Hearing the Voice of the People: An Inflection Point in Public Service

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What are they really telling us?

In public service, we deal with a variety of internal and external stakeholders. From interdepartmental colleagues and bosses, to the general populace, businesses, nonprofits, special interest groups, media, academia and more, each of these groups represent a different voice with differing opinions and needs.

With so many voices – some conflicting – how do we make out what they are really telling us to ensure we are delivering the right services to the right people at the right time?

Having spent over 25 years in public service, this is an issue close to my heart.

In the public sector, we develop policies. And we deliver them in the form of projects, programs or services. Ideally, we also refine the implementation along the way as we get feedback from the ground.

But are we really formulating the right policies, delivering the right programs and implementing them right? Do they accurately reflect the voices of the various groups of stakeholders, or are we just satisfying one key group: Our bosses?

 

My burning issue: Robust policy implementation

Why do I have a fire in my belly regarding this issue?

The answer is simple. Being able to deliver policy as robustly (if not more) as developing it is critical to the wellness of our economy and society. The product of sound policy implementation directly results in positive economic, financial and societal outcomes for a country. For a citizen, that means access to higher value jobs, greater financial stability now and as he ages, as well as enhanced physical, emotional and mental health, so that he has the capacity to give back to society.

Doing it right also results in an engaged workforce. Yes, most public servants care about the outcomes of their work. Many (as I) joined to provide a social benefit rather than obtain an unbreakable ‘rice bowl’ offering nine-to-five hours job – which is a myth by the way. We feel fulfilment when we make a positive impact. And disenchantment when we cannot see the outcomes.

But delivering the right services to the right people at the right time first requires an accurate understanding of stakeholder needs, and increasingly their sentiments. We need an assimilated version of all the voices of the different groups that’s balanced and the ability to quickly make sense of it for decision-making.

Having been on both sides of the coin – policy formulation and delivery – I realize we are not always equipped with that. This is understandable in the past where we rely on nationwide surveys, participation forums, or grassroots consultations for stakeholder sentiments. Synthesizing information collected in this manner and then making sense of it at scale is manual and challenging. When collated results look skewed or misalign with expectations, public servants do what we are trained to do, we rely on experience to make decisions instead.

But that often creates a discernible chasm between rhetoric and reality. A gap between the vision of policymakers and the day-to-day reality of citizens. For example, productivity is important for economies, but does our reskilling and upskilling programs deliver the impact to productivity the country is looking for?

As public servants, we know the top line numbers. But do we also have the bottom-line data to understand the effect on the ground?

 

A passion for service: Helping governments innovate

The quest for answers brought me to where I am today – the solutions space.

Today’s technologies allow us to harness insights across the spectrum of society to enable sound action plans and decision-making. They allow us to hear citizens better, understand businesses more, empower our staff, and see the objectives of different stakeholder groups more clearly. Helping governments run better – become more proactive, foresighted and citizen-centric – with new technologies and innovations has given me a new way to continue my passion and zeal for service.

In my role, I don’t only evangelize technologies. I also help push the change envelope. Because innovation that matters goes beyond applying technology to policy development and delivery. It also requires you to move away from comfort zones. From merely satisfying the voices of bosses. To challenging areas where change can drive better economic and societal outcomes.

Such change compels collaboration across the public, private and social sectors with a shared sense of purpose in creating public benefit. In my position, the extensive networks and rich ecosystem of partners of the company give me opportunities to help governments bring people together to drive positive change.

 

An inflection point: The need to get governance right as Experience Matters

For governments, it’s critical to get this right. Because what’s presently at stake is not just a more efficient public sector. But a social fabric that’s strong and cohesive.

Across the world, we are seeing a climbing confidence crisis in democratic governance, with what appears to be mounting support for populist leaders who make extravagant promises. Citizens accustomed to speed in the digital era expect governments to respond more rapidly and provide more holistically, but without a corresponding willingness to contribute to public expenditure. People increasingly read, watch, listen and subscribe to viewpoints that coincide with their own – perhaps by volition, more likely by algorithms that feed them such information – which intensifies one-sided or even radical perspectives. Increasing instances of fake news worsen the situating – creating disaffection and restlessness that fragment societies.

All of these point to an imminent inflection point where need to hear the voice of the people is more important than ever. How governments harness innovative tools and the public, private and social ecosystems to do that so they inspire new confidence, even as they deliver public service on time and on point, will define the future of nations.

Indeed, let us remember that digital transformations are not just about more capable public administrations. But a world that is more connected in values; a world that abides by the rule of law; a future that is better for all.

That future is a Connected Experience for you, for me, for our children. And that above all, should inspire us.

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