policy work in terms of complexity, diverse stakeholders, national social good, international and historic contexts, and the entanglement of processes. In this sense, the TPP case is representative of “wicked” problems, and the aim of our research is to understand the implication of this class of problems for project management. Our framework allows insights gained from a single case, TPP, to be generalized or transferred to other “wicked” problems in other settings or contexts (Darke, Shanks, & Broadbent, 1998; Walsham, 1995; Yin, 2009).

Case Study: Tobacco Plain Packaging

Case Setting: Australian Effort on Tobacco Control in an International Context

Attitudes around tobacco have fluctuated over time and have been influenced by broader social factors that have not always included regulation and control. However, in the 1990s, the World Health Organization (WHO) led a concerted campaign to create an international treaty on tobacco control, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This was a significant undertaking because of its groundbreaking application of international law to a public health goal, as well as the complexities associated with designing and implementing the FCTC. It was one of the fastest treaties to be negotiated and adopted as well as one of the most widely embraced treaties in United Nations (UN) history. The FCTC was formalized at the 2003 World Health Assembly, entering into force on 27 February 2005 (WHO FCTC, 2009). Australia ratified the convention on 27 October 2004. More significantly, as Arnott, Joossens, Bianco, Assunta, & Ogwell (2008, p. 459) point out, the FCTC represents a global tobacco control network: “The 151 Parties to the FCTC cover over 80% of the world population and of tobacco-leaf production, 76% of cigarette production, 78% of cigarette consumption, and 70% of cigarette and leaf exporters.”

Australia, Canada, and New Zealand rank highly among nations working to reduce the burden of tobacco-caused death and disease. Australia has one of the world’s most successful records in tobacco control (Chapman & Wakefield, 2001; Studlar, 2005). Australia also has a strong history of public anti-tobacco advocacy, which has played an influential role in developing policy around tobacco control. The key initiatives, campaigns, and policy documents that have constituted Australia’s tobacco control framework are listed in Appendix A. Policies around tobacco control in Australia have historically been implemented as part of the National Drug Strategy (NDS), which is the responsibility of the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA)3. From its inception, Australia’s drug control policy framework has focused on “harm minimization,” which includes the “three pillars” of supply, demand, and harm reduction (MCDS, 2010).

Harm minimization is an important part of tobacco control in Australia, as consumption of tobacco products is a leading cause of death and disease, with economic and social costs estimated at AUD$31.5 billion per year (Rahman & Harding, 2011). These costs remain high in Australia despite decades of control measures such as social marketing campaigns, restriction of tobacco advertising, health warnings on packaging, and restrictions on where smoking can occur. In the face of such tobacco control initiatives, one of the most effective marketing vehicles remaining to the tobacco industry is packaging of tobacco products. The TPP legislation, along with other Australian government initiatives (see Appendix A), aims to reduce smoking rates among all adult smokers.

Case Overview

The TPP legislation was the culmination of a lengthy policy process. In 2009, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the plain packaging of tobacco products. This announcement was intended to deliver on major recommendations of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, which found that brand names and packaging were targeting young smokers in terms of social identity and aspirations and were misleading in terms of health risks. The Taskforce also found that health warnings were more memorable against a plain background and hence reduced the appeal and enjoyment of the product (DoHA, 2011a). However, this announcement was made in the context of previous Australian government initiatives on cigarette plain packaging as indicated in Table 1.

Year Action
1992 The Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC) recommended the introduction of plain packaging. The Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy Taskforce on Tobacco decided against this recommendation and decided instead to focus public attention on the health effects of smoking, using strengthened health warnings on tobacco products.
1995 As part of an examination of a range of issues around the tobacco industry and costs of tobacco-related illnesses, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee considered whether generic tobacco packaging should be introduced. While calling for more research into the efficacy of generic packaging, the Committee concluded that the available evidence was insufficient to recommend that tobacco products be sold in generic packaging at that time.
2009 The National Preventative Health Taskforce released the National Preventative Health Strategy, which included reducing the prevalence of smoking by eliminating the promotion of tobacco through design of packaging.
2009 The Plain Tobacco Packaging (Removing Branding from Cigarette Packs) Bill 2009 was introduced to the Senate and referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for report by 26 August 2010. However, the Governor-General prorogued the Parliament and dissolved the House of Representatives on 19 July 2010, and the committee decided not to continue its inquiry into the bill. There were 58 submissions to the inquiry.

