London’s chief digital officer on his first year transforming city government. In an exclusive interview, Theo Blackwell tells Apolitical how cities can fulfil the promise of technology, guard against its dangers, build effective services in-house and, most importantly, put citizens first.
Video: Are countries products to be marketed and sold? Branding has long been a way for nations to manage their reputations, but PR specialists now have a direct say in how governments present themselves on the world stage. We take a look at the secretive field of nation-branding.
Are you a rising star in government, or do you know any? Apolitical is holding a writing competition for public servants between the ages of 20 and 30. There’s a range of exciting prizes for the winner, and their article will be promoted to influential global readers including mayors, ministers and former heads of state.
The global south is starting its own AI healthcare revolution. From Brazil to sub-Saharan Africa, countries are using artificial intelligence to solve decades-old challenges, like how to provide care to remote communities. Experts say they could see the same cost savings as rich countries.
Top Writing From Our Members
What makes digitisation so tough? We asked Australia’s public servants. 92% of Australia’s agencies want to improve their digital capabilities — but civil servants say they struggle with fear of failure, outdated government technologies and hierarchies that discourage creative thinking.
(Lucy Poole, Australia’s Digital Transformation Office)
How to design great policy experiments: Five lessons from the experts. Evidence-based policy is rapidly becoming the gold standard, but there’s still a great deal of confusion around what it means. Here, experts give top tips ranging from which experiment designs work to how to test on children.
(Edward Orlik, Policy Advisor at the what works network)
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Governance and Citizen Engagement
All policymakers have biases — here’s how nudges can correct them. Studies show that many are overconfident in their knowledge, which leads to risky choices. ‘Pre-mortem’ discussions, in which a team imagines a policy has already failed, can curb blind confidence.
(The Behavioural Scientist)
Montreal has a radical plan to address its homeless population: treat them like part of the community. Instead of pushing rough sleepers out of parks and public spaces, the city holds events and offers services to draw them in. The result is more trust between the homeless and government.
Health and Ageing
Cuba has one of the world’s lowest hurricane fatality rates. It combines early warning systems, high-quality weather forecasting and a community preparedness model that gives every citizen a role to play when disaster strikes. All children learn survival skills from an early age.
Bicycle ambulances cut malaria deaths in one Zambian district by 96%. Health facilities in Serenje are scarce, and travelling to the nearest one can take hours for many of its 200,000 residents. The bikes are designed to drive down narrow rural roads, providing access for even the most remote communities.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When we talk about smart cities, we need to put the citizen first” —Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer
France will run driverless trains by 2023. The national railway operator said that autonomous passenger and freight trains will run more smoothly and reduce energy usage. Australia, China and Japan are also experimenting with self-driving trains.
Safety and Justice
California reduced its prison population by 13,000 and saw no rise in crime. In 2014, it downgraded non-violent drug and petty theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanours, allowing the state to save $110 million in prison-related costs. New research shows no impact on homicide, rape, robbery and burglary rates.
Energy, Environment and Economic Opportunity
Behavioural scientists say green license plates boost electric car sales. The distinctive colour makes them more visible to other drivers, which can normalise — and promote — clean vehicles. Canada, Norway and China already use green plates.
(The UK Behavioural Insights Team)
Uzbekistan held an electronic music festival to draw attention to the vanishing Aral Sea. Its many efforts to reverse the drying of the sea, which used to be the size of Ireland, have failed. Now, government hopes a techno festival will draw international attention to the crisis.
(Picture credit: Pexels)