Anticipatory Government

Guest blog by Urkhan Seyidov

Urkhan Seyidov is an expert in the field of innovation and strategic communication, a senior fellow of the Center for Political Psychology in Azerbaijan, and the author of two books: Innovation – Implementation Guidelines and Soft power and Public Diplomacy of Azerbaijan in the Digital Age. 

Imagine a gleaming government office tower in a modern city. Inside, new computers sit on every desk and flat screens line the walls. The 5G Internet connection ensures that the word’s data is a nanosecond away. As you pass through the revolving door into the lobby, a bureaucrat with a clipboard and pencil scribbles down your name and your business on a triplicate form and hustles away to the warren of offices behind the glass door. When the worker returns, you ask why he didn’t simply use the computer.

This is how we’ve always done it, he replies.

Government today often operates with 21st Century technology and a 20th Century mindset. Outmoded, linear models for thinking, problem-solving and decision-making render all that technology about as effective as the clipboard, the pencil and the triplicate form.

The COVID-19 pandemic made plain this weakness. A fast-moving virus that required an equally rapid response met with often unwieldy and slow-moving health bureaucracies grown stagnant with process.

Businesses over the past decade have created analytic ecosystems that marry technology, processes, people and a culture to create an environment meant to encourage the best possible decision making. These analytical tools, incorporated into the normal work stream, allow companies to quickly identify and act on both challenges and opportunities.

Governments, suffering from inertia and conservatism, have been slower to marry leading edge technology to new ways of decision-making, miring them in a reactive posture. It’s not a question of drafting more laws or creating more bureaucracies. Instead, it’s about a new way of thinking about problems.

The complexity of 21st Century problems — climate change, pandemics, income inequality, workforce development — require a more forward-thinking approach: anticipatory innovation governance.

More governments are drawing together the collective knowledge of the private sector, academia, technology and their own citizens and real-time data to both anticipate and solve problems. This “smart government” approach can free both the citizens and the officials who seek to serve them from the classic tangle of “red tape” that stymies creative problem-solving.

For example, the South Korean government has developed a new Research and Development Platform for Investment and Evaluation model that employs big data analytics and machine learning to assess disruptive changes in the technology landscape as well as identify potential opportunities for innovation across multiple government ministries. This approach streamlines collaboration among government agencies and the private sector, eliminates duplication of effort and integrates evidence-based and data-driven policy development with the objective of improvement the quality of public services for its citizens.

The World Economic Forum in 2017 created the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to bring together government, business, academia and civil society to develop and test new governance models. The centers, now in 13 countries, deploy Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to reinvent how governments deliver key services, such as education, transportation and healthcare.

Creating this paradigm is not simply about stocking the office with the latest gadgets or collecting more data. Technology alone will not create effective governance, nor will a one-size-fits-all approach. One country’s blueprint for successful marriage of technology and human intelligence is another country’s messy divorce.

“Smart” governance requires understanding of the problem’s roots, consideration of contextual factors, analysis of data, real-time iteration to account for changing inputs, and agile implementation, in one world it requires the use PDIA methodology. That begins first with the competence and skills of the civil servants — the human beings — who will guide the problem-solving paradigm. Rather than simply carry out proscribed policies, government workers will need to be trained to approach problems with agility and creativity, to make evidence-based decisions using big data, and to do it all with transparency.

There is only one way to achieve this: Governments must invest in training their workforces and in creating a separate organization to reinvent governance. Simply put, governments must disrupt their current processes not through copying other countries’ “best practices” or through technology transfer, but by creating within its organization an ethos of innovation and change.

Such investment will ultimately pay off in streamlined bureaucracy and cuts in the dreaded red tape.

Each country will have to decide for themselves what constitutes success, but optimizing business processes and making decision-making as transparent as possible will surely improve government functionality. Timely changes in public administration, creating synergy between technology and people without determent to the latter, is the only solution to existing problems.

Countries that fail to rethink their approach to governance fundamentally will face even greater challenges in the future.

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