Researchers from UNSW, University of Sydney, and Central Queensland University win 2022 Sam Richardson Award for outstanding public sector study

Renee Leon

Dr Meraiah Foley, Associate Professor Sue Williamson, Professor Rae Cooper, and Dr Linda Colley 

The Institute of Public Administration Australia’s (IPAA) Sam Richardson Award for the most influential paper published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration in 2022 goes to Dr Meraiah Foley, Professor Rae Cooper, Dr Linda Colley, and Associate Professor Sue Williamson.   

A judging panel that included leading public administration academics, representatives of IPAA, and young professionals from across the IPAA divisions selected the paper ‘Best person or best mix? How public sector managers understand the merit principle’ from a competitive field of six shortlisted articles 

The paper, authored by Dr Meraiah Foley and Professor Rae Cooper from the University of Sydney, Associate Professor Sue Williamson from the University of New South Wales, and Dr Linda Colley who was at Central Queensland University at the time, highlighted the apparent conflict between making employment decisions on individual-level ‘merit’ and considering the collective constraints and disadvantage that occur along gender lines. 

Based on a wide survey of middle managers across several Australian government jurisdictions, the authors identified that a lack of definitive guidance about how to also encompass considerations of gender disadvantage was leading to highly individualised employment and advancement decisions.   

IPAA President Andrew Metcalfe AO FIPAA said that it was very well understood that merit-based selection processes are a long standing, indeed a fundamental principle of Australian public sector employment. 

“This paper provides very useful insights as to the challenges being faced by public sector managers in balancing the ‘merit principle’ with disadvantages that may and do exist along gender lines,” he said. 

The authors argue that managers’ attention should be drawn to the benefits of a more representative bureaucracy. 

“The structure and methodology of the paper presents findings about ways that could overcome this current ad-hoc approach and should be useful at a practical level to consider and challenge, and potentially overcome, unconscious biases in recruitment processes,” Mr Metcalfe said. 

For further information about the Sam Richardson Award, please click here. 

Media contact: Julia Ahrens,, M: 0402 190 656  

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