Trust is the secret sauce: Mark Webb, IPAA NSW president on building integrity

Mark Webb, president of IPAA NSW and chief executive of the Department of Parliamentary Services NSW

Mark Webb, president of IPAA NSW and chief executive of the Department of Parliamentary Services NSW talks relationship building, ethical inoculation, and putting trust at the heart of all public service work ahead of our IPAA National Summit on 26 September.  

What does acting with integrity look like to you? 

For me, integrity involves relationships over time, and seeing a pattern of behaviour rather than a series of standalone events. Too often people focus on the circumstances of a specific situation, and forget the secret sauce that can make acting with integrity really come together – trust. If you build, over time, relationships with a bedrock of trust at their heart, then navigating ethical and other challenges becomes a whole lot easier. Whereas if the first time you’ve ever discussed issues of integrity is in the middle of an ethical crisis, then you are beginning your race well before the starting line. 

How do you ensure that your people act with integrity?  

Any answer to the question of ensuring integrity could go down the lines of systems and controls. Or we could talk about culture and behaviour. All worthy topics, which would take much more time than we have here. I will focus on one particular technique though – ethical inoculation. There are, unfortunately, many examples of situations where public services have not met the standards of integrity that we all aspire to. I try to find opportunities to talk about those examples and use them to reflect on our own practice. It is easier to identify what someone should have done after the fact. How do we use those learning opportunities to ethically vaccinate ourselves for the future? 

How do you maintain and celebrate pride in your work? 

You don’t need to look far around the world to realise that our system of government is not a given, not a natural evolution of the way nations govern themselves. It takes work, and people willing to dedicate themselves to that work. If we abstract away from individual issues of policy or instances of service delivery, we are left with the system. The system that allows us to debate ideas. The system that doesn’t allow power to be concentrated in one person or institution. The system that allows us to iterate and revisit issues, to evolve as the community evolves. If a specific event ever frustrates me, I remember the role we all play in making this system work over the long term. And I am proud! 

Which topic are you most looking forward to discussing at the IPAA National Summit?  

Of course, all the topics at the national summit are fantastic! But I’m most looking forward to engaging on how we reinforce trust in public services. The public sector can do its best work when it is trusted. Understanding builds trust. Listening builds trust. Action builds trust. And for me, trust is at the heart of everything we do.