Public Sector Strategy Round Table - Mechanisms for Change




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Jun 12, 2017
by Oscar Tollast and Nicole Bogart
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Public Sector Strategy Round Table - Mechanisms for Change

Participants consider session's most important takeaways and key steps to continue momentum Participants from Session 576 In the Spotlight: How can the Public Sector Excel under Changing Dynamics? pose for a group photo

The sixth round of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table ended on a high note following two days of in-depth discussions.

The Round Table, convened by Salzburg Global Seminar for the first time, challenged participants to anticipate new trends in the public sector, mitigate risks, and transform the work of government.

Salzburg Global acted as a politically- and geographically-neutral host, working in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, a global impact network for public sector innovation.

Session 576 - In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics? – brought senior government officials together with global thought leaders from the private sector and civil society.

Participants discussed complex challenges facing the public sector and squeezed resources, the impact of new technologies, ways to adapt education for a new age, and different scenarios for the future of work.

The program wrapped up on Monday afternoon with a musical performance on the Schloss Terrace by Jubilate, a choir from the University of Latvia. Before this, Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine led a discussion of highlights from this year’s Round Table, leading into key steps to continue positive engagement and momentum.

Clare summarized the Public Sector Strategy Round Table’s journey to date, as an initiative launched by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and Chatham House. In 2016, apolitical came on board to provide a year-round information and exchange platform that can provide customized support for participants’ most pressing problems.

2017 marked the expansion of the partnership to include Salzburg Global Seminar, building on its worldwide Fellowship and its cross-sector programs and implementation networks. Clare said Salzburg Global was “privileged” to be involved as it launched its 70th Anniversary celebrations.

Looking forward, the Round Table now needs a springboard for continuity. Clare recalled three priorities suggested by participants when assessing governments’ state of readiness for the financial and technological revolutions ahead: urgency, complexity, and trust. She added another keyword from her perspective: solidarity.

On behalf of the Round Table’s coalition of partners, Clare put forward a new name for this evolving international initiative: the Public Sector Strategy Network. The Network will have the flexibility to bring in new institutions and governments that want to collaborate, and the scope to appoint core members to jointly develop its architecture. Clare noted that “there is a shared understanding that every year we will seek to convene the Network at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, becoming a fixture in the annual calendar for top government changemakers.”

What role for the center of government?

Before Monday’s wrap-up session, participants spent the morning discussing several topics. The first plenary session examined the role of innovation or strategy groups at the heart of government, and how they can catalyze change from within to help governments anticipate trends and new measures for impact. Participants with hands-on experience in launching and running these strategy units discussed the process of collaborating with government bodies and leaders.

Governments require strong and disciplined support units to deliver advice and foster a cross-cutting culture of innovation. Speakers jointly agreed that to make an impact, strategy groups must look to the future, anticipating trends and disruptive forces. Through discussion, participants learned ways to make these units fit effectively into different government contexts and how they can match with the objectives and styles of different leaders.

Communication for the “Infobesity Era”

The discussion then shifted from planning to strategic communication and trust-building for the “infobesity era.” One symptom of infobesity, or information overload, is the difficulty of understanding an issue, synthesizing objective and balanced information, and making evidence-based decisions to advance solutions. Participants agreed that government bodies are faced with growing infobesity within societies, thanks to the ever-evolving tech landscape, social media, and the evolution of traditional media.

This evolution is forcing governments to think critically about what types of public communication are most effective, especially when reaching citizens. As one speaker pointed out, the tone of communication is highly influential. Fearful messages can be more powerful, affecting public opinion on political issues and even conflict resolution. Questions were also raised about the ‘tyranny of transparency’, and how much detail governments should provide when giving the public with information that could cause panic. However, another speaker noted that full and honest communication could help to restore much-needed trust within the public.

Participants then debated how governments can better use social media to listen and engage with citizens. France was highlighted as an example of a country starting to use social media to its benefit, capturing citizen attention with quirky videos that drive online conversations. On the other hand, governments face challenges when it comes to leveraging social media. One speaker noted that people often tune out, or “unfollow,” the information they don’t want to hear, choosing to follow only the political parties and government bodies they support and thus reinforcing the widespread problem of the echo chamber.

Building Innovative Public Partnerships

The 2016 Round Table had identified public-private partnerships as a critical priority on which governments would welcome open debate. This year’s participants therefore engaged in an interactive exercise to identify new trends and design features for innovative public-private partnerships, applying them to a real-life case study. Each table was asked to answer one of the following questions: Where have you seen ineffective partnerships? How can you create partnerships which are less vulnerable to political instability? What comparative values do different sectors bring? Where have you seen good public partnerships?

When identifying ineffective partnerships, participants said people should look out for pre-feasibility, the buy-in of each partner, specific legislation, and the sharing of risks. To protect partnerships from political instability, one participant said objectives should be framed in a non-partisan manner. Alternatively, alliances could be made with the major political parties. Partnerships could also include a broader range of participants, such as media organizations and academia. Participants considering comparative values across different sectors focused on the role of the government. Three principles of success suggested for a good public partnership include having openness to anyone with innovative ideas, true equality among partners, and a commitment to long-term collaboration.

Salzburg Global Seminar convened the sixth meeting of the Public Sector Strategy Round Table – “In the Spotlight: How Can the Public Sector Excel Under Changing Dynamics?” - in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and apolitical, and with the support of Chatham House. More information on the session can be found here.

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