The head of the Productivity Commission has criticised public sector heads for a lack of creative thinking.

Productivity Commission chair Peter Harris says he does not believe public servants are adequately skilled for risk-based thinking, and that the federal government had not demonstrated its commitment to helping public servants design and implement effective policy.

“Many of the kinds of people that we were interacting with... not the CEOs and secretaries and heads of these entities, but the people responsible for delivering programs, were not encouraged to be risk-based thinkers and were often not skilled to be risk-based thinkers, both in design and in delivery of these kinds of programs,” he told Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis on the Policy Shop podcast.

“Rather they were encouraged to remain within a quite safe paradigm which doesn't invite necessarily very substantial change.

“There's a lot of analytical work that has gone on by the various public service commissions and the capability reviews and things like that. There's a lot of analytical work that is available on this, but it seems to rarely translate itself into the obligations upon the leaders of the public sector to take account of that on a continuing medium-term basis again,” he said.

Mr Harris suggested senior bureaucrats could issue charter letters to guide department and agency bosses’ expectations.

Such letters are usually exchanged between the Prime Minister and frontbenchers, outlining the PM’s expectations and priorities for portfolios.

“We see the potential role of the head of PM&C as being able to say that to the heads of agencies and heads of departments and we think the states could do similar things around the capability of the agency they run,” Mr Harris said.

“That is, take the analysis and turn it into something that is deliverable over the medium-term.”