OECD: How to develop skills for a digital government

Data and technology has the potential to transform government by enabling the implementation of more accessible and effective services. But the shift toward a more digital government requires civil servants to develop new skills and ways of thinking.

Faced with challenges in the retention and recruitment of talent, investment in the skills of the existing government workforce is needed. But how can governments map and attract the skills they need to advance digital transformation?

New research by OECD sheds light on several approaches to organising training activities and to fostering informal learning in the public sector. The research compares good practices in digital skill development across governments around the world. 

It highlights how relevant skills can be identified through competence frameworks, how they can be assessed, and how learning outcomes can be evaluated.  A dedicated framework or model helps to identify the competences that civil servants require to work in a digital-era government and to establish a common language across public authorities. This can help with recruitment, skills assessment, training, and strategic workforce planning. 

Skills assessments is another key recommendation, allowing public administrations to track skills gaps in their workforce, helping to better target learning opportunities, leading to a more efficient use of resources.

Given that resources are usually limited, public administrations face a trade-off between the learning intensity, or time spent on training, and its coverage of employees within government authorities. The report points out the benefits of both short, self-paced courses, which can easily be made accessible online to a large group of civil servants at a relatively low cost, and the longer, more intensive types of personalised coaching. These are typically only targeted at selected individuals or those at leadership level. One example is the Advanced Digital Cycle CSNum (Cycle Supérieur du Numérique), a leadership programme offered to French civil servants that takes several months. 

Given that many learning opportunities are voluntary, leading in some cases to a lack of uptake, the report found there are additional ways to incentivise participation. In some cases, civil servants receive visible badges or titles upon the completion of a course. Freeing up time for learning may be a frequent barrier, it said. 

Another key approach is the evaluation of learning opportunities for digital government. This provides evidence to understand whether the opportunities have been effective and how they could be improved in the future. Despite the clear benefits, "it is rarely done systematically", the report found. 

When it comes to the best approach to evaluation, the report suggests governments should focus on different dimensions, such as participant satisfaction, learning gain, changes in behaviour, and the impact of training on individual performance and organisational goals. This will provide a more well-rounded view while ensuring that any future learning programmes are structured around user-engagement. 

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