In 2016, Aphra Green, then a senior manager at the Ministry of Justice, visited the US justice sector as a Harkness Fellow.
Her research looked at how New Zealand could deliver better evidence and decision-making tools to criminal justice system decision-makers, particularly for bail.
Now a Now a Chief Advisor at the Social Wellbeing Agency, following terms served in deputy chief executive roles at Oranga Tamariki, Aphra reflects on the opportunities she gained from her Harkness fellowship experience.
What are your memories of being a Harkness Fellow in the United States?
“My time in the US was incredibly formative – both personally and professionally.
“I was lucky to be there during a period of innovation and transformation in their electoral cycle – justice system reform was imperative for the US given its high prison population, and significant Federal funding was being provided to shift how justice systems in the US worked to taking an evidence-informed and collaborative approach.
“New Zealand was in a similar position of having a very high prison population and the need to innovate. We were also doing some very similar innovation, particularly in the area of cross-sector collaboration – so it was great to be able to share with the US what we were learning – and to learn from them.
“Taking a more strongly evidence-based approach was also something we were in the early stages of doing, so again there was a lot to learn from the US in this regard.”
What was the most useful aspect of the fellowship?
“It was being able to take time away from my day job to have a period of concentrated learning – it was an incredibly creative period for me, rejuvenating my passion for being a leader in the public service and in the ability of government to create positive change in society.”
How did you apply what you learned during your fellowship to your work at the Ministry of Justice?
“In addition to all of the ideas I picked up in the US, the biggest thing was the contacts and relationships that I brought back with me. These were invaluable to the justice sector’s work, and when we ran the Justice Summit in the following year, many of the leading thinkers and innovators I had met while in the US were able to come to NZ to continue the collaboration, and a number have even visited NZ in the years since.
“One of my key areas of focus was bail decision-making, and some of the ideas and contacts that I was able to bring back informed the establishment of the Bail Support Service – a new service that is similar to Pre-trial Services that run in the US.”
As a senior public servant, what are your thoughts on the attributes we need in emerging leaders in the public service?
“We need leaders who are future-focused, innovative, and able to connect people and ideas to get things done. More than ever, the problems that we are solving in government are multi-dimensional, so creative approaches are needed to their solutions.
“We need leaders in the public service who are able to recognise that government often doesn’t hold the solutions but it has an instrumental role in creating the space and providing the circumstances for solutions to arise – leaders who can bring multiple and disparate viewpoints together around a table, and then make something happen.”