VIDEO: Public sector innovation shifting away from ‘moving fast, breaking things’

By Si Ying Thian

As the focus shifts from efficient services to public value co-created by governments and citizens, this warrants a different set of questions asked and capabilities expected of civil servants, says UAE Prime Minister Office’s Giulio Quaggiotto.

UAE Prime Minister Office's Giulio Quaggiotto shares about the future of public sector innovation. Image: GovInsider.

It may seem really interesting and cool to adopt artificial intelligence (AI), says UAE Prime Minister Office’s Strategic Innovation Advisor, Giulio Quaggiotto.

“But when you ask what’s the value of it, you start asking a very different set of questions, particularly in terms of who is being left behind and whether [governments] understand what we have to deal with,” he adds.

He was speaking to GovInsider in a video interview at the Festival of Innovation (FOI) 2024 in April about avoiding “tech for tech’s sake” - where governments adopt tech to situations that may not need it. 

Faster is not always better

In his role, he takes a broad view of innovations from around the world, and gathers lessons learned for UAE’s public sector innovation journey. From his observations, he emphasised that faster is not always better.

Instead, he says that the question that all governments should be asking today should be around how public value is defined, and how it can be co-created with the citizens.

Prior to working for the UAE Prime Minister’s Office, Quaggiotto led UNDP’s Strategic Innovation unit, working with governments across the world to promote new approaches to tackle systemic challenges.

His previous experience spans several multilateral organisations such as WWF, the World Bank, and more. He is also an MIT Research Affiliate, focusing on lead user innovation.

“We've seen plenty of examples where moving fast and breaking things did not really work very well for the public sector,” he says.

In the case of AI, governments face a delicate balancing act of understanding, regulating and procuring for their use an emerging tech that is rapidly changing.

“You don’t want to stifle innovation but at the same time, you want to prevent bad things from happening.

“We see many times that the rush adoption of some technologies has unfortunately produced negative effects,” he explains.

Transformation as a moonshot

Quaggiotto likens government transformation to be like a butterfly, or a moonshot – in other words, a giant leap. 

Despite “an awful lot of talk about [government] transformation,” what most people usually mean is an incremental improvement, he says. 

“If it’s a genuine transformation, you’re not talking a faster caterpillar, but a butterfly.

“And a butterfly is being grown right now inside the public sector,” he says. 

He adds that some of these emerging examples are around how society is challenging and transforming the logic of how government or the public sector functions. 

Sharing an example that he came across around a Rwanda university replacing majors with missions, he explains that these missions are designed based on societal challenges. Curriculums are then designed around the missions. 

In this way, the skills taught are more aligned to the real-world, local contexts. 

Designing public sector innovation for “irreversibility” and long-term

One innovation unit in Indonesia’s public sector has included irreversibility as one of their design principles, Quaggiotto points out. 

Government changes happen very fast and oftentimes, it’s very difficult to maintain a long-term view, he adds.

He says that framing public sector innovation in this lens poses a different set of questions for civil servants, including:

Can we maintain a certain direction for innovation over time, despite all the changes happening domestically and internationally? 

How do you ensure you maintain a long-term sense of purpose and value, even when ministers or people change departments?

To find out more about what Quaggiotto has to say about how government structures will evolve alongside the push for public sector transformation, you can watch the panels he is part of:

Public Sector Renewal Panel: Charting the Future Amid Global Challenges
Think Small, Move Fast Debate: Future of Innovations: Lean Labs or Whole-of-Government Transformation?