The Responsive Government Survey in four charts: which countries lead the global pack?

By on 01/12/2021 | Updated on 04/01/2022

Global Government Forum and PA Consulting’s Responsive Government Survey examined the views of civil servants from nine countries on how responsive their government was to the changing demands and pressures of modern government.

The report found that civil servants across the board were proud of their teamworking abilities. Almost three-quarters (72%) of participants agreed their service excels at learning and responding rapidly to meet evolving citizen and end-user needs, with 19% disagreeing.

Three countries stand out as more confident than average in their responsiveness

Three countries stood out as being above average from the responses to the survey: Sweden was top of the list, followed by New Zealand and Denmark. Respondents from these three countries were also the most confident that being able to adapt to significant change was part of the civil service’s long-term strategy. The same three countries’ leaders were also highly positive that they: proactively seek to anticipate and respond to changing citizen/stakeholder needs; operate an environment where diverse teams can be assembled at short notice to solve problems; and continually develop the skills and capabilities of their workforce.

Canadian public servants are open to risk taking

The results from the Canadian survey showed leaders’ perceptions of their government’s responsiveness was broadly in line with the global averages, but the country stood out for its willingness to consider new things and experiment in government, with the score putting it in the top three of all surveyed countries on statements about leadership, staff empowerment and risk appetite. Alongside colleagues in the US, they were also most likely to say that decisions made by their line managers are always explained and understood by the teams affected.

Denmark leads on perceptions of adapting to change

Denmark stands out as having a strategy, according to survey respondents, that allows the government to adapt at pace to significant change.

The Danes were the most positive of all leadership cohorts that being able to adapt to significant change formed part of their organisations’ long-term strategy – 100% of them strongly agreed. All respondents also agreed that they work well together in teams to generate and implement solutions. They were more confident than peers in any other country about their efforts to collaborate outside their own teams.

Ronnie Eriksson, public sector expert, PA Consulting, says that for at least the past 20 years, the Danish government has been working with private sector partners to build an IT infrastructure connecting municipalities, regions and state agencies, so there is a “strong culture and tradition of collaboration” that has developed as result. However, only 40% of Danish leaders agreed that technology is available or can be developed on demand or that digital is embedded in processes from the start – a finding that surprised Eriksson.

He said the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has meant it has become very clear to politicians and senior leaders in public organisations that “what they always thought was just boring IT stuff suddenly makes things happen at a very rapid pace, because you’re able to just build on top of what’s already there”. For example, it took Denmark just three months to build and implement a coronavirus passport scheme. “All the data was there, the basic infrastructure was there, and they were able to push it out to all citizens on a very effective scale. Whereas, in other countries, it seems to be a huge task,” said Eriksson.

The UK’s bureaucracy barriers

The ratings from UK civil servants were among the lowest of the responding countries, with senior civil servants particularly pessimistic about bureaucracy, budgets, technology, human resources and collaboration. It also had the lowest score on ability to effectively capitalise on opportunities arising from uncertainty.

Only 12% of senior civil servants agreed there was little unnecessary bureaucracy in their organisation, with 85% disagreeing. Across the nine countries surveyed, almost three in five leaders agreed that their organisation provides an environment where people with a diverse range of skills and opinions are available at short notice to help problem solve. It was the UK leaders that brought the average down: just 38% of them agreed.

Problems around accessing data was also flagged by respondents, with fewer than one in three (31%) UK leaders strongly agreeing that the civil service has, or can quickly source, the required data, information and intelligence for our decision-making – with the same proportion strongly disagreeing.

Global Government Forum and PA Consulting will present the findings of the Responsive Government Survey during a webinar on 20 January 2022 – register here.

The 2021 survey is a pilot project that will expand in scope and coverage in future years.

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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