In its annual overview of global government innovation, the OECD warns that the public sector will need “a major course correction” to come to terms with the uncertainty posed by globalisation, rising inequality and disruptive technologies.
This course correction will only be achieved with sweeping government innovation, according to the report released on February 11 at the World Government Summit in Dubai. “Embracing Innovation in Government” synthesises data, interviews and research from public sector innovation around the world to identify key trends.
According to the OECD, the top three trends in government innovation are:
Digital identity programs
Every citizen, resident and business needs identification to access government services and participate in the economy. As society becomes ever more digital – and borderless – it has become critical for government to provide secure, easy access to citizen services through digital ID programs. These initiatives can be controversial, due to data protections and privacy laws – but the OECD predicts that they will be ubiquitous in the future, with the Indian government leading the way.
Aadhaar, India’s biometric ID program, is the largest in the world. It serves 1.2 billion citizens and residents (99% of Indian adults), who must submit fingerprint and iris scans to receive a 12-digit ID number. With it, they can access social welfare programs, submit bank transactions, and activate a mobile phone. The program has become so ingrained in Indian society that a digital ID is now required to access many public – and private – services.
The OECD argues that a paradigm shift in government is needed – one in which policy is designed holistically, rather than in a vacuum. “Systems approaches”, a tool used by engineers to build cities and plan traffic, are increasingly used by public servants to solve social problems. It means that public servants try to identify how disparate parts of government interact with each other. For example, it can be difficult to discern why citizens’ distrust in government is growing – however, studies show that citizens conflate their personal experience at the post office, doctor or police with their wider experience of government. To get to the heart of the problem, governments must look at all the interlinked elements.
An example of a government doing this well is New Zealand, with its cross-agency SmartStart program for new parents. SmartStart organises public services around key life events and integrates 55 government services, like birth registration and doctors’ visits, in one place. It shares data between departments so that, for example, new parents never have to fill out forms with information that one branch of the state already has.
With ageing populations, migration, gender inequality and the growing job uncertainty brought on by automation, the need for policies that boost inclusive growth are critical. A review of governments’ progress on the SDGs shows that many are working to support economically vulnerable populations – however, a wave of nationalism and population has stemmed progress in some countries. The OECD recommends that governments address the inequalities in their economies that could destabilise labour markets, social welfare and pensions systems – before they lead to greater problems in the years to come.
One of the ways to do so is by encouraging continued labour market participation for older citizens. By 2026, South Korea will be a “super-aged” country, with 20.8% of its population projected to be over 60 years of age. With its Comprehensive Plan for 50+ Assistance, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is creating a new model for an ageing society. The 50+ Policy provides retraining, emotional support, cultural experiences and social welfare access to its newly retired populations. Its goal is to redefine what it is to be retired by promoting life-long learning, extended employment, and participation in society.
The OECD – which worked in collaboration with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation (MBRCGI) on the report – includes recommendations for how governments should integrate each trend into their public sector. Together with the MBRCGI and the Office for Public Sector Information, the OECD will also create a community of practice for government innovators to share ideas and projects.
The report concludes that current government infrastructure is not sufficient to contend with the major problems of our time, and existing structures and skills must be adapted: “It’s clear that the status quo is insufficient to address the nature of today’s challenges.”
The OECD calls on governments to leverage private and civil society partners to drive solutions based on these three trends in innovation together, in order to redefine how public services function, what their purpose is and how they can better support citizens and businesses.
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