11 January 2024

Roy Sye brings a wealth of different experiences and perspectives to his work in the Public Service.

A former teacher and principal, Roy has run two businesses, served on various boards, had a term as a Napier City Councillor, been a Justice of the Peace for more than two decades and now works for the Ministry of Education.

“When you’ve got a broad mandate, like we do, it really helps to bring a varied background to this mahi,” he says.

“I’ve got that education sector perspective, but I’ve also got that added experience of being an employer, plus working in local government.

“And that’s all real-world stuff that bring a rounded experience, which is ideal for making connections with the wide-range of people I work with.”

Roy is Regional Public Service Commissioner (RPSC) for Greater Wellington, and one of 12 RPSCs working across 15 regions on behalf of the Public Service.

Employed by individual government departments, RPSCs help join-up Public Service efforts with stakeholders in the community to define priorities and improve services and outcomes. They can also escalate issues to senior Public Service decision makers where necessary.

The approach acknowledges that iwi and other Māori groups and regional stakeholders (including Pasifika, local government, business, ethnic and community groups) know the realities of their communities and hold valuable insights into what can work to improve their wellbeing.  

A unique aspect of the system is that all RPSCs have two roles, which they have to balance. For Roy that means he is also a Regional Director of Education for the Ministry of Education. He’s been in that role for seven years, and in the RPSC role for four.

He says that communities already have many of the solutions needed to achieve better outcomes.

“But system structures, policy settings and a lack of agency collaboration often make doing what’s right a challenge.

“Everyone wants the same thing, so it’s how we get there that is important. The challenge we face is making the right thing to do the easy thing to do by challenging those long-standing systems where we can.”

Roy’s region is large and diverse, stretching from Wellington city in the south, up through the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa on one coast, and Porirua and Kāpiti on the other. It shares boundaries with nine local authorities.

Roy Sye (second left) with other agency leaders.

He describes his role as building networks, relationships and trust across the region, as well as implementing better ways of working.

Often the initial thing that brings people together isn’t the ‘real issue’, Roy says.

“Once you get talking and engaging you start to see those patterns about what the real issues are. Part of my job is unearthing those issues, then powering up the solutions.

“And some of those solutions are already happening in one area – there might be a great initiative in Wainuiomata or Masterton – and then it’s about seeing how we can roll that out across the rest of the region.”

Roy is the only RSPC whose ‘day job’ is in the education sector. Many of the others work for the Ministry of Social Development, while there are a couple at the Department of Corrections, and Ministry of Health.

Having that extensive experience in the education sector means he can bring a deep understanding of the education structure, plus the “nuances of how schools and early learning services operate”, to conversations around solutions for rangatahi.

This is important because those solutions can have far-reaching implications.

“If you have chronic lack of attendance across the country it has a pipeline effect for things like employment, social issues, crime – it impacts in so many ways.

“And it’s not just attendance that is the issue, it’s about engagement too. It’s one thing getting the tamariki in the classrooms, but getting them engaged in the curriculum is another.

“Schools are such a huge part of the community, and if you had a Venn diagram of current priorities, you’ll find that often schools are the crossover point, the commonality.”

Roy says an important part of his role is trying to humanise and demystify the Public Service – challenging people’s perceptions and helping them to realise that the Public Service is their Public Service.

It’s also about being open-minded in connecting people to solutions.

“All people want is an answer, a solution or to be heard. And maybe they come to us and we’re not necessarily the right people and it’s not our specific business, but we don’t then send them away to navigate a website or try and work it out themselves.

“We connect them with the right people or agency, help them get where they need to go. You hear about this idea of ‘no wrong door’, and that’s exactly what the Public Service should be, so we will continue to model that in the Regional Public Service Framework.”

Ultimately, Roy sees his role as hugely demanding yet rewarding.

“For me it really is all about serving, so in that sense it’s been a lifelong calling.”