Table 1: Australian government and tobacco plain packaging (adapted from Thomas, 2011)

The Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill 2011 and the Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011 were tabled in the House of Representatives on 6 July 2011. These bills mandated plain packaging of tobacco products on 1 January 2012, with full implementation by 1 December 2012. Both bills were considered by the House of Representatives Selection Committee and then referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing on 7 July 2011. The House of Representatives and, after some delay, the Senate passed both bills and they became law after receiving Royal Assent in December 2011 (Roxon MP, 2011a). On 8 March 2012, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Regulations 2012 amended the TPP legislation to include plain packaging for non-cigarette tobacco products (DoHA, 2012).

The tobacco industry responded to the TPP legislation by launching a High Court challenge (Schneider, 2012). Their objections were that mandatory plain packaging breaches trademark law, international trade agreements, and intellectual property rights, and their argument was formulated along three main lines:

  • There are significant legal barriers to the introduction of plain packaging;
  • There is no credible evidence that plain packaging will deliver a public health benefit; and
  • There may be significant unintended consequences associated with plain packaging. (Thomas, 2011)

The High Court rejected all arguments, and plain packaging of tobacco products became mandatory on 1 December 2012.

The TPP legislation is only one of a range of Australian government initiatives intended to alter smoking behavior. Other complementary initiatives included investment in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns, subsidies for nicotine replacement therapies, financing initiatives to reduce indigenous smoking rates, reducing the duty-free tobacco allowance to 50g per person, and stronger penalties for tobacco-smuggling offenses.

Case Discussion

From a policy perspective, governments must balance social outcomes against the economic consequences of policy initiatives. This highlights the contested nature of policy work and emphasizes that power relationships between major stakeholders influence the debate and policy outcomes. Our analysis of the TPP case needs to account for stakeholder behavior and their various responses to events around the progression of the policy process as well as the structural aspects of policy work. To explore the TPP case, we identify and discuss issues that contribute to policy capability and examine the implications of this for project management.

The issues that emerged from our analysis were:

Soft skills: The role of the PM&C, in policy terms, is to be the “eyes and ears” for Cabinet decision making across all of government. This means that policy officers are involved in the formal processes across departmental portfolios and take an active “nudging” role to ensure that the public service is responsive to government. To be effective, staff need to be knowledgeable about the subject matter of the policy they oversee and have the capability (and authority) to negotiate and collaborate with all stakeholders in the public service and external parties. Additionally they need to use appropriate tools, such as risk management processes, to support their work.

Importantly, in addition to their operational role of overseeing policy development PM&C staff, particularly those in the CIU, have a capability-building role. This is approached by identifying and strengthening policy work capabilities within the public service, including the tools and techniques that departments can use in their policy roles in a cohesive and agile manner (Wanna, 2006). Another aspect of this role is to raise awareness about the political dimensions of the policy being developed so that proposals address Cabinet sensitivities. These activities could be controversial, as they can be viewed as imposing central control on departmental autonomy. Moreover as such awareness-raising activities have a political dimension that is often perceived to challenges the authority of the Minister who has carriage of the policy.

Governance: The CIU and PM&C conduct administrative governance processes that are focused on the internal processes of policy work. In this way, the authority of the Cabinet acts as both a “gateway” and a “checkpoint,” with proposals monitored using a “traffic light” format that highlights progress against milestones (Halligan, 2008). Additionally, legislative and political processes, such as agreement in the House of Representatives and the Senate, or challenges from dominant stakeholder groups, act as indirect and/or informal gateway review. These processes are considered informal as they are undertaken outside the formal administrative structures of the APS. Together, all these mechanisms form the tapestry of governance for policy work.

In the case of TPP, a further layer of governance was imposed to accommodate the state governments. In February 2011, the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs (IGCD) became the lead agency for identifying tobacco control issues in the TPP policy. The iGcd framework included working groups that aligned with strategic priority areas (MCdS, 2010) with a focus on collaborating with stakeholder groups. This structure was inclusive, blurring the distinction between formal and informal processes, as the working groups’ terms of reference included engagement with stakeholder groups.

The formal and informal aspects of the governance structure further highlight the need for extensive soft skills. Governance issues typically focus primarily on decision outcomes, without acknowledging the informal processes that support the decision or the negotiations required between all stakeholders for the decision to emerge. Yet engagement by stakeholders in these processes is a means to generate commitment to the decision. This is particularly important when complex and contested issues are being considered.

