Looking Forward - Officials Reflect on Need for Foresight and Innovation in the Public Sector

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May 24, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Looking Forward - Officials Reflect on Need for Foresight and Innovation in the Public Sector

Participants explore next steps for Public Sector Strategy Network following three-day meeting Participants attending this year's annual meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Network pose for a group photo

Senior officials from governments and multilateral institutions went back to the future earlier this month as they met for the annual meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Network.

Nearly 30 participants from 16 countries took part in the three-day meeting titled Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves? The meeting was held at Salzburg Global Seminar in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and in cooperation with Apolitical.

The program supported interactive debate and hands-on problem-solving under the Chatham House Rule.  It provided a rare opportunity for senior officials to engage informally with a select group of dynamic peers, away from media and gatekeepers, and test out ideas for immediate follow-up at the technical level.

Through interactive debate and hands-on problem solving, participants discussed the top priorities and risks facing their countries around the world and were encouraged to develop new ways of thinking and consider alternative perspectives to apply to their day-to-day work.

Initial discussions focused on innovations in public service, optimizing procedures to counteract radical societal changes, and examining the role of future tech. Participants also worked through several case studies that focused on specific challenges they faced concerning workforce pressures and risks in three different countries to facilitate concrete exchange of ideas.

Participants reaffirmed the notion that identifying the problem is easy, while finding the solution is slightly more difficult. They broke up into smaller groups to explore the strategies for government reform and transformation in the areas of public finance, decentralization, and civil service reform.

A practical gamification session with simulated scenario planning allowed participants to examine the potential for advances in artificial intelligence in transforming how government will work and what steps they need to think about now to be prepared. After being divided into groups, participants explored multiple possible solutions and how they might react to events given their own differences in experience, expertise, or government role.  

The theme for the final day of the program was “Mechanisms for Change.” Participants reflected on their experiences with innovation and strategy teams advising national leadership, putting forward case studies which highlighted benefits and risks of new approaches.

As one participant summarized, the challenges faced by one government are challenges others have faced, are facing, and are likely to have tested solutions to resolve them. Year-round dialogue and exchange are essential to share ideas and experiences.

Speaking after the meeting, Charles Ehrlich, a program director at Salzburg Global Seminar, said, “The group of highly-thoughtful senior public servants who came together here at Schloss Leopoldskron underscored the need for governments to employ foresight, proactive innovation, and effective implementation across the public sector ecosystem.

“In the face of ever-more-rapid digital, financial, and societal disruptions, governments must constantly scan the horizon and anticipate trends. The conversations here considered how to strengthen public leadership and communication, sharing experiences, tools, and ideas, to create a congenial atmosphere of mutual support.”

The Public Sector Strategy Network first launched in 2010 as an annual high-level Round Table by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court. In 2017, Salzburg Global became the politically and geographically neutral convener of what has since become the Public Sector Strategy Network.  The Network is creating a dynamic platform for practical collaboration and impact, connecting governments and innovators leading the way to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead.


Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves? is part of the Public Sector Strategy Network, a multi-year initiative held in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and in cooperation with Apolitical. More information on this session can be found here.