Public leaders share their top priorities for civil service reform

By on 08/12/2020 | Updated on 08/12/2020
Civil service leaders share their priorities for reform over the next year. Credit: Austris Augusts/Unsplash

From training to remuneration and culture change, senior officials from across the world discuss what’s on their agenda for change over the coming year

This year was no ordinary year, with the public health crisis and economic havoc wreaked by COVID-19. So we wanted to understand what reforms senior leaders from governments are focusing on over the next 12 months.

Here are their responses. If you would like to share some insights, feel free to leave a comment or email us at [email protected]. We are happy for you to share anonymously or be named.

Preparing for instability in Australia

“Before COVID-19 hit, we were already implementing a reform agenda after a major independent review of the Australian Public Service (APS). With COVID-19, the APS has shown genuine and exemplary reform-in-action.

“This is particularly true in terms of the collaborative leadership shown in response to the national health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our three main initiatives are:

  • Sustaining strong and coherent COVID-19 response and recovery efforts
  • Developing enterprise-wide approaches to digital and ICT architecture and investment
  • Strengthening workforce planning and capability.

“These reforms have empowered the APS to work as a connected enterprise. The challenge now is translating this change into business-as-usual to support the COVID-19 recovery. This is particularly important in the areas of digital transformation and long-term workforce capability as we prepare for a future in a less connected, prosperous and stable world.”

Stephanie Foster, deputy secretary governance, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia

Embedding changes in Singapore

“We must build on the significant transformation gains from COVID-19 to realise a better future public service. This means rethinking and accelerating transformation along 3 Ws:

  • Work – how we operate and deliver public services in the new normal
  • Workforce – how we equip our people with the new skills needed to do new work
  • Workplace – how we redesign and deliver a new working experience (both physical and virtual) that is productive, agile, flexible, and ensures the safety of our people as a priority.”

Leo Yip, head of the Singapore civil service 

Culture change in New Zealand

“We have recently passed the Public Service Act 2020 which provides a solid platform for a trusted, confident and collaborative public service into the future. The new act reinforces our key principles and values, and provides collaborative tools to help us work across agency boundaries.

“Our focus is now on ensuring that every public servant feels a connection to those principles and values, alongside working with senior leaders to build a stronger sense of team across the public service. We will also be using the new tools to achieve outcomes for individuals, families and communities. This will include delivering digital and face-to-face services in ways that reflect New Zealanders’ whole lives, rather than agency boundaries.”

Hannah Cameron, deputy commissioner, strategy and policy, Public Service Commission, New Zealand

Bringing the future to the present in Israel

“The COVID-19 crisis poses a great challenge for the economy in general and the public sector in particular. However, it is also a great opportunity to improve infrastructures and civil service readiness to deal with a complex and vague reality. COVID-19 has brought the future to the present and highlighted many of the existing gaps.

“The five main topics at the worktable in the coming year are:

1. Increasing trust in the civil service and public servants.

2. Expansion of digitisation and preparedness for a changing labour market – this includes the simplification of processes and an emphasis on employees’ skills.

3. Increasing employment flexibility. This includes developing new employment models, simplifying the recruitment processes, increasing mobility and remote work.

4. Increasing managerial flexibility and delegation of authority to the ministries.

5. Strengthening employee engagement, prevention of stress and burnout.”

Dr. Iris Nehemia, division head of strategic planning and policy, Office of the Prime Minister, Israel

Challenging mindsets in Germany

“1.     To improve the use of data at all levels of administration. This is why we intend to publish our first federal government data strategy.  
2.     To make all government services digitally accessible – and I’m not talking about PDF files to download.  
3.     But above all, to change the mindset and to rethink the traditional government structures.”

Jürgen Müller, director of digital policy at the Federal Chancellery, Germany

Ahead in the cloud in Malta

“Amongst the reform priorities for the coming year is digitalisation, enhanced by the uptake of technologies such as artificial intelligence, to develop more accessible and user-centric public services.

“The critical point of this reform will see the public service re-engineering most of its business processes and transitioning to cloud computing to provide end-to-end digital services.  This will change and improve the way the civil service operates at a corporate level while ensuring trust, accountability and transparency in decision-making and service delivery.”

Mario Cutajar, cabinet secretary and civil service head, Malta

Professional development in India

“The prime minister has said that departmental silos must give way to a holistic thinking, with the overall objective of ensuring “ease of living” for the citizen and “ease of doing business” for enterprises. Civil servants need clarity about their respective roles and the focus must shift from the conventional rule-based approach to a role-based profile.

“For this, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) is partnering with the government to provide online training for civil servants using the iGOT platform. Alongside the Karamyogi platform, launched by prime minister Modi on September 2, this will ensure that civil servants get regular updates on their domain competencies.”

Dr Sanjeev Chopra, director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India

Recruitment and retention in Slovenia

“In coming year we have an opportunity to renew the image of public service as an attractive workplace to draw in and retain new generations and talent.

“There are two projects in the pipeline that I would like to point out.  First, the change of the public sector salary system. We are currently accepting the draft of the changes, where the goal is to make a better link between the pay and employees’ results.

“Reforms to the concept and content of certain HR processes in state administration bodies has already been carried out. The next step is to establish a modern and technologically advanced information system to enable more efficient management and development of civil servants, more transparent HR processes and efficient recruitment. It will support the identification and development of civil servants’ competencies, monitoring their development, providing a basis for greater mobility and motivation of those in the state administration bodies, alongside identifying their training needs.”

Peter Pogačar, director general, Public Sector Directorate, Ministry of Public Administration, Slovenia

Leadership and remuneration in the Slovak Republic

“A key priority in Slovakia is leadership and remuneration of civil servants.

“The aim is to design a system solution to support and develop leadership, especially introducing a culture of leadership, into the civil service. This system will include the search for talent and future leaders, as well as preparing for further professional and personality development.

“Due to its cross-cutting and strategic nature, leadership development will be coordinated centrally by the Office of the Government. The concept will include analyses of:

  • The current state of the civil service in Slovakia
  • Remuneration and leadership systems in public administration in EU countries
  • Motivation and leadership in Slovakia.

“In terms of remuneration, the aim is to unify and streamline the system. This is so that the principles of efficient and fair remuneration are supported and it is connected with motivation and career growth.

“Other specific topics for reform include: strengthening and mapping the motivation and commitment of civil servants; and constructing a Central Civil Service Information System to house the data about all our civil servants. This also serves as an analytical and managerial tool for human resources. This tool will have been introduced by the end of 2021.”

Tatiana Janecková, secretary general, The Civil Service Office, the Slovak Republic

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected].

One Comment

  1. Brad Bass says:

    I see some common themes in these responses, one of them being increased engagement and retention (the two are related). The best way to engage employees in the civil service is to give them a pathway to present their ideas for policy and innovation. Many people join the public service to make a difference, but they rarely see the connection between this “making a difference” and their day-to-day work. This is not a call to change the work, but to provide employees with an opportunity to get their ideas heard/read, and if their ideas start to gain traction, an opportunity to leave their substantive positions in order to develop these ideas. Create the structure to allow original ideas to flow from the bottom up and your staff will be engaged because they will see opportunities to present their ideas for change.

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