Communication and engagement: Policy that aims to promote public good needs to be undertaken in the full glare of public scrutiny. This requires extensive consultation and transparent engagement. Consultations are intrinsic to the policy process and need to be extensive and inclusive, but effective stakeholder consultation is a contested, complex, socially situated activity (Freeman, 2010; Kumar & Subramanian, 1998). Consultations are formal processes of policy work, but policy also includes wide-ranging informal communications and engagement with stakeholders including lobbying efforts and communications activities undertaken by stakeholders to influence public opinion. The overlap between the formal and informal is evident in all these processes.

There was extensive consultation before the TPP bills were introduced to Parliament. The process was administered by the DoHA and was open to members of the Australian public as well as other interested groups, including the tobacco industry. These consultations were informed by market research commissioned by the DoHA, which examined attitudes towards the development of new health warnings on tobacco products as well as plain paper packaging (Parr, Tan, Ell, & Miller, 2011). The public consultation process included a consultation paper and an exposure draft of the Bill (Thomas, 2011). There were 266 submissions from individual members of the public, the tobacco industry, groups concerned with the impact of the TPP legislation on intellectual property rights, anti-smoking advocacy groups, welfare agencies, civil liberties organizations, business and retail groups, medical associations, and expert health groups among others4 (DoHA, 2011b). Further, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, to which the TPP bills were referred, conducted its own inquiry that was promoted on the committee’s webpage and through media releases. The inquiry received 63 submissions, 18 exhibits, and other evidentiary material. The committee held public hearings that focused on the health-related aspects of the bills. The federal government also held a number of meetings with the tobacco industry5 in line with Australia’s obligations under the FCTC to ensure its dealings with the tobacco industry were accountable and transparent.

Managing uncertainty: Risk is inherent in the complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity that characterize policy work. The instrumental approach to managing risk (Chapman & Ward, 2007) is constrained by the limited information available to the process and the lack of knowledge, skills, or expertise involved in a given situation. In policy work, formal processes, including the legislative process and committee or judicial reviews, are supported by more informal interactions and negotiations. These informal processes are important for understanding and, where feasible, addressing and incorporating different viewpoints into the policy. These mitigation processes reduce the risk of the policy being formally challenged, politically, socially and/or legally, as well as contribute to an effective implementation.

A clear risk in the TPP policy was that the tobacco industry would test the constitutionality of the legislation through legal proceedings in the High Court of Australia (Schneider, 2012). The government was aware of this risk and was prepared to meet these challenges as part of risk mapping and mitigation processes in policy work for TPP (Australian Business Journal, 2012). The overwhelming evidence provided by public health advocates and preventive health experts supported plain packaging as an effective tobacco control measure. Further, these stakeholders emphasized that TPP is not an isolated intervention but just one measure in a suite of tobacco control measures already in place, including increased excise, indoor and outdoor smoking bans, increased access to nicotine replacement therapies, and continued education about the harmful effects of tobacco. In light of this evidence, the government, as part of its mitigation strategy, constructed the legislation to anticipate how the tobacco lobby would conceptualize

TPP. With strong evidence of the health impact of TPP, the tobacco lobby approached the legislation from a commercial perspective in terms of intellectual property rights. The government was not able to prevent legal action but minimized the impact of such action in the way it framed the legislation.

Planning for contingencies: Policy work includes planning processes that clearly state the path and stages that will be followed, including implementation plans with key milestones and time frames. This sets the framework for progressing the policy proposal through the Cabinet, getting the bills through both Houses of Parliament, as well as compliance dates assuming that the legislation is passed. In our case study, tobacco products at point of sale in retail outlets were required to be compliant with the TPP bills by 1 December 2012.

However, the issue is the uncertainty and ambiguity of the policy process. As discussed previously, policy work requires extensive consultations and negotiations with diverse stakeholders, who often have competing and contradictory objectives, which can potentially radically alter the policy and its objectives, timelines, and application. While rational planning is followed in policy work, the timelines, scope, budgets, and outcomes need to remain flexible and contingent on activities conducted by the opposition and external stakeholders in parallel to the planned policy process by the government. The TPP legislation was delayed in the Senate by opposition parties. While the Leader of the Opposition publically supported the legislation, concerns similar to the tobacco industry’s arguments effectively blocked its passage in the Senate. This forced the government to reconsider the implementation timeframe (Roxon MP, 2011b).

