The head of Australia's largest federal department has urged public servants who design policy to get on-the-ground experience delivering government programs.
Services Australia secretary Renée Leon told public servants at a Canberra policy workshop on Friday that those experienced in service delivery would develop better policies.
However Australian Public Service employees often spent their entire careers solely in policy design, she said.
"That means people working in policy quite often don't have the experience on the ground when policy is implemented."
Careers limited to policy design were among the causes of failures to put citizens at the centre of government programs, she said.
"It goes to the importance of people seeing a well-rounded career will include experience across the policy spectrum, all the way from policy design to delivery on the ground," she said later.
Ms Leon's comments follow Prime Minister Scott Morrison's challenge to public servants in August, when he told them to abandon "beautiful" policy ideas for practical solutions.
Other roadblocks to good policy design involved a failure to include and speak early to people affected by government programs, Ms Leon said.
The public service also failed to design practical policies when it worked too quickly and didn't consider how they would be implemented.
Public servants tasked with delivering programs often first saw policies at the final stages of design, when it was harder to change them to the benefit of citizens, Ms Leon said.
Trust in governments and their programs improved when citizens were more involved in policy design, she said.
Ms Leon leads 30,000 staff delivering Australia's social security programs, overseeing Centrelink and Medicare among other agencies.
She joined other senior bureaucrats speaking at an Institute of Public Administration-hosted workshop adapting the public service's policy advising skills to changing global pressures.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science secretary Heather Smith urged public servants to leave their offices and form networks.
These would later serve public servants when fast-changing problems required them to adapt their advice quickly.
She said good policy advice depended on a clear idea of the outcomes needed.
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Foreign Affairs and Trade Department secretary Frances Adamson urged public servants not to leave discussions wishing they'd expressed an important view.
"Those words can change the course of what we do," she said.
Ms Adamson said she had seen the influence of "frank and fearless" advice, but also urged bureaucrats to understand how to deliver it.
Less senior public servants could become central players in forming government policy if they brought the right knowledge, creativity and ability to craft messages to discussions, she said.
"There's nothing more influential than having people turn to you because you're the person who has the answers."
Communications and the Arts Department secretary Mike Mrdak rejected a trend towards relativism in public debate and said public servants had to find the facts in giving policy advice.
The public service's push to improve how it gives advice, called "Delivering Great Policy" and led by senior bureaucrats, follows Dr Smith's call in 2018 for rapid reform to the bureaucracy.
She warned then that the APS needed to change if it was to help steer the government as challenges emerged.
Dr Smith on Friday said the public service was on the "pathway" to adapting how it gave policy advice.