Acesa – Recent Events




Shaping ACESA's future 22nd January, Chester Beatty

DATE: 22 January, 2020

41 Members in attendance.

Pam Byrne, Chairperson welcomed attendees to the event. She explained the process to date, including the work of the Board in contributing to the document which had been circulated to all members.

Peter Ryan from RA Consulting introduced the paper. After brining the meeting through the document, the meeting was divided into four tables, where members were given the opportunity to express their views.

The following is a summary from each group:


Core Function and Purpose

  1. Group felt that a distinctionC should be drawn between agency (our agency as people) and Agency (corporate / organisation).
    • Are we clear about our network as one of CEO’s, not agencies?
    • Strong support for the view that ACESA is representative of, not for.
    • The opportunity for networking and for personal follow-up is the greatest strength of ACESA.
    • Are we leveraging our collective talent and expertise most effectively in the briefing sessions?
  1. Agency (with a capital A!)
    • Round-robin emails are very helpful.
    • With a caveat of discretion, could a table of queries raised be compiled to gather and save collective memory?
    • Question raised about working “with” the centre.
      – Are “they” actually interested in this? Will it happen?
      – Can ACESA work with the centre or is this more a matter for each agency and Department?
  • What do DPER do with ACESA input?
  • Could we think in terms of ACESA engaging with the centre, rather than working with them?
  • Who is here (at breakfast sessions) and who is not? Why? Do they all have a voice? Do some have a connection that they are happy with I.e. they don’t need ACESA!

Value, relevance and logistics

Comments here come under the theme of personal, professional and the space between.


  1. Engagement between CEO’s – most valuable aspect of ACESA.
    • Diplomatic impact of the humble coffee bean.
    • We need to tap into our internal resources a bit more.
    • Share experience e.g. PMDS, both from the point of view of ourselves as CEO’s (performance reviews) as well the reviews we conduct of colleagues.
    • We need to map ourselves better – perhaps establish sub-groups along various themes.
  2. Agency (capital A!)
    • Opportunities for complimentary work around the agency governance work which IPA does.
  3. Space and time
    • Ultimately ACESA offers space and time to foster relationships which will facilitate effective and helpful conversations.
    • This is so important because the half-life of a CEO tends to be short!
    • We need to share our learning more – we don’t know an awful lot about ourselves as people and as professionals.

Research and future needs

The underpinning theme for our comments here was process and product.

  1. We need to define what we mean by research – not narrowly prescribe, but nonetheless be clear as to what is included.
  2. Some practical suggestions:
    • Tracking and review of historical queries – what themes are bubbling up?
    • Look at international comparators e.g. European examples, which may well be quite different.
    • Horizon scanning – to support thought leadership; identify common issues for potential collaboration – always remembering that we are a network of CEO’s.
    • The Innovation Report was a good example of point c above. This echoes back to earlier points about the importance of mapping ourselves.
    • Are we getting the best from mentoring? What is the best structure / approach?

Projects, research and communications

External messaging

    • Stick to the facts e.g. 40% of members are female. Lack of any enthusiasm for adopting positions as a collective.
    • Preference expressed for projects of internal interest.
    • On a spectrum from internal to external, strong preference for spiral learning between us as people at the internal end of the spectrum.
    • Agreement that we should not be in the social media space.
    • Are we making the best use of the tools that we have? E.g. website – importance of using technology to augment human relationships to foster better conversations….


  1. Core Functions and Purpose
  • Committed to the delivery of excellence in public service by working jointly with central Government
  • Influencing central Government by identifying 3 common critical issues across agencies (we need a mechanism to capture and align the views of members on this)
  • A professional network, support and resource for state agency CEOs
  • Mechanism for retaining, sharing knowledge on sensitive topics that can’t be shared easily
  1. Briefing Sessions
  • DPER, Lucy Fallon-Byrne – continue these to keep track of emerging reform plans and progress
  • Expenditure briefings from DEPR (from the Vote side)
  • Shared experience workshops on HR/Workforce Planning/Organisational Management topics (e.g. succession planning, mobility, performance management)
  • Evening session – at least 1 (more) per year
  • Consider ½ day or full-day session once/year
  1. Research Focus and Future Needs
  • Process for identifying priorities and selecting research needs (use survey or supplemental??) – must be of common interest across agencies
  • Peer support (not mentoring) – create mechanism for this
  1. Projects, Research and Communications
  • Creating awareness of agency issues to Secretaries General network and CSMB
  • ACESA should not be a public-facing body
  • Main audience for external communications and influencing is senior Government (e.g. Martin Fraser as main conduit)
  • Mechanism for capturing membership outside attendees (why are we losing/not engaging them?)


