Philip Sinclair - We Need a Sustainable Engagement Mechanism for Co-delivery and Co-working




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May 30, 2018
by Maryam Ghaddar
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Philip Sinclair - We Need a Sustainable Engagement Mechanism for Co-delivery and Co-working

Fellow of the Judge Business School offers his experience leading innovation in the UK government Philip Sinclair speaking at Salzburg Global Seminar

For Philip Sinclair, the lack of trust in the public sector comes down to communication – or lack thereof. As someone who previously led innovation and growth in the UK government, Sinclair has had his fair share of experience trying to communicate change for the better. But what happens when a policy isn’t communicated effectively?

Sinclair considered this topic, and others, as a participant at the annual meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Network, held at Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg. Citing the rise in populism as an example, he said, “People are behaving in the way they’re behaving because… oftentimes they feel disconnected from government, its institutions and its policies. They may feel their needs aren’t being met, that public services are failing… and if they don’t get an answer to that from their government, then, of course they react in unpredictable ways, because sometimes that’s how people respond to uncertainty.”

Sinclair, now a fellow of the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, said the topics being discussed in Salzburg were “very relevant and timely.” Sinclair was among nearly 30 senior officials from governments and multilateral institutions engaging in active debate on matters such as long-term macro trends and immediate priorities in the public sector.

Capitalizing on his professional experience, Sinclair offered his peers insight into what he termed “government innovation” in the face of the global financial crisis, as a way to begin to grow the economy. He suggested the United Kingdom was adequate at innovation in the macroeconomic context, such as universities, tax incentives, and start-up ecosystems, but austerity had created a new imperative for innovation in the delivery of public services; government itself had to be more innovative.

“Government innovation uses the money government spends on public services (£230bn in the UK) as a driver for economic growth…it involved looking at new legislation for freeing up that money by making it more accessible through new procurement methods, and introducing prompt payment terms,” Sinclair reflected. “There was a big technology program associated with it as well, which was to build an online innovation platform to essentially surface all of this, and allow apps to be built on the data… then, once you put all of that apparatus and infrastructure in place, there is the question of how you use it in the civil service? How do you enable civil servants to be more innovative, to work with these innovative small firms and so forth and so on?”

Having founded two tech businesses, the entrepreneur stressed the importance of aiming for more positive outcomes with sets of technology and democratization that comes with it. Take government technology, for instance, something Sinclair suggested had a lot of potential regarding further cooperation with other members of the Network. He explained one of the main problems with gov-tech is its perceived cost; people believe what governments do is astronomically different to what goes on in the private sector.

“In many ways, procedurally, culturally, and a whole lot of other ways, it is. It has to be,” Sinclair said. “But when it comes to tools and technologies, in some respects, the government isn’t all that different – its more about how you use the technology in the government context, for better outcomes.”

In comparing specific industries, such as biotech, gov-tech and the future of mobility, and the potential for emerging technologies, he talked of the need for a new system of governance in the future. Sinclair said it involves looking at regulations, commonalities, ethical standards, and ownership of an industry’s use of technology from a shared governance perspective.

“We need to go into that thought process with positive intent, and look at the big picture in each of those policy domains… Frankly, there are people out there, like any innovation or new technology, who are trying to take things in the wrong direction, without considering the societal and ethical elements. As much as we’re going to push it in one direction, there will be someone else pushing it in another.”

When asked what he hoped to take away from discussions in Salzburg, looking at the directions being taken and opportunities for cooperation, Sinclair underlined the “serendipity” of such events.

“There’s always an element of that in these sorts of events because you’ve got people thinking about the same things from different points of view all in the same room… just understanding what your peers and colleagues across different geographical regions, specializations, and different institutions are thinking about, and how they are responding, is a big help.”

Sinclair stressed the significance of the Network’s purpose in getting a conversation going on these sorts of topics, but also keeping the dialogue alive on how we can begin to apply the ideas, perspectives and solutions exchanged here to the world at large.

“That’s actually where the first point of failure is in these things because everyone goes home, and the conversations all come to an end, or perhaps a couple continue maybe, but the momentum that you get behind the ideas and the conversations is lost… The longer-term plan would be to say, ‘Well, what would some sort of sustainable engagement mechanism look like for co-delivery and co-working?’ I think that should certainly be the objective… It’s hard of course because all these things are much easier said than done, but it would be tremendously valuable.”

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.