Apolitical’s recent quiz – “Do you have what it takes for the government jobs of the future?” – tested public servants’ tech-savviness, global awareness and aptitude for collaboration and innovation. Backed by two years of research, it’s part of an ongoing effort to understand the readiness of the world’s civil servants for the coming digital revolution, which is expected to eliminate 77% of administration and operations roles by 2030.
Even if your result was “The Luddite” or “Old School”, there’s still time to learn about the technologies and disciplines that will be essential to getting things done in the public service of the future. We’ve isolated the most important trends here – this is why they matter, how governments can use them, and the best online resources to learn them yourself. You can also read more in our feed on government innovation.
Big data, once a tool reserved for statisticians and intelligence personnel, is now indispensable to the functioning of government. With it, public servants can use evidence to drive decision-making, rather than guesswork. In the private sector, a strong link between effective data use and better financial performance has been established – but much of government data still lives on paper or in old-fashioned systems. This, coupled with a tendency to treat data analysis as an afterthought when crafting policy, prevents governments from reaping its benefits.
Of course, every civil servant need not be a data scientist – but they should appreciate its potential to improve the lives of citizens, help services function more efficiently, and cut costs. In the future of work, all public servants will deal with data in service delivery, which means overcoming a misconception of big data as amorphous and overwhelming. Public servants should come to see it as a tool to help government do more for their citizens with less – which, in this era of shrinking budgets and growing technological innovation, is crucial.
“At a time when there is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of public services, data analytics has huge potential” – Eddie Copeland, Nesta
How to use it
• Estonia saves more than 2.8 million hours of labour every year through a data exchange network that helped it digitise 99% of government services. The system lets citizens pay their taxes in five minutes and incorporate companies in under 20.
• Police forces in the US are using big data to predict where crime is most likely to occur and allocate officers more efficiently. Some cities have cut crime by up to 40%.
• London is using data analytics to predict which children are most at risk for neglect and abuse, allowing child services to intervene before something happens. The system will save municipalities $910,000 a year.
• Ukraine has clamped down on corruption and saved $37 million on drugs for its health service with a data-driven app that compares government purchases to prices listed by other suppliers.
How to learn
• The School of Data has courses on the fundamentals of data, as well as how to extract, map and clean it.
• The Open Data Institute offers classes in open data essentials and finding stories in data. It also has offline courses like “Open data in a day for government” and “Managing risk with open data”.
• Coursera has a John Hopkins University-sanctioned “Launch your career in data science” class.
• Datacamp teaches data science skills like R, SQL and python.
• Dataquest offers beginner, intermediate and expert-level courses in data analysis and prediction.
• General Assembly has a number of courses in data science and analysis.
In the US, just 27% of citizens are happy with government’s digital services. Constituents want to interact with government more easily – and governments leading the charge in bringing services online are using artificial intelligence (AI) to do so. With AI, systems learn from experience and keep improving their performance without humans having to explain how to complete tasks. A prime example of this is chatbots: virtual assistants that field questions from constituents who would normally have to call a public office or help desk. Chatbots, which learn from the questions they are asked to continually improve performance, help governments serve constituents better and free up public servants’ time for higher value jobs.
AI has the potential to rid humans of monotonous work – administrative tasks like data sorting, filing and searching documents, translating materials and drafting briefs, among others – saving federal governments up to 1.2 billion (hu)man-hours and $41.1 billion annually.
“City officials only work during the day, 8am to 5pm. Chatbots work 24/7” – Ryan Johnson, City of North Charleston
How to use it
• Governments in the US, Singapore, and Jersey use chatbots to help citizens cut through bureaucracy and find the answers they need quickly and easily.
• Las Vegas is using AI to predict car crashes with up to 70% accuracy. It uses it to warn drivers to avoid the area up to two hours in advance.
• The UK is using a machine learning model that can identify billion-dollar pension schemes at risk of collapse.
• New York City is preventing fires by using a prediction tool that has improved the accuracy of inspections by 20%, allowing the city to divert crews to the most at-risk buildings.
How to learn
• Udacity has an introductory course to AI.
• Udemy offers a range of AI courses, from fundamental to advanced learning.
• Coursera has a deep learning specialisation taught by Stanford University professors. It also offers a range of other AI classes.
• EdX has a variety of introduction to AI courses.
• IBM offers a beginner’s guide to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing.
Policymakers are often accused of losing sight of the challenges everyday people face. Design thinking is a way for governments to leverage the philosophy of user-centric companies like Apple – which puts customer experience at the centre of product design – to solve problems and shape policy. Design thinking puts end citizens at the centre of policy formulation: in the iterative process, public servants form theories about what constituents want by observing them, prototype a product or service, then test it out on real people.
This form of “empathetic”, hands-on policymaking helps government build services in concert with citizens to meet their needs, rather than relying on detached experts. The collaborative approach encourages public servants to break out of departmental siloes and tap into more risky, innovative service design.
“It’s quite messy, doing design work. But the old ways of thinking just aren’t working anymore” – Sarah Hurcombe, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation
How to use it
• Denmark used design thinking to reorganise waste management in Copenahagen, reduce tension between inmates and guards in prisons and transform services for mentally disabled adults in Odense.
• Singapore has redesigned its employment centres to make them calm and easily navigable for stressed job seekers.
• West Hollywood used design thinking to bring the first robotic parking garage to the west coast.
• The US Department of Labour used design thinking to come up with a ‘speed-dating’ approach to teaching job seekers about resume-building, financial literacy and how to find work.
How to learn
• Stanford University offers a world-renowned “virtual crash course in design thinking”.
• Coursera has a University of Virginia-backed design thinking for innovation class.
• Ideou teaches a number of courses in design thinking and innovation strategy.
• MIT has a class in mastering innovation and design thinking.
• FutureLearn has a course called “designing for the future”, in which students learn to apply design thinking to modern problems.
• The University of Cincinnati offers and introductory design thinking and innovation course.
The use of human psychology to drive citizen behaviour was pioneered by the UK government to cut costs and help people make better choices. It taps into the minutiae of how people act and uses small “nudges” – such as a text message or personalised letter – to prompt behavioural changes. The discipline has had an outsize effect on human behaviour: the UK “Nudge Unit” has signed up an additional 100,000 organ donors a year, doubled the number of army applicants and helped collect an additional $40 million a year from taxpayers.
Nudge units use empirical evidence to anticipate how people will react to policy options, rather than assuming their response will be rational. They have spread to governments across the world, including Guatemala, the US, Australia, Germany and Singapore, but the use of behavioural insights is still nascent. In the future, it is expected to have a significant impact on solving problems that stem from ingrained or unconscious bias, like gender inequality.
“It’s hard for government to admit that something it’s doing might not work or that it’s failed. People are often running blind” – David Halpern, UK Nudge Unit
How to use it
• The UK, Australia and Singapore use a behavioural science and machine learning tool to blind managers to gender and ethnicity, allowing them to hire solely based on talent.
• A public university in San Francisco used text message nudges to cut dropouts among low-income students by 10%.
• Australia is using nudges to boost women’s labour force participation and their visibility in televised sports.
• A Sacramento utility nudged customers to cut their peak-hour energy consumption by 12% by automatically enrolling them in an energy-saving plan.
How to learn
• Read about developing public policy with behavioural insights from the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team. Also, see their report on four simple ways to apply behavioural insights.
• CIPD offers a number of podcasts and reports on behavioural science applications.
• Read “Insight the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference” by David Halpern.
• Listen to Freakonomics‘ podcast on how to use nudges.
• Read “Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting With Ways to Change Civic Behaviour” by Peter John.
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