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  • December 19, 2018
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Weekly briefing: Best of 2018

Our roundup of what's been working in global policy in 2018

behaviourally-informed policy

From all of us at Apolitical, we wish you happy holidays and an inspiring start to 2019.

Apolitical’s mission is to help government work better for citizens everywhere. In the past year, we’ve expanded the ways in which we do that — from policymaking courses and interactive webinars to a fast-growing platform that offers ever more ways for our members to get involved.

We’ve also written about hundreds of innovative policies and made it easier than ever for civil servants to share their own work. Our Public Service Manifesto, which you can read below, sums it up best: “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from mistakes. Share the lessons. Celebrate success.”

Read on for stories on our favourites policies and projects of 2018. Thank you for being part of Apolitical, and we wish you a happy new year.

Top Stories

Music public servants love: The tracks that inspired 2018. We asked public servants all over the world which songs motivated and inspired them this year — and from the Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ to ‘Come Healing’ by Leonard Cohen, they delivered. Listen to the playlist on Spotify now.

‘Public servants serve the people, but they are the people, too’: Read the Apolitical manifesto. Savvy, mission-driven public servants are critical if we are to tackle today’s biggest challenges. We wanted to share what gets them up in the morning. So we asked our global community and created this, our manifesto.

Vote now: Apolitical’s Team of the Year, an award for innovative public sector collaboration. Leaders get the kudos, but teamwork is the lifeblood of government. This award will recognise a team that embodies Apolitical’s values by collaborating with others on an innovative project.


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Top Apolitical Reporting of 2018

How to be a good public servant: the seven qualities you’ll need to succeed. We asked top policymakers from Denmark to South Africa what skills and characteristics have proved critical to their success. From shrewd judgment to a sense of rebellion, here’s what they said.

Reprogramming power: Audrey Tang is bringing hacker culture to the state. Reimagining the role of minister as that of a chatroom moderator, Tang and hacktivist collective g0v are shaking up Taiwan’s government with radical reforms, participatory democracy and uncompromising transparency.

Your team’s plan to close the gender pay gap probably won’t work. The most-used strategies, like unconscious bias training, have little effect. New research from the Behavioural Insights Team says employers should be transparent about promotions, encourage paternity leave and make the salary range for roles clear.

‘Evidence-based policymaking’ – is there room for science in politics? Over the past 20 years, a philosophy of just doing ‘what works’ has gathered momentum in the developed world. It guides decisions about hundreds of billions in public funds and promises to apply science and data to the messy business of governing. But does ‘what works’ itself actually work?

New Zealand is trying to write laws as software code. Citizens and the private sector often have to hire lawyers to understand policy — and public servants themselves can have a hard time agreeing on the implications. Writing laws as code could make them clearer.

How Denmark lost its MindLab: The inside story. Former directors give exclusive interviews on how a swift change in political priorities shut down the world’s most famous innovation lab. They discuss what could have saved MindLab and the legacy it leaves behind.

Last year, 80 Londoners were fatally stabbed. In Glasgow, nobody was. Over a decade, the former ‘murder capital of Western Europe’ has dismantled gangs by offering draconian punishments for offenders and freely offering them help to get out of violent surroundings.

Australia’s first female prime minister on workplace sexism and leading as a woman. In an exclusive interview, Julia Gillard tells Apolitical about the ‘crazy’ criticism she faced and why she’s optimistic about more women reaching the top.

Design your department like a behavioural scientist. Make bosses speak last, let employees be messy and encourage water-cooler chats. These and other simple, low-cost changes can help public servants be happier and more productive.

How to scale up social impact: the challenge of the 21st century. Every year, people find better solutions to the world’s problems — but we still aren’t spreading what works. Getting better at scaling up social projects could make a bigger difference than any number of clever new ideas.

Loneliness can kill you — but is it government’s job to solve it? From Denmark recruiting hairdressers to sniff out isolated clients to the UK’s appointment of a minister for loneliness, here’s how countries are starting to address this looming public health crisis.

A German mayor faced a knife attack for making refugees welcome. After a right-wing assailant carved a 15-centimetre wound into his neck, Andreas Hollstein redoubled integration efforts. The key, he found, is bringing locals into the process.


“We, the people working in public service, know that challenges are not solved by one person, one team, or one country. We know that challenges are solved by building bridges, not barriers” —The Apolitical Manifesto

Top Writing From Our Members in 2018

I said I work in public sector innovation. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” he replied. Civil servants are doing great things, but few people know about them. To curb cynicism about government work, we have to start recognising — and celebrating — the people breaking the mould to create better value for citizens.

Ten years on: Where is public sector innovation headed? Public organisations are being called on like never before to offer relevant answers to the concerns of citizens. These shifts could make public sector innovation deeper and more sustainable.

These 10 policy steps could give children back the freedom to play. There’s growing public concern that sedentary, screen-based entertainment has replaced real-world play for children. From pedestrianising streets to building adventure playgrounds, these solutions can change behaviour.

As Africa’s first woman president, I believe our future leaders must be female. The continent is headed in the right direction, says former leader of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — but Africa won’t truly change until it stops excluding women and girls from leadership.

Behavioural science can help governments better integrate migrants. Settling into a new country requires an understanding of complex rules and customs, often in a foreign language. Here are three ways countries can make it easier, from sending text prompts to providing translation services.

2018’s Best Resources for Public Servants

Learn to tell your policy story with Apolitical’s free online course. Today’s policymakers need to know how to get people interested in their work — which isn’t always easy. Our 15-minute introductory class will teach you how to be a compelling writer and presenter.

The skills you need for the government jobs of tomorrow: 100 ways to learn for free. Want to be a more competent communicator, or develop your data and digital capabilities? Apolitical has compiled the best online resources to help you brush up on the skills modern public servants need.

Apolitical’s digital government atlas: The world’s best guides and resources. There are hundreds of freely available e-government tools, but no one place to access them all — until now. With this collection, you’ll have everything you need to launch a digital revolution in your own department.

Reading list for government innovators: 12 essential books and reports. Skills like creative thinking and experimentation aren’t part of the average civil servant’s training, but are becoming critical to their success. Here’s what you should read to learn how to innovate in government.

And finally

‘Forest schools’, where kids play with saws and knives, are booming across Europe. Some 2,000 outdoor kindergartens in Germany alone give kids real tools to play and build things outside. Proponents say the kids end up ‘better socially, more creative, more innovative and happier’.


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