Responsive Government Survey reveals impact of era of permacrisis

By on 27/04/2023 | Updated on 27/04/2023
A image of a chameleon to illustrate responsiveness in government

Public servants around the world are less confident in their governments’ ability to respond to change than they were in 2021, according to exclusive Global Government Forum research that reveals the impact of the era of ‘permacrisis’ on officials.

The second Responsive Government Survey found significant falls in how public servants rate their department or organisation’s ability to respond across a host of areas, from overall responsiveness to the use of digital and data and how to build a citizen-centric culture.

Compared to 2021, public and civil servants’ confidence in government responsiveness is declining, with fewer officials (67%) agreeing that their organisation excels at learning and responding rapidly to change compared to 72% in 2021.

The survey, conducted by Global Government Forum and PA Consulting, received 1,796 responses from participants, across nine different countries, in two phases between 26 May and 13 September 2022.

Read in full: Responsive Government Survey 2023

A fall in confidence around government responsiveness is recorded across a number of categories, reflecting the impact of an extended period of instability and insecurity on public servants, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, increased inflation, budgetary pressures, volatility caused by global conflicts, and mass industrial action.

For example, public servants’ confidence that their organisation has a cyclical process in place for improving services has fallen significantly – from 58% in 2021 to 45% in 2022. Likewise, there has also been a decline in the proportion of public servants who say that they have high confidence in their organisation’s contingency plans – from 56% in 2021 to 45% in 2022.

The research identified five key priorities for governments to ensure they improve their ability to react in the face of unprecedented change: rethinking responsiveness; embracing positive leadership; building a citizen-centric culture; going deeper with digital and data; and governing through a permacrisis.

Despite the fall in confidence, 71% of officials say that being able to adapt to significant change is part of their organisation’s long-term strategy. Encouragingly, over half of respondents believe that their organisation can capitalise on opportunities arising from uncertainty. And over half of officials (56%) are confident that they can access the information they need to make decisions in a crisis.

There is also broad agreement that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted digital government, and that, in an increasingly data-driven world, digital capability is crucial.

Michael Wernick, the Jarislowsky chair of public sector management at the University of Ottawa and Canada’s former cabinet secretary, said the decline in confidence scores was a “dashboard warning light” for government.

“There seems to be a very clear pattern of slowing of momentum and confidence,” he said. “It could be a cumulative impact of the wear and tear of pressure on public servants both pre- and post-pandemic.”

The Responsive Government Survey will be launched at a webinar on 9 May. Register now to hear from speakers including Michael Wernick and Alexander Evans.

Confidence in responsiveness higher among leaders

Across all segments of the report, the research reveals an interesting contrast between leaders and other respondent groups. Leaders feel more positively about their organisation’s performance, future, and employee morale than their rank-and-file colleagues.

While 63% of global public and civil servants say that their organisation adapts what it does based on what works, this rises to 71% of civil service leaders, and more leaders also agree morale is high in their organisation (64%) than the overall response score (54%).

Professor Alexander Evans, who teaches public policy at the London School of Economics and is a former strategy director at the UK Cabinet Office, says leaders are best placed to understand the bigger picture in organisations.

“If you’re sitting on the board or on the executive committee, you’re much more sighted on the scale of the challenges – but also the potential actions that can remedy them.”

However, Anders Persson, Sweden-based public sector digitalisation expert at PA, warned that leaders can be detached from the actual capabilities of their organisations.

“Given the high discrepancy between staff and leaders in most dimensions from resources to strategy, leaders need to step up,” he said.

Leaders are also more positive about how they perceive themselves to be performing. For example, 58% of managers and non-managers agree that leaders are open to doing things in new ways to deliver better public services. This rises to 73% of leaders, suggesting that leaders could do more to communicate and demonstrate their openness.

The Responsive Government Survey received 1,796 responses from participants with a detailed understanding of the drivers of organisational performance and responsiveness, over two phases between 26 May and 13 September 2022.

Respondents completed an online self-assessment questionnaire of 45 statements and four overarching declarations.

Register now: Responsive Government Survey 2023: success in the era of permacrisis

Want to write for GGF? We are always looking to hear from public and civil servants on the latest developments in their organisation – please get in touch below or email [email protected]

About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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