Insights: Looking ahead into the future of government
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Insights: Looking ahead into the future of government

Insights: Looking ahead into the future of government

We explore the four fundamental changes governments should make to better meet today’s complex challenges

Dr Christopher Daniel_MD and senior partner BCG

In the post-Covid era, powerful forces are transforming society — creating challenges for governments around the world. So far, however, governments are slow at responding to these societal shifts. They continue to operate the way they have for centuries, with structures that are hierarchical, siloed and bureaucratic. But the speed of social change is too great for most governments to handle in their current form. And the pace is likely to accelerate.

The time has come to fundamentally re-examine and remake the structure of government. Four fundamental changes governments should make to better meet today’s complex challenges.

  • First, they should move away from silos through creating priority clusters. These would span a number of traditional ministries and agencies and manage specific issues that affect citizens directly.
  • Second, they should establish functional accelerators that build expertise in critical areas—advanced analytics or artificial intelligence, for example. Third, they must adopt agile ways of working, using cross-functional teams to drive innovation through rapid experimentation and learning.
  • Fourth, governments must redesign the way they interact with citizens, creating a streamlined, one-stop shop where people can access the services and assistance they need.

Organising around priority cluster
Governments should be organised by priority clusters instead of by individual entities. Clusters are policy areas that are connected or have significant overlap. These clusters should be defined by the everyday lives and needs of citizens. Education and employment are one example of a priority cluster. Health and welfare, which encompass healthcare, nutrition, social support, and retirement, are another. Certainly not all departments or ministries are candidates for a priority cluster.

Some, such as justice organisations — known as “public goods” — might continue to operate best as distinct entities. But as complexity grows, the number of areas with overlap and linkages—and the strength of those interdependencies — will increase.

Creating functional accelerators
Overall, accelerators fill three important roles:

  • Concept Incubator: Through their work at the cutting edge of their field, accelerators are familiar with emerging opportunities. They filter and refine those opportunities to ultimately propose the most viable ones for implementation.
  • Upskilling: Accelerators act as talent pools from which teams across government can draw resources for developing new programs or policies.
  • Research and development: Accelerators leverage their experience to produce studies and reports, and conduct additional research, to advance their field or topic.

Introducing agile ways of working
Agile ways of working have their roots in software development in the 1990s. The philosophy is simple: give a team the space and autonomy to innovate, and organise the process around short cycles, or “sprints,” that focus on getting to a “good enough” solution — rather than perfection.

Establishing a single face of government
Just as the structure of a government should reflect the needs and priorities of its citizens, so, too, should the ways in which services are delivered. This means moving from providing services through a plethora of separate departments, agencies, and ministries toward a more integrated system — what is known as a single face of government. This approach allows for the streamlined offering of many standard services — and the customisation of services that require it.

To this end, three options come to mind:

  • The integration of customer-facing activities. Using this approach, a government provides access to public services by integrating all front-end channels, including its web portal, call centers and physical offices. The back-end systems and processes for delivering services are left largely unchanged.
  • End-to-end integration within priority clusters. Using this approach, a government integrates the front end and the back end, respectively, for specific priority clusters.
  • The creation of a single end-to-end provider for all services. This is the most ambitious approach, with the front-end channels and back-end systems and processes for all government services being brought together under one entity.

Governments that fail to adapt will be ineffective at providing solutions to the problems and concerns of their citizens. The solutions that are needed include a system for lifelong education that helps workers remain competitive in a rapidly changing labour market; clear and easy access to critical government services; and adequate safeguards and regulations in new or transformed industries.

Ultimately, governments that come up short in such areas will see their legitimacy suffer; citizens will be more inclined to limit government resources and less willing to engage with their government. Governments that are able to transform will deliver more impact for citizens — and strengthen their credibility and standing with the public they serve.

Dr  Christopher Daniel is the managing director and senior partner, Boston Consulting Group

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