What on Earth is Connected Gov?

Public servants need to use a new approach.

Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators chronicles the story of the biggest creations of our time: the silicon chip, the personal computer, and the internet. And as he notes: “Most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively.” Creative geniuses helped push technology forwards, but it was “their ability to work as teams [that] made them even more creative,” Isaacson says. This matters, because government needs to be creative and innovate more than ever over the next decade. It faces huge challenges, and – as Peter Ho, Singapore’s former civil service head has noted – the world is becoming increasingly complex. The biggest challenges facing government are so-called ‘wicked problems’. These are policy areas where there are a vast number of different interest groups, all with differing opinions on the solution, and no obvious way forward that won’t cause difficulty for one of those groups. Immigration, climate change and terrorism are three notable wicked problems. To tackle them, government has to completely restructure. The 19th century model of federated departments has worked well for basic administration. But it does not work at all when it comes to wicked problems. Immigration, for example, is a matter for a labour ministry, an economic ministry, a welfare ministry, a border force and also a foreign ministry to work on. Traditional structures do not encourage them to collaborate and create new solutions. Singapore has followed Ho’s advice and created new structures to manage wicked problems. It has created coordinating bodies that bring together different agencies and set officials targets to work together on problems. There are often trade-offs to be made, but new structures ensure that solutions can be found through compromise. Across Asia, it has become increasingly common for government to set up centralised delivery units, such as PEMANDU in Malaysia, which drive policies through government and ensure that ministries collaborate. Singapore last year announced a Strategic Policy Unit, which is empowered to think of the big challenges over the next decade, and has the ability to order departments to use their budgets and manpower in certain ways. These units are enabled by new tools and technologies. Collaboration software, and the advent of cloud computing, means that new perspectives can be beamed in remotely. Evidence on a problem can be easily shared. And officials from different departments can debate a topic immediately without hierarchy getting in the way. This channel exists to study how government is working in new ways. We’ll be looking at agencies in Singapore such as the Municipal Services Office and the Strategic Policy Unit. In Malaysia, we’ll look at PEMANDU and its equivalents. We'll also look at connectivity - the underlying reason why government is able to do new things. And we'll look at how governments is increasing connectivity for its citizens as well. But we want your help to find more examples of successful collaboration and connectivity. We want to study how government is working in new ways: please let us know! Joshua@GovInsider.Asia