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Article Article May 31st, 2018

The world turned upside down: how governments can change in changing times

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New technologies offer a route for governments to adapt to changing times, but there is no guarantee of success, say students at @LSEnews

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Governments are under pressure to improve service delivery and performance in a number of ways – and technology can help

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Thoughtful policies on data protection, ethics, and research and development are pre-requisites to a successful deployment of technology

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30-second summary

  • Megatrends such as changing demographics and urbanisation will create a number of challenges for public officials. Together they present a set of expectations that government will have to meet in order to maintain their legitimacy.
  • Technology can help government deliver efficient, high-quality services and build stronger, more collaborative relationships with citizens. But it's not guaranteed.
  • Web 2.0 technologies, artificial intelligence and distributed ledger technologies are three ways that government can meet these new demands. But they all require careful implementation and policies to protect people and encourage innovation

Today's governments and public servants grapple with a world in constant flux. The ease with which different societies and nations interconnect and influence each other is more pervasive than ever before. New institutions of power are sprouting up, massive demographic shifts are ongoing, citizens are more empowered, and at the same time climate change threatens our resources.

These megatrends shape our expectations of government and transform our basic human needs. If public servants want to keep up with the changing demands of their citizens, they will have to get creative about transforming service delivery and citizen engagement.

Technology can help government deliver efficient, high-quality services and build stronger, more collaborative relationships with citizens. But it's not guaranteed. Building the government of tomorrow requires thoughtful implementation of new technologies and policies to protect people and encourage innovation - only then will we have government that is connected, open and more representative of citizens' needs.

Changing times, changing government

People's needs and expectations are changing with the world around them. For example, an unprecedented empowerment of individuals is underway, driven by growth in income and education and the proliferation of information technology. This bolsters the desire for increased transparency and accountability as well as for more personalised services.

Some countries will see an ageing population and increased life expectancy, while others will experience a youth-bulge and higher rates of fertility. This will impact resources and drive the need for more customised services. Rising populations will intensify the demand for water, food and energy, putting further pressure on the environment and its resources. Citizens will expect governments to use these resources prudently and respond quickly to environmental needs.

Cities, too, are expanding. According to the UN, they will account for 66% of the world population by 2050 and the number of megacities is set to rise to 41 by 2030. This will put a strain on infrastructure and highlight the need for smart city technology. Governments will have to deploy resources wisely and collaborate closely with private companies and civic organisations.

And let's not forget the burgeoning influence of tech multinationals, which have an unprecedented amount of influence through their economic power and data ownership. Citizens will look to their governments to protect them from abuse of this power by establishing suitably robust regulations.

These megatrends will create a number of challenges for public officials. Together they present a set of expectations that government will have to meet in order to maintain their legitimacy.

Spotlighting service delivery

These new demands will put pressure on governments to improve service delivery and performance in a number of different ways. For starters, more personalised public services - reflecting the customisation we have come to expect of the private sector - are high on the agenda.

At the same time, better-informed citizens, growing populations, and constrained financial resources drive the need for a more efficient use of public resources, which can be achievedby greater cross-sector integration and collaboration. Innovation and social change often emerge outside government, and there is a growing desire to integrate these new developments into public service delivery.

There is also a need for closer engagement between citizens and government. This is because improvements in education and instant access to information via smartphones have increased citizens' expectations regarding transparency and communication. Rising citizen incomes drive a demand for online political participation, and information technology creates expectations of immediate feedback and suitable platforms for sharing input.

Technology as a transformational tool

There are several technologies that have the potential to help government meet these new demands.

Web 2.0 technologies, such as social media platforms and open APIs, can gather data effectively, communicate quickly and cheaply, and increase opportunities for feedback and coproduction with citizens. These technologies can also assist in gathering data about a citizen's personal preferences and integrating this feedback into policy in order to improve accountability.

Then there are artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like machine learning and natural language processing, which can instantly sort large amounts of data, automate many complex tasks, and offer impartiality - if they are well designed. AI's more efficient use of resources can free up public servants to engage more with citizens and diagnose problems and goals more effectively.

Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) can store data securely and streamline workflows and distribution channels. They can also help government to be more efficient with resources and improve services. The open nature of DLTs also makes it more transparent.

Towards a smarter government

In the best-case scenario, we see three major ways for government to use these technologies to become smarter and more connected with its citizens.

Firstly, government can combine algorithmic decision-making, data integration, and in-house talent and training. By gathering and monitoring citizens' requirements, automating tasks, and increasing the speed and cost-effectiveness of communication and processes, it can deliver personalised public services together with greater responsiveness and a more efficient use of resources.

Secondly, it can create open and networked service delivery based on private-social-public sector integration and collaboration. And thirdly, open coproduction platforms and data stewardship can boost transparency in a number of different ways. They can enable government to meet citizens' expectations of transparent decision-making. They can provide platforms for active engagement and participation through transparent communication channels. And they can offer impartiality, decentralised participation, e-voting, and opportunities for constant input and feedback.

In order for governments to leverage these technologies properly, they must integrate thoughtful policies on data protection, ethics, and research and development. They will also need to incorporate an effective strategy for engaging with citizens and recruiting the right talent in the public sector.

Easy? No. Important? Yes. Let's hope governments can rise to the challenge - if they do so, we all stand to benefit.

This article was written by LSE Master of Public Administration candidates for CPI as part of their Capstone project. The authors are:

Marius Stasiukaitis

Sid Rajgopalan

Tomo Yuda

Santiago Cortes-Leon

Lauren Cuscuna



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Written by:

LSE Master of Public Administration Capstone Team Class of 2018
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