For policy work, planning needs to adopt an agile stance that allows for rational planning, without undue commitment, and the ability to reformulate the plan, and even the policy itself, to meet emergent contingencies; there is a distinction between the activity of planning and adherence to a “plan” (Madsen, Kautz, & Vigden, 2006). Such “artful” planning (Baskerville, 2006) is consistent with the concept of de-escalation in project management (Montealegre & Keil, 2000).

The value proposition: Policy work needs a far broader understanding of costs and benefits, as, paradoxically, the government incurs costs through both action and inaction. Smoking accounts for over 15,000 premature deaths in Australia each year and is the single largest cause of preventable morbidity and mortality (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, 2011). These are the substantial health and social costs associated with tobacco consumption. On the other hand, the government incurred considerable costs in the development and implementation of its TPP policy, not the least of which was lost excise revenue in the order of aUd$1.4 billion annually (ITA, 2011). Several departments were involved, requiring considerable effort and coordination across the public sector as well as oversight by the CIU. Additionally, the government incurred substantial costs related to both the extensive consultative process and challenges to the TPP policy.

Further, costs were borne by external stakeholders who participated in the consultative process, as they had to draw on their own resources to develop their submissions or mount any challenge throughout the policy process. Also, the costs of implementation and delivery of the TPP legislation were borne by agencies and organizations outside the public sector (Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd, nd).

The benefits of the TPP legislation are intangible and include the social and public good as well as the political impact associated with community expectations. These broader social and political benefits are difficult to measure and account for within the rigor of traditional cost benefit practices. Equally, there are social and political costs of inaction, and these are also difficult to quantify.

Significantly, for the government, the value proposition is often expressed in political terms, and consequently there is an emphasis on a communications strategy that places policy outcomes within a political agenda-setting exercise. Often it is this agenda that determines the policy process and the specifics of the policy. This perspective of the value proposition contributes to the iterative and non-linear nature of policy work with its emphasis on community and industry consultation.

Lessons Learned: Conceptualizing Project Management for Policy Work

Our case study has demonstrated that the usual one-dimensional and linear conceptualization of project management is ineffective in explaining policy work. Our analysis of TPP policy confirms our proposition that the complex and contested nature of policy work is indeed a “wicked” problem. On the basis of our TPP case study, the challenge is to determine how the knowledge-based view of project management can address the complexity and non-linear dynamics of the policy process.

Policy initiatives require the entanglement of formal and informal activities to achieve the stated outcomes. But these are not categorical distinctions; rather they are contextualized and situational and, significantly, they depend on the knowledge, ability, and experience of the people leading the activity. This understanding of the policy activity is underpinned by the knowledge-based view of policy work in that the performance of the activity relies on how it is understood by the actors (sense-making), their ability to exploit what they have done previously (remembering), and what knowledge they have gained from such previous experience (learning).

The knowledge-based view also highlights issues of leadership, the episodic nature of the policy process, the cascading contexts of policy activities, and the societal dimension of the policy. Policy initiatives are usually sponsored by the responsible Minister, but she is in a symbiotic relationship with senior public service officers—the Minister with little experience but with political clout, and the public service manager with specialized skills “acquired through on-the-job experience” (Mulgan, 2000, p. 8). This points to emergent and distributed leadership that is determined by the nature of the activity, its formality, and its objectives. This form of leadership is also highlighted by the significant role played by stakeholders in the policy process to identify, publicize, research, and commentate on various issues related to TPP. This is further emphasized by the episodic nature of the policy process. The outcomes of formal and informal activities throw up new information and/or conditions that require changes to the policy or the process. This initiates further activities that sometimes involve revisiting what has been done previously. Potentially, the lead of each episode would be determined by the nature of the activity and its objectives. These episodes also pluralize into other contexts, external to the context of the episode. This concept of cascading contexts (Green, 2014) is derived from complexity theory to accommodate the propagation of the impact of actions throughout the system. Such contexts could also be ad hoc based on a network that rapidly forms to respond to an unknown emerging situation (Denning, 2006) and can represent shifting political alliances. While all government policy has a societal dimension, this context is mandatory for policy targeting the public good. The extensive consultations in the TPP policy process specifically focused on the need for broad community support backed by a strong evidence base. Such support countered the extensive publicity campaigns by the tobacco industry and made the policy politically acceptable.

