OECD: the four biggest trends in public sector innovation

Through an analysis of 1,084 different government projects from around the world, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has identified four key trends in public sector innovation: accountability, new approaches to care, preserving identities and strengthening equity, and engaging citizens.

The latest Global Innovation Report by OECD, which brings together over 4000 participants from more than 190 countries, demonstrates how governments are leveraging the power of digital to accelerate innovation.  

This comes as governments worldwide have been operating in a hugely challenging environment; with the outbreak of pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a series of global economic shocks. On top of this, they have been grappling with issues such as climate change, digital disruption and low levels of trust.

Despite these compounding challenges, public sector innovation has provided “bright spots and room for hope,” the report states. 

“Governments have been obliged and compelled to continuously innovate. A government cannot continue to deliver unless is innovates, unless it finds a solution for a problem that did not exist a year ago. Innovation is a stabilisation factor, a resilience factor for government,” said Mario Nava, Director-General of Structural Reform Support, European Commission at an OECD discussion on “Taking the pulse in OECD democracies.

The four leading trends identified in the report represent the maturity of government priorities and workstreams already underway, rather than the introduction of radically new concepts. They are as follows:

1. New forms of accountability 

This can be seen in the increasing number of  governments promoting algorithmic accountability, with a view to building trust with citizens. Beyond algorithms, governments are promoting new concepts of transparency with the evolution of Rules as Code–open and transparent machine-consumable versions of government rules.

Despite progress, policy efforts in these areas are often “scattered” and “lack coherence,” which limits the potential for collective learning, the report states. This underlines the need for further work on these topics, including fostering international alignment and comparability

2. New approaches to care

Disjointed health systems have prompted calls for more people-centred approaches, enabling governments to make use of emerging technologies to better understand patients and diseases.

The most powerful tool for revolutionising care is Artificial Intelligence (AI), with creative solutions coming from governments, GovTech startups and non-profits. However, there are still hurdles to overcome, including insufficient data and infrastructure and absence of agreement on tailored principles for trustworthy use of AI in healthcare. 

3. New methods for preserving identities

Against a backdrop of increased globalisation, governments are developing inclusive, data-driven initiatives to protect indigenous societies, who are more at risk. At the local level, governments are supporting the digitisation of cultures and launching strategies to address the cost-of-living crisis, unemployment and the digital divide.

At the global level, governments are working to counter forms of inequality within gig economy platforms by creating alternatives and ensuring future expansion is socially sustainable and respectful of workers’ rights. 

4. New ways of engaging citizens

Governments are adopting techniques to connect and collaborate with the public to build trust and engagement. For example, by forming citizens’ councils, promoting Citizen Science and AI localism approaches.

This comes as half of the respondents to OECD’s Trust Survey stated that the political system does not let them have a say in government decisions.

Secondary trends to watch

In addition to the four leading trends, a number of additional secondary themes have emerged from the report, including: 

  • Public administration transformation. Governments are innovating to transform nuts-and-bolts operations, such as procurement, training and reskilling and upskilling public servants.

  • New foundations for young people and intergenerational justice. Governments are developing solutions tailored to the needs of young people and giving a voice to future generations in today’s policy making.

  • Accelerating the path to net zero. Governments are taking creative approaches to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable approaches.

  • Strengthening and leveraging GovTech ecosystems. Governments are reaching beyond the public sector for innovative solutions and tapping into new ideas from agile start-ups.

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