Emerging Technologies

Could GovTech help rebuild trust through public innovation?

Night-time aerial image of Berlin: GovTech could be worth $1 trillion by 2028.

GovTech could be worth $1 trillion by 2028. Image: Unsplash/S. Widua

Stephan Mergenthaler
Head of Strategic Intelligence; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Sebastian Buckup
Head of Network and Partnerships; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Emerging Technologies

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • GovTech – government technology – is set to be one of the biggest software markets in the world and will be worth over $1 trillion by 2028.
  • GovTech can reinforce trust between citizens and the state provided solutions are effective, people-focused and tackling the digital divide.
  • At Davos 2024, this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum announced strategic partnerships with Germany and Ukraine to accelerate GovTech development.

Entrepreneurial civil servants, creative bureaucracies, agile stability, digital state.

These terms sound like oxymorons, yet they are foundational to tackling the world’s complex societal challenges. And these ideas are already becoming a reality in some parts of the world. Introducing what will become one of the biggest software markets in the world: government technology or GovTech.

GovTech is about applying digitization and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), advanced sensing, blockchain, advanced data processing etc., to improve the delivery of public services by increasing efficiency, lowering costs and creating entirely new public value.

The sector is estimated to be worth over $1 trillion by 2028 and is critical to making public services more efficient, effective and accessible for citizens. It will be the key to the government’s ability to deliver outcomes and build and sustain trust in a context of increasing contestation and rising expectations from digitally native citizens.

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Accelerating public innovation

At Davos 2024, this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum and the GovTech Campus Deutschland, a new technology and innovation platform co-founded by the German federal government and German federal states to accelerate government and public sector transformation, announced the establishment of the Global Government Technology Centre in Berlin (GGTC Berlin).

The GGTC will focus on public sector innovation, digital transformation and the application of emerging technologies in government and public sector organizations.

The new centre will act as a hub for the Forum’s GovTech Network, leveraging the deep national expertise of the GovTech Campus Deutschland as well as the Forum’s global communities and convening power. GGTC Berlin will launch workstreams to showcase and scale global best practices and help accelerate the digital transformation of government, creating new public value.

“We are on the cusp of the age of Government Technology. The scale of impact of technology on government and public administration has the potential to be more profound than any other period of government transformation in our history,” said Markus Richter, chairman of the board of GovTech Campus Deutschland and chief information officer of the German Federal Government.

“We are proud to partner with the World Economic Forum to build an international GovTech centre where new methods of cross-sectoral co-ideation, co-creation and co-learning can be tested, practiced and refined,” he added.

This announcement was followed by signing a letter of intent with Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation to establish a GovTech centre in Kyiv. Ukraine has proven itself to be a GovTech powerhouse and the Centre will focus on the digital transformation of government, the development of e-government and widespread digital literacy.

“We are excited to embark on this partnership,” said Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Development of Education, Science and Technology and Minister of Digital Transformation, Ukraine.

However, for GovTech to be truly transformative decision-makers first need to transform their approach to tackling the digital transformation of public services and the state.

A toolbox

GovTech is not a single technology. It is the application of a suite of technological tools to address public challenges. It encompasses digital public infrastructure – such as payments – and government service delivery – whether in healthcare, welfare, education or in times of national and international crisis.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, noted that the pandemic was a wake-up call to the importance of GovTech and digital public infrastructure.

There are already global success stories. Examples highlighted during Davos 2024 include Aadhaar, India’s digital identity system, which has seen near full-population uptake; Ukraine’s one-stop Diia application, already used by almost 20 million Ukrainians to access key documents including a first-of-its-kind digital passport; and PIX, the digital payments system in Brazil that is widening financial inclusion.

The drivers of these successes were collaboration, political will and values-driven creative thinking. There are key roles for citizens, technology developers and governments to design and implement similar initiatives in the future. Eva Maydell, a European Parliament member, said it’s important for early adopters of GovTech to share their success with the world.