Core Function and Purpose

  • Sharing Information
    • Trust / Non-Judgemental
    • Discussion of issues in a confidential forum
    • “short cuts” to getting things done
    • Opportunities
  • Knowledge Management
    • Verbal / written
    • Enhance utilisation of the Members Portal
      • Create an inventory of the issues raised by members and the relevant organisation. Other members will then be in a position to make direct contact.
    • Influencing
      • Seek clear government policy on state agencies
        • Why/when/how are state agencies established?
        • “Agency Independence” vis-a-vie excellence in public service.
      • Anticipation of members needs
        • Informing members which will involve resource costs) in addition to responding to the network.

Briefing Sessions

  • Time /day of week probably optimal but would need to consult the network to validate that position.
  • Look at maximising the use of technology to maximise access and facilitate participation of members outside of Dublin.
  • In September seek views from the network regarding speakers for the following 12 months
    • Mix ‘internal’ and ‘external’ speakers
    • ‘Planned’ and ‘Themed’ in addition to being responsive to current issues
    • Use the portal to access views regarding speakers and topics
  • 1st session of the year could perhaps be devoted to each agency sharing 2-3 priorities for them in developing their organisations during the year. This may identify a number of agencies addressing similar issues and a support network to share / discuss progress and issues.

Research Focus and Themes

  • Commission Research within confined parameters (CP)
  • Establish link with 3rd level institutions – source interns
  • Explore maximising use of technology for networking – combination of ‘face to face’ and technology. Enhanced use of technology would assist in the ‘Future Proofing’ for the next generation of CEO’s.

Projects/Reach/Communications and Future

  • Influencing Role?- Yes
    • General Public – succinct information regarding’ who we are’ and ‘what we do’
    • Centre (DPER)
      • Role clarity – what is and more importantly what is not the role of a CEO
      • No such thing as a generic CEO as it is more nuanced than that.
      • Accountability – alignment of role and responsibilities.


  1. Core Function and Purpose


Clarify of / for – what is the distinction – two issues were mentioned; CEO guidelines and the different approach to existing public servants who have a permanent post in the same organisation and a civil servant who gets seconded with their permanent position protected and the second one was starting new staff on the first point of the scale – question was if ACESA does not raise these issues with D/PER who does when individual departments say it is D/PER not them who are making the rules ??

Explore further – recognising that ACESA is not a representative body and should not be.

Public Services Management Board – a brief on who sits on it, what is its purpose and how can members know more about it,

Proactive championing of Public Service Reforms achieved by Agencies – celebrate success and share the learning with other members.

  1. Briefing Sessions – Value, Relevance & Delivery/Logistics

Briefing Sessions

~          Day + Time + Venue – maximise attendance

~          Mix of speakers / Themes

  • Inspirational
  • Operational

~          Internal panel on current “hot” topics / change initiatives -3/4 topics of 10 minutes followed by Q&A.

~          Mentoring / Buddy System

~          Specific topics that may be very sensitive – Smaller group to discuss / those interested in the topic – output could be shared with the wider membership

  1. Research Focus & Future Needs

~          Research amongst members rather than commissioned research,

Repository of output from queries / research / questions – on website

~          Research being carried out by individual Agencies – not known and could be of value to other Agencies,

~          Share the output

~          Tapping into similar International Organisations – if there is an ACESA type organisation in other countries it could be useful to have a link.

  1. Projects, Reach, Communication & Future

Engineer the networking more – when we meet for the breakfast sessions we tend to sit with people we know – perhaps there could be more benefit derived by having arranged seating or as one said, speed change of seating,

Economies of scale – are we missing a trick in terms of joint procurement ?

~          Sharing tender documents