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Starting up

A task force revising the Commonwealth procurement guidelines contracted Virginia Wilton as editorial consultant in 1995. At the time, she was managing editor of the Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration, which was produced through Brown & Co Typesetting. Its managing director, Les Brown, asked her to help prepare a tender to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide support for public diplomacy. That bid was successful.

In 1997 Wilton Hanford Hanover established a joint venture with Les, Brown & Wilton Integrated Publishing Services, as a vehicle for integrating a broad span of communications, publishing, marketing and business services. At that point Bruce Hanford left the APS to help build the back-end and supply networks for the new business. Advising the Australian Government Publishing Service on the first guidelines for government publishing in digital formats was WHH’s first external consultancy. Then the University of Melbourne invited Bruce to advise on strategic business development.

In hindsight, it seems as though WHH was invented by senior leaders at DFAT and the university. A deputy vice-chancellor told us we were a ‘management plug-in’ to workshop business concepts, write the case and run the numbers, support decisions, make lead sales and aggregate the capability to deliver. Our DFAT clients wanted a business portal that could source and integrate the capabilities required to communicate about Australia to the world.

The learning curve

Doing what we were asked to do meant that our business quickly became bigger than its founding directors. We had to draw on and expand our professional, business and academic networks to build innovative value chains, and staff a back office to manage adaptive projects. It was a learning environment where we worked closely with outstanding people who were leaders in their fields.

When the AGPS was abolished late in 1997, other federal portfolios began using the integrated communications and publishing service developed for DFAT. WHH’s role in coordinating policy content across the whole of the federal government for communication overseas had positioned it to partner many agencies in public policy publishing.

WHH also gained experience in public accountability reporting by working on annual reports and portfolio budget and additional estimates statements. Since 2011, our senior editor, Larissa Joseph, has worked with the Finance team that delivered the Public Governance and Performance Act 2013 and the public management reform agenda.

We’ve been involved in digital migration since 1997 at both the policy and operational levels. WHH has particular strengths in developing and quality assuring ‘heavyweight’ content with systemic links to legislative, financial, scientific and technical sub-texts.

WHH’s role as an integrator of communications and publishing project teams complements our learning and consulting practice.

Effective teams bring together people with complementary skills and enable them to learn together in the project context to achieve results that go beyond what any of them could achieve as individuals.

We’ve also worked with innovative clients to combine communications and adult learning principles in ways that enable public programs to collaborate with parties outside government to achieve policy outcomes.

In 1998 WHH was involved in benchmarking international best practice in executive education with the University of Melbourne. That collaboration led to participation in national and international communities of practice that tailor learning and development to deliver strategic organisational change.

Since 1999 the University, the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) and WHH have been partners in an innovative program that supports mid-career transition with interpersonal skills-building and team-based action learning about real organisational issues. The target group is mainly PhD-trained scientists, engineers and allied administrators. The transition is from expert roles to collaborative leadership in complex, adaptive systems.

Psychological safety is critical to the kind of team learning that delivers outstanding results. In 1999 WHH developed a psychological safety doctrine that has become a de facto standard in a number of Defence Groups. We facilitate and coach team-based action learning about real, ‘wicked’ organisational issues. The program is now integrated with DST Group’s strategic planning, implementation and review processes; and involves dialogue with senior stakeholders.

We’ve used know-how and protocols developed with DST Group to help other federal entities to develop burden-sharing collaborations across their internal boundaries and with external stakeholders. These projects combine communication and learning methods to enable people to work together to pursue compatible goals.

In recent years, change management has become the fastest-growing part of our business. We’re looking forward to partnering with the next generation of APS clients who’ll lead the way through public management reform and digital transformation. It will be a learning experience, and we’re experienced in achieving results through teaming with APS leaders.