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Reconfiguration of the Public Sector: Adapting Government to the Fast-Paced Technological Landscape

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Wa’ed Alshoubaki
September 29, 2023

The question of how to design and manage an ideal government system has been around as long as there have been governments. Still, the problem remains that there is no clear description of what the idyllic public sector looks like. Key issues that remain uncertain include the structure of government, how to manage that structure and the appropriate role of public administration in governance, according to Harman (1995). The fact is, public administration deals with several uncertainties, but in the current era of data and collective intelligence, the public sector must adopt technological changes to respond to these evolving ambiguities.

Indeed, public sector reforms in developed democracies have framed administrative reforms worldwide in the 20th and early 21st centuries. They have shifted away from traditional public administration and adopted a more flexible market approach, which has proven successful in those countries. However, these models have not yielded the same success in developing countries since political and administrative leaders have often promoted these reforms without considering their relevance to the local context. This has been further complicated by global turbulence, including wars, natural and man-made crises, climate change repercussions and a broad spectrum of human insecurities and accelerated changes.

This state of limbo postulates that public administration in a changing world requires an outside-in approach in order to consider the changes that occur in political, social, cultural and technological contexts. As of yet, the outside-in approach has enabled the government to respond effectively to the citizens’ needs and preferences.

Therefore, advanced technology methods and modern technologies require governments to make changes that streamline procedures, enhance government performance and ensure optimal distribution of resources. When reflecting on one of the pioneering thinkers, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, we can see how he emphasized the significant role of information technology in modern societies. He believed information could be a revolutionary force and highlighted how information and communication technology can create, transport and store information, knowledge and communication. Digital products have made it possible to transport information and knowledge at a faster pace and on a global level.

However, the current rapid technological changes that are accompanied by changes in the praxis and managerial concepts, such as mission-oriented innovation policies (MOIPs), technological innovation systems (TISs), multi-level perspective (MLP) and strategic niche management (SNM), have required governmental efforts to address these systemic changes through a transformative approach, as Stout (2013) highlighted.

In today’s technology-driven world, governments utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to automate their workflows and minimize repetitive tasks. The public sector handles enormous amounts of data, so increasing efficiency is critical. AI and automation can boost processing speed, reduce costs and provide quick services to the public.

Government agencies increasingly invest in AI technologies to address various public sector issues. According to a Deloitte report on using AI in government, 70 percent of business leaders support AI-driven government projects. Furthermore, 80 percent of government agencies are at the initial or developing stage of achieving digital maturity. By 2024, 75 percent of governments will have initiated at least three enterprise-wide hyper-automation initiatives.

One of the primary reasons for using AI in government processes is that AI technology can efficiently and accurately process vast amounts of data in a speedy and precise manner, thereby helping governments make informed decisions, also making them more responsive. In this vein, it can also detect patterns and trends that humans may not discern, facilitating proactive measures to address issues before they escalate into critical problems. Moreover, it saves millions of labor hours. This allows employees to focus on more essential tasks and results in the government providing better and faster services to the public. According to a Deloitte survey, automating government workers’ tasks can save around 96.7 million to 1.2 billion labor hours, potentially resulting in annual savings of about 3.3 billion to 41.1 billion.

Exploring the accentuated contrivances of the transformative approach to adopt the current technological development encompasses the government’s adoption by stimulation and AI-based scenario analysis and crowdsourcing in public policy making. In terms of the provision of public services and digitalization, governments are moving toward the omnichannel distribution of public services and working to establish public sector digital factories and cognitive automation. The penultimate technique is restructuring the government based on the clusters of the citizens’ priorities. Lastly, the human capital is assembled in the form of a talent cloud and coordinates the coexistence of human machines as public service providers.

Several countries have implemented a transformative approach in specific government ministries to quickly adapt to technological changes and accompany political and administrative data. A case in point is Ireland, which creatively pursued systemic change in its public services to enhance outcomes for those who utilize them (Thomas, 2020). In 2016, the Goal Program was initiated to promote public-service reform and innovation in nine strategic sectors of Ireland and Northern Ireland—the program was intended to foster systemic change in public services to enhance outcomes for service users. The CES collaborated with seven government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland to deliver the program. The Goal Program was intended to enhance capabilities by offering various exemplary projects external support. Boyle pointed out that the Goal Program should focus on a few of the existing large-scale sectoral reform programs that are “ready to go,” using them as a platform to instill novel working methods in public and civil service. The nine projects included developing evidence and knowledge management, building collaborative working practices and using data to inform policy.

The epilogue makes clear that the design and management of an ideal government system have been a long-standing issue with many governmental reform models and movements, as well as unanswered questions. However, advanced-technology methods and modern technologies have the potential to enable governments to make changes that streamline procedures, raise levels of government performance and ensure optimal allocation of resources. The transformative approach is a possible solution that could help governments quickly adapt to technological changes and accompanying political and administrative data. AI and automation can also address public sector issues, providing significant public service cost savings. It’s ensuing that government employees prioritize the most critical tasks at hand. By doing so, they can ensure that they are making the most of their time and resources and that they are able to deliver the best possible outcomes for the citizens they serve. In this way, governments can continue exploring and implementing innovative solutions to improve public administration and meet their citizens’ needs in an ever-changing world.

Author: Dr. Was’ed Alshoubaki is an Associate Professor of Public Administration at The University of Jordan School of Business.

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