Geo-Economics and Politics

Why it’s time we change how we deliver public services

A civil servant prepares electoral documents for the upcoming second round of the regional elections in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA), in Nice, France

Image: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Sergio Andrade
Executive Director, Agenda Pública
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Latin America

In Latin America, several sectors of society consider the modernization of public services as a priority. Studies show that the inappropriate implementation of public policies results in low quality and inconsistent impacts. What causes this? And what are the alternatives that can provide better results for management and citizenship as a whole?

In many countries in the region, technical expertise, particularly regarding administrative law and budgetary mechanisms, have led to growing compartmentalization of public action. Complex problems regarding issues such as healthcare, the environment, poverty and economic growth have been allocated to specific areas, or bins, within the administration responsible for solving them. As a result, there is great fragmentation of efforts leading to an overlap of activities, confusion regarding jurisdiction and lack of consistency between policies that affect the same groups. This fragmentation is often exacerbated by the lack of ideological consistency among government coalitions, which hampers the coordination of public policies.

From the point of view of management, the lack of motivation and involvement of civil servants and the poor level of qualifications among staff, particularly in small municipalities, negatively affect performance. The implementation of policies becomes a real challenge, to which are added the usual dilemmas of funding, coordination and government articulation due to poorly disseminated priorities, gaps in incentive structures (persuasion, enforcement, conviction) and problems in standardization of norms, processes, results and team structure.

On the other hand, however, social dynamics have become more complex. It is not enough to provide access to basic education. It is necessary that this education be of a high quality, be inclusive and that classes are offered in different shifts. It is also imperative that schools have access to technologies and that they form citizens capable of critical thinking. This is just one example, but demands arise in all areas. Furthermore, the institutional environment creates additional needs by congregating mechanisms of accountability and social participation. The equation is truly complex. More must be done and in a better manner, with transparency and concrete results.

Amidst the major challenges in making policies work, several experiments have been carried out. These have involved players from both within and outside government, including civil society and companies, with a view to develop alternatives to provide public services and solutions for the implementation of policies. These models of open innovation and participatory governance combine technical and relational solutions, organizational and institutional resources in order to develop arrangements capable of organizing priorities, processes, funds and to form teams that are integrated and prepared to build more effective public policies.

This new structure of collaborative innovation, which is usually associated with a technological or scientific context, has become part of the government’s daily routine and an integral part of citizenship. The development of information technologies (ICT) resulted in new ways of social interaction that allow for better use of collective intelligence, as well as the exchange of experiences and knowledge among citizens, governments and the private sector to co-develop solutions for real problems and challenges that affect our societies.

In these new institutions, collaborative work is a driver for society’s innovative capacity. Contrary to models in which the government monopolizes solutions, open innovation experiences have gathered different social actors willing to proactively participate in discussions to solve complex problems. Thus, both civil society and the private sector, moved by a desire for social welfare, may be agents of change, capable of observing and identifying opportunities in problems, creating initiatives that may lead to social transformation with the active participation of those involved.

These arrangements also provide several alternatives to deal with the fragmentation of government action. As laboratories for transformation, they provide joint reflections on the nature of complex problems, possible solutions and necessary processes to manage change while favouring articulation between different government areas and between these areas and social actors willing to contribute with repertoires for the inter-sectorial practice of public action. From this perspective, open innovation models also represent an opportunity for connection between players that usually operate in a remarkably pulverized way. These are alternatives that may be applied by public administrations in Latin America to address dilemmas regarding quality, efficiency and effectiveness.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America is taking place in Medellin, Colombia from 16 to 17 June.

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Geo-Economics and PoliticsCivil Society
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