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Innovations on the future of the public sector were discussed at the Future of the Public Sector seminar

The public sector is facing major challenges: globalisation, changes in the social structure and new technologies are putting public actors in a new kind of situation. Consideration needs to be given to how the public sector can operate most effectively to benefit citizens through exploiting new forms of management and technologies.

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The public sector is facing major challenges: globalisation, changes in the social structure and new technologies are putting public actors in a new kind of situation. Consideration needs to be given to how the public sector can operate most effectively to benefit citizens through exploiting new forms of management and technologies. Around forty actors in the sector gathered at the invitation of the National Foresight Network at the Majvik Meeting and Convention Hotel on 27 November to discuss solutions to the challenges.

The keynote speeches at the seminar were given by Ha-Joon Chang, Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge, Don Tapscott, a Web 2.0 expert, and Mikko Kosonen, President of Sitra. The aim of the speakers was to provide a wide-ranging presentation on the global megatrends in various fields, and the participants operating within the public sector had the opportunity to consider the presentations with respect to the challenges facing the public sector in Finland.

Professor Ha-Joon Chang spoke about the role of governments in a changing world. According to the South Korean-born Chang, the role of the public sector is still very important throughout the world, irrespective of the liturgy on the market economy. Chang emphasised the cyclical nature of politics: currently, a new cycle is underway that is being affected by issues such as climate warming, the increasing complexity in the world, the globalisation of supranational companies, the rise of new nations, such as India, China, Russia and Brazil, and an ageing population.

– Climate warming will become a challenge for the public sector, for example, in as much that governments may soon have to intervene in very personal matters, such as how we consume, what we eat, how we take our holidays or travel. Another immense challenge is globalisation and how decisions can be taken in an increasingly complicated world in which the problems are global but governance is not. A government that can meet the changes must be visionary but also pragmatic and suitably critical, said Chang.

The wiki-generation is a challenge for governance

The Canadian consultant Don Tapscott, a Web 2.0 expert who is also known as a “wikiguru”, spoke about the challenge created by new technologies for the public sector. Tapscott commented that a generation is growing up that acts in a completely different way to previous generations.

– The huge change is connected to new Internet technology, which enables the use of interactive media online. The Internet generation reads and produces blogs and wikis, watches and produces videos, is empowered via the net by creating and taking part in various communities and by taking part in discussions with different people around the world in real time. This new generation will not be content with policies and decisions handed down from on high. The challenge for the public sector is therefore how the interactive opportunities created by Web 2.0 can be exploited and how the public sector can integrate these forms of participation as a part of politics.

Tapscott mentioned real-time discussions online between decision-makers and citizens on topical legislative issues or the test by the Green Party in Canada of writing its party manifesto as an open wiki online as opportunities for this kind of participation.

Success through strategic agility

Sitra’s President, Mikko Kosonen, spoke about strategic agility and how the concept could also be used in public organisations. Strategic agility means the organisation’s ability to act strategically in line with the vision but while nevertheless retaining an agility to act rapidly in the way demanded by the changes in the environment, should the conditions suddenly change.

– The failures of major companies are not usually even necessarily linked to the fact that the wrong decisions were made. Failures are often linked, however, to the fact that the right practices are continued for too long and as the operating environment changes, the old practices no longer work. Decision-makers must have the courage to change and try new ways of operating, said Kosonen..

The public sector must self-evidently have the kind of stability and regularity that companies, for example, cannot have. However, Kosonen stresses the fact that the public sector must also possess a sensitivity to changes and the courage to develop in the face of the current challenges..

See the seminar webcast »

More information

Timo Hämäläinen, director, Innovations Unit
firstname.lastname@sitra.fi, (09) 6189 9256

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