Figure 1 shows a conceptual framework that represents a knowledge-based approach to the policy process that incorporates the issues discussed previously. The framework draws on Morris and Geraldi’s (2011) three levels of project management conceptualization: the technocratic core that addresses the iron triangle of budgets, time, and scope; the strategic level that deals with the organizational definition of the project including its value and effectiveness; and the institutional level that manages the context (internal and external) and support infrastructure for the project. We have extended the model to include a societal level. While the institutional level does address external contexts, policy that delivers public good requires a societal dimension to address the issues around community engagement and politics. But, most importantly, we incorporate two elements that draw on the KBV: the concept of cascading contexts to emphasize the non-linearity of the policy process, and the entanglement of formal and informal processes to highlight engagement and KBPs. While not explicitly shown in the framework, the episodic nature of policy work is implied in the non-linearity and engagement of the KBV.

A conceptual framework of project management for policy work (adapted from Morris & Geraldi, 2011)

Figure 1: A conceptual framework of project management for policy work (adapted from Morris & Geraldi, 2011)

Any policy activity over the lifespan of the policy process has a formal and informal aspect and is conducted in each of these spaces. But the outcome of the activity is situated at the intersections of these spaces. The activity is pluralized through the four layers and so the activity is evidenced in all layers, in line with the concept of cascading contexts. The consequence of such pluralization is that an activity that originates in any layer could generate new activities in other layers, or the same activity will need to be addressed in more than one layer in order to complete the activity and produce the required outcomes. This process of pluralization also represents the episodic nature of policy work, as each activity, as it is addressed in each layer, can potentially be repeated but under different conditions, constraints, or goals. Moreover, pluralization highlights the dynamic, non-linear progress of the policy process. Activities are not completed in one layer before progressing to the next layer but can be considered in any layer even if the work is conducted predominately in one layer. This consideration of an activity can initiate other activities in any other layer, which in turn impacts work already underway in other layers. In this sense, the layers are not hierarchical levels but need to be understood as nested layers where the nesting is not in a fixed order. At any point in time, the layer where the dominant activity occurs determines which layer is at the forefront and how the other layers are nested. Thus, the nesting of the layers changes with the activities that are conducted during the policy process. In this sense, the layers represent the concept of cascading contexts.

Concluding Remarks

Our study has shown that policy work as a whole is not amenable to a traditional project management approach based on a control orientation and assumptions of rational action. Policy work is complex: It is contested, with a wide range of conflicting and contradictory stakeholder viewpoints; it is uncertain, because it is a non-linear process, aimed at social benefits without clearly quantified outcomes, and subject to constant change and challenge in terms of its social, political, commercial, and industrial impacts; and it is a social system, characterized by the intricate interactions between a very broad range of stakeholders. Addressing this complexity requires KBPs that privilege knowledge and experience to perform the formal, but especially the informal, aspects of policy activities.

Our study also focuses on a seeming contradiction; the six lessons learned from the case could be interpreted as merely representing aspects of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). However, the distinction we make is that those aspects need to be understood from a knowledge perspective rather than limited to the control orientation implicit in the PMBOK® Guide. This is an important facet of our work, as it contributes to our argument that complexity requires a broad range of tools, techniques, and methods that combine traditional approaches with KBPs.

Our case study has highlighted that within the policy process there are activities that lend themselves to being managed as projects using the traditional toolset. However, the value of this approach is limited without understanding that the activity has many facets. Moreover, the complex landscape in which the activity is conducted, and the tapestry of interactions with stakeholders, requires other toolsets that we have identified as KBPs. The challenge is for project management to be ambidextrous enough to combine both toolsets. On a practical level, the issue is to articulate and identify when it is appropriate to deploy traditional a project management toolset and when this needs to be complemented by KBPs, and most importantly, to understand when project management is not an appropriate approach to apply to a policy activity.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the support provided for the research reported in this paper through a PMI Sponsored Research Grant.