People, not product

“It’s never about the technology. It’s about serving people and understanding their needs,” said Cina Lawson, Togo’s minister of digital economy and transformation. GovTech leaders, therefore, need to embrace a people-centred rather than a technology-centred perspective.

Effective GovTech requires governments to listen and respond to citizen needs actively. Equally, technology providers must listen to governments and understand their needs to deliver and co-create impactful public outcomes rather than adopt a traditional sales approach.

To succeed, governments must work with technology providers and citizens to ensure that GovTech is intelligible and useable. Indeed, GovTech is already expanding from connectivity to digital literacy and from coverage to usage. As Mykhalio Federov, deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation of Ukraine, put it: “It’s one thing to provide the service and another to analyze user data to continue transforming the quality of services.”

If you truly want to build, the public sector is where you need to be.

Bosun Tijani, Minister of Communication, Nigeria

Creative thinking

GovTech is tackling complex challenges and requires innovative thinking. When using technology to transform the relationship between government and citizens and respond to societal needs, there needs to be a framework of values and principles that guide development.

For Bosun Tijani, Nigeria’s minister of communication, innovation and digital economy, this makes it such an exciting and challenging space. “If you truly want to build, the public sector is where you need to be,” said Tijani. What’s more, there’s no “stealth mode” in GovTech and accountability is paramount.

Getting tech talent into government is, therefore, a priority to complement and enhance the work of policymakers and civil servants whose expertise in government processes is vital to public service delivery. That can be achieved through talent accelerators and public-private partnerships. It can also be enhanced through knowledge-sharing and community-building initiatives, such as Atrium, the digital platform co-created by the GovTech Campus Deutschland and the Forum.

Barriers persist

The enormous potential of GovTech is hampered by the digital divide in parts of the world that would benefit the most. The pandemic dramatically accelerated digitization worldwide, yet 33% of the global population (2.6 billion people) remains offline, highlighting persistent barriers to the affordability of devices and a lack of digital skills and access to digital infrastructure.

This is particularly pronounced in the Global South, where the lack of sophisticated connectivity infrastructure, such as 5G and fibre, constrain innovative technologies such as AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT).

These disparities highlight the urgent need to close the digital divide, not only for connectivity but also as a foundation for digital inclusion and impactful GovTech innovations. The EDISON Alliance, an initiative of the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is mobilizing private and public sector leaders to this end.

At the Annual Meeting, the alliance announced that partners have improved the lives of 784 million people through 320 initiatives across 127 countries via digital solutions. This significant progress moves the alliance closer to its goal of connecting the next billion people by 2025.

Leading to success

Successful GovTech innovation hinges on holistic leadership and organizational innovation. Government silos continue to be a challenge. To successfully transform digitally, governments must break out of these silos and build effective collaborative structures anchored on achieving clear outcomes.

This transformation also involves fostering team dynamics that are agile, iterative and adaptive. GovTech requires an entrepreneurial mindset that pools diverse expertise, drawing on insights from policymakers, academia, developers and, crucially, the end citizens themselves. Special purpose vehicles and public-private partnerships have been used to enable this organizational innovation.

As we look beyond Davos 2024, GovTech will continue to grow as a topic of key strategic interest to the Forum and global leaders. Emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain can potentially revolutionize public service delivery. At the same time, considerations regarding cybersecurity and data privacy will be essential to ensuring GovTech can deliver beneficial public outcomes and close the digital divide.

The newly launched GGTC Berlin and, upon signing, the GovTech centre in Ukraine will provide a platform to develop government technologies, amplify best practices and drive new value creation.

GovTech is stepping out of the shadow, shedding its image as a technical niche reserved for a few isolated “geeks” in government. Its potential lies in reshaping government for the digital era, expediting digital inclusivity, and revolutionizing service delivery. As governments grapple with unprecedented challenges, enhancing their capacity to deliver becomes vital in rebuilding trust between citizens and their governments. GovTech should, therefore, be at the very top of the priority lists of today’s public leaders.

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