Weekly briefing: The world’s best digital governments; how to brand a city; rural America rises

Our rundown of what's working in global policy

Welcome to Apolitical’s briefing for the week of 13 August. Sign up here for a weekly email on how the world’s most pressing problems are being tackled. 

Top Stories

Mapped: the world’s best digital governments. Denmark tops the list thanks to a radical digital strategy that requires all citizens to access public services online. Here’s how the small Scandinavian nation made e-government the norm across its public sector.

Want to end sexual violence? Feminist self-defence training is the only proven solution. Programs that aim to change men show no solid evidence of reducing rape. Teaching women about consent, de-escalation and assertiveness, though controversial, shows significant and immediate reductions.

Cities are turning to brand consultants to improve their image — does it work? Critics call it a gimmick; a way to cover up bad policy with PR. We speak to someone in the industry who claims it can help governments position themselves as attractive to tourists, investors and skilled workers.

Thailand is cracking down on migrants — but still offering them health services. It’s the first country in the world to offer a health insurance plan for undocumented migrants. The idea is to stop the spread of diseases, but only about 9% of those who are eligible have registered.

Rural America rising: why professionals are moving to the countryside. High school graduates may be leaving in droves, but people in their 30s to 50s are returning. It’s an opportunity for small towns to reposition themselves as connected, resourced places where people can make their careers.

Top Writing From Our Members

New to the public service? Here’s how you can make an impact. Navigating bureaucracy is something public servants struggle with throughout their careers. To get a jumpstart, be clear about what you want, learn about change management — and be patient.
(Joseph Maltby, organisational change management, US Government)


Work in public sector innovation, or just interested in the field? Join us for our Innovation Labs Show & Tell, featuring Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, today at 4 pm BST.

Energy, Environment and Economic Opportunity

New Zealand will ban plastic bags. Shops were given six months to stop providing them or will face fines of up to $66,000. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invited citizens to contact the government and share their ideas about how the ban should be implemented.
(New Zealand Herald)

Australia wants to turn the Tasmanian wilderness into a giant battery. The utility will pump water from lower dams into higher ones, where it can be stored for use when demand is high. It could prevent the persistent power outages that have plagued southern Australia this summer.

Gender Equality

The UK will ban ads that show men failing at simple household tasks. Its advertising watchdog will crack down on ads that reinforce sexist stereotypes and traditional gender roles. “Tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities,” it said.

An Atlanta city is fixing its criminal justice system by putting black women in charge. It’s resulted in a focus on community policing and more sentences that mandate civic participation, like attending city council meetings, rather than jail time. Public offenders are assigned to all cases to level the playing field.
(The Washington Post)


“”Your biggest obstacle when you want to change something often isn’t the difficulty of doing it or the resources involved, but the beliefs and attitudes of the people who need to change” — Joseph Maltby, Organisational Change Management Specialist, US Government

Governance and Citizen Engagement

Boston gave teenagers a million dollars to spend on city improvements. In the world’s biggest youth-focused participatory budgeting program, 12- to 25-year-olds make decisions on everything from remodelling parks to installing WiFi on buses. More than 5,000 young people have participated.
(The Guardian)

India’s cleanest village is a model for the rest of the country. Meghalaya residents sweep the streets, pitch in for maintenance and plant flowers in public spaces. As Delhi and Mumbai face escalating waste crises, the prime minister lauded the village as the standard they should strive for.
(The New York Times)

A California city will let people vote more than once to boost minority representation. Although Mission Viejo is 17% Latinx, it hasn’t elected a Latinx council member in nine years. In 2020 it will trial ‘cumulative voting’, which gives citizens the same number of votes as there are seats up for election.

And finally

Australian MPs are overwhelmed by requests for free portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. After an article came out encouraging citizens to request the complimentary royal merchandise they’re entitled to under parliamentary code, civil servants are struggling to keep up with demand.
(The Guardian)

(Picture credit: Flickr/AMISOM Public Information)


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