20 measures for overhauling public administration in the coming decade

The public sector faces huge challenges over the coming decade.

Article based on knowledge insights by Rafael Catalá & Óscar Cortés

The scenario is exceptionally complex with enormous uncertainty and ever-increasing economic, environmental, geopolitical, social and technological risks.

Society is ageing, more demanding and more polarised than ever. Inequality is rising in lockstep with disparagement of institutions and loss of confidence in them. The terrain beneath our feet has shifted and digitalisation is the tsunami largely behind it all.

In the study Administration 2030: a transformative vision, published by the Public Sector Observatory, the PwC Foundation and EsadeGov shed light on the challenges in store for public administration over the next ten years.

The report warns of the need to bridge the gap between a landscape changing at breakneck speed and a public sector built on the premise of stability.

By 2030 public administration will have to be full-service and citizen-centred

“The challenge of overhauling public administration is now unavoidable because of its importance for a country’s economy and employment and its social significance,” say the study’s authors Rafael Catalá and Óscar Cortés.

What should public administration be like in 2030?

The study argues that public administration needs to redefine its mission to cater for the social demands which are set to emerge over the coming decade.

“By 2030 public administration will have to be full-service and citizen-centred with a more flexible bureaucracy that rapidly meets the public’s needs,” write the authors. “It should be digital, professional and highly skilled, operating at a reasonable cost and continuously evaluated.”

To address the challenges of this decade, the study suggests the following 20 measures to overhaul public administration.

Suggestions for full-service, citizen-centred public administration

Full public service

1. Switch from theoretical to real transparency that makes the work of public administration easier to grasp

Institutional quality will improve if transparency entails giving the general public useful information that is simple, clear and easy to grasp.

This does not mean “information overload” by publishing heaps of it in understandable language or dealing with an administrative procedure. It means being genuinely transparent.

2. Give teeth to the Transparency and Good Governance Council as an independent body

Provide it with legal and organisational authority to make its transparency policy oversight procedures fully effective and not merely tokenistic.

3. Engage public employees in opening up public administration

Raise awareness among public employees and enhance their open governance competencies. Provide them with the means and skills they need to listen and be more attuned to the public and deliver better answers to their suggestions.

Participatory processes also need to be mapped out and put in place.

4. Draw up a national plan for public sector integrity and fighting corruption

This strategy should enable all government agencies to work together to build a public integrity infrastructure that addresses the rollout of accountability systems, culture and mechanisms in line with the most advanced countries around us.

5. Promote the use of open data as a value-creation tool

The idea is to underpin data culture by putting greater emphasis on the quality and value of datasets rather than on their quantity. It also involves driving institution-based teamwork with user communities to make open data catalogues useful for machines, experts and society in general.

Suggestions for efficient and thrifty public administration

Public administration efficiency suggestions

6. Deconstruct the bureaucracy through a strategy for administrative simplification and streamlining

This strategy needs to rethink paperwork, eliminate duplication, prevent unnecessary requests for data already available to the administration and only apply the strictly necessary controls. 

The strategy should be steered by a specific agency as a cross-cutting unit which coordinates and leads inter-governmental cooperation and reuse of solutions while introducing “user experience” techniques and channelling complaints from the public and businesses in the event of malfunction.

7. Flatten the administrative structure and make it more flexible by decentralising business in conjunction with improved shared services

The idea is to resume public sector “agencification” by making administrative structures more self-sufficient, responsible and business-oriented with the counterweight of centralised, cross-cutting and efficient control units delivering services to the whole of government.

8. Professionalise public procurement through the Independent Public Procurement Control and Oversight Office

The Office is tasked with promoting this professionalisation so its structure should be revamped by giving it its own budget and ensuring its independence to modernise and simplify procurement. For example, it should lead the development and harmonisation of an electronic system which, albeit mandatory, has not yet really got off the ground.

9. Target independent evaluation of the quality of public expenditure and regulatory impact

The Spanish Independent Authority for Fiscal Responsibility needs to take on further competencies and institutional heft to play its role as an independent governmental control and oversight body and not just on its more financial side.

Its duties should be extended to include assessing regulatory impact and public policies, something that was not fully rolled out by the State Evaluation and Quality Agency and which following the latter’s closure has been dispersed across the Ministry concerned.

10. Extend transparency and incentives to public spending

Mechanisms should be put in place to encourage budget management centres to be strict in their allocation of funds by tying them to meeting targets (efficiency dividends), greater transparency in management outcomes (comparison rankings), etc.

Suggestions for digital, smart public administration

Digital administration

11. Speed up full digitalisation of public administration

Faster implementation should make it possible to achieve digital government that is user-friendly, responsible and secure by taking a multi-channel user perspective which emphasises usability without undermining guarantees, security or accessibility.

12. Implement the digital one-stop shop

This one-stop shop would be the single point of contact where the public’s data and services are integrated regardless of the division of responsibility.

It means switching from a territorial-based to a content-based approach where the public sector keeps ahead of the curve by delivering technological solutions to meet the public’s needs before people identify and demand them.

13. Set up a state digital services agency

This agency’s purpose would be fourfold: enhancing strategic governance in information technologies in Spanish public administration, promoting the development of shared services and reusing solutions, developing the digital one-stop shop and channelling partnership between other digital state agencies.

14. Start up public data offices as a means of successful digitalisation

All tiers of government should provide comprehensive, accurate and reliable data to thwart misinformation and improve decision-making and public management.

15. Automate administrative procedures and support services for the public and businesses

This means identifying usage cases featuring easily automated tasks which can be replaced by robots and virtual assistants while examining the legal implications in order to maintain safeguards.