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Appendix A

Year Abbreviation Title
1974 NDSIS National Drugs Sector Information Service (operated by ADCA)
1984 ADFA Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia
1985 Drugs in Australia: National Action Workshop
1985 MCDS Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy
1985 NCADA National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (renamed National Drug Strategy)
1986 NDARC National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
1986 NCRPDA National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse
1986 NDRI National Drug Research Institute (originally the National Centre for Research into Prevention of Drug Abuse)
1991 National Health Policy on Tobacco in Australia and Examples of Strategies for Implementation
1992 NDCPF National Drug Crime Prevention Fund
1992 NDS National Drug Strategy
1985 NDSC National Drug Strategy Committee (later the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs)
1993 National Drug Strategic Plan 1993–1997
1993 National Anabolic Substances Strategy
1994 Better health outcomes for Australians: national goals, targets and strategies for better health outcomes into the next century (Dept. of Human Services and Health)
1994 NTS National Tobacco Strategy
1994 Billboards advertising tobacco banned (Chapman 1996)
1995 The Tobacco Industry and the Costs of Tobacco-Related Illness (Herron Report)
1996 MTAG Ministerial Tobacco Advisory Group
1996 NPHP National Public Health Partnership
1997 NIDS National Illicit Drug Strategy
1997 NTC National Tobacco Campaign
1998 National Drug Strategic Framework 1998–99 to 2002–03: building partnerships
1998 ANCD Australian National Council on Drugs
1998 IGCD Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs (formerly National Drug Strategy Committee)
1998 TFI Tobacco Free Initiative
1999 National Tobacco Strategy 1999 to 2002–03
1999 NEACT National Expert Advisory Committee on Tobacco
2003 FCTC Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
2004 National Tobacco Strategy, 2004–2009
2004 NEAP National Expert Advisory Panel
2010 Tobacco Social Marketing Campaign
2010 National Drug Strategy 2010–2015 Roundtable Consultation Report
2010 Draft of the National Drug Strategy 2010–2015
2010 Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 Explanatory Memorandum
2011 ANPHA Australian National Preventive Health Agency
2011 National Drug Strategy 2010–2015
2011 Participate in negotiations to finalize the Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
2011 National Drug Strategy 2010–2015 Stakeholder Forum: Summary Report
2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011
2011 Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations
2011 Trade Marks Amendment (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Bill 2011
2011 Explanatory Statement, Select Legislative Instrument 2011 No. 263
2011 2011 NTC Tobacco Social Marketing Campaign (referred to as the 2011 National Tobacco Campaign)
2011 NPAPH National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health

Jill Owen (1962 – 2013), PhD, joined the School of Business, UNSW Canberra as a lecturer in December 2005. Prior to that, she taught project management, studio (industrial projects), and knowledge management at Monash University where she received her PhD within the Faculty of Information Technology, analyzing the role of knowledge-based practices in the effective delivery of projects. She held a bachelor’s degree in economics from Latrobe University and a master’s degree in prelim information management and systems from Monash University.

Prior to joining UNSW Canberra at ADFA, she worked at a senior management level across a number of organizations in the project and program management of both business and information technology projects. Her industry experience was wide-ranging, including financial services, airline, health, insurance, and credit industries. Dr. Owen used project management as a vehicle for researching the role of knowledge-based practices and informal processes in influencing how an organization operates.

Associate Professor Henry Linger’s research addresses how people do their work and how information and knowledge can be deployed to support those work practices. He co-developed the task-based knowledge management (TbKM) theory and has successfully applied it to specific industry practice (meteorology, food safety, defense) and outside organizational boundaries to address national policy work (health), sustainable development (climate change in developing countries), and community empowerment (well being and productivity in the aged-care sector).

Henry has a Bachelor of Engineering degree and a PhD in Knowledge Management. He is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information Technology, and holds senior research positions in the Centre for Organisational and Social Informatics (COSI) and the Knowledge Management Research Program (KMRP) at Monash University, in the School of Business at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra, and at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Dr. James Connor is an academic with the School of Business, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra. Dr. Connor has three research areas, all informed by his sociological training and perspective that fundamentally we are creatures of social interaction. The view that we interact and exist through our emotional life informs all his research into emotions, sport, and project management.

Dr. Connor’s perspective on project, program, and portfolio management is that they are the new “Taylorism”—a means of organizing work in a vain attempt to control the human factor. His research is focused on emotional life in a project team and policy via projects. This research is funded via a research agreement with an Australian Federal Government agency where they are engaged in action research with a major change program, and also via a PMI research grant.

1 Corresponding author

2 http://www.dpmc.gov.au/annual_reports/2004-05/cabinet_implementation_unit.htm

3 After the 2013 federal election, the Department of Health and Ageing was renamed the Department of Health. The NDS remains with the Department of Health, while the responsibility for ageing moved to the new Department of Social Services (http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-strategy and http://www.health.gov.au).

4 Submissions can be viewed at: http://www.yourhealth.gov.au/internet/yourhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/plain-packaging-submissions.

5 Details of these meetings can be viewed at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-conv-public#2012

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2014 Project Management Institute Research and Education Conference

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