United Nations (UN) Public Service Day, June 23, celebrates the value of public service to the community. It highlights the contribution of public service in the development process, recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue public-sector careers. In honour of this day, I reflect on critical public-sector competencies required in today’s increasingly complex and rapidly changing environment.
Globally, the public sector demands greater responsiveness and creativity than ever before. In addition to tight budgets and accountability pressures, public service across the world must contend with evolving technologies, complex public policy or ‘wicked’ issues, and intensifying globalization. These new dynamics require public servants to possess a particular set of competencies to execute their duties more effectively. The following are what I consider key public-sector competencies for today’s world.
Data Literacy under Digital Transformation
The world has been experiencing a data revolution in recent years, yet it is widely held that government is not making the best use of the data it produces or has access to. Governments should aim for all public servants to be ‘data literate’, that is that they appreciate the value of data and are able to work with data experts. Evidence-based policy (EBP) has been a long-held mantra of government. The data revolution provides new opportunities to ensure that information, evidence and data, not opinions and assumptions, are used to drive decision making.
Public servants must also be able to use social media as a tool to crowdsource ideas from citizens and provide platforms for policy discussions to overcome geographical and time-related barriers. Managing social media is a skill set not usually combined with policy expertise. This requires a new and constantly updated skill set to maximize potential.
Building Alliances for Change
The challenges faced by the public sector today demand greater and deeper collaboration. Public servants must be able to forge alliances with both internal and external partners to create support and demand for change. Collaborative governance is the primary governance model of the future as collaborative networks can tap into a wider body of knowledge, perspective and technology than any one organization, and can help to generate consensus around problems, definitions, potential solutions and collective implementation. Managing networks requires skills such as trust building, systems thinking, high-level interpersonal skills (mediation, negotiation, diplomacy), building consensus and joint problem solving.
Innovation through Co-creation
User centricity is also a recognized ingredient of public-sector innovation. To develop effective user-centred services and policies, officials must adopt participative approaches that involve users throughout the life of the project. Specific skills in this regard involve facilitation and design, ethnographic research, and online consultation and engagement. Public officials need to understand that designing policy and public services around how human beings think and interact will make it easier for them to use a product or service and thus for government to achieve desired policy outcomes.
In summary, the dynamic trends in the public sector will provoke innovation and transformation that will make government more responsive to the needs of citizens and an exciting environment in which to work. Public servants should expect to operate in a context of radical, ongoing, and accelerating changes which will require them to be data literate, innovative and able to forge strategic collaborations to solve complex policy problems.
Elmond Bandauko is an African Leaders of Tomorrow (ALT) scholar from Zimbabwe pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at Western University. The views expressed in this post are those of the author.
The ALT Scholarship Program is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and by the Mastercard Foundation. It is managed by CBIE in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada and in collaboration with the African Association of Public Administration and Management and the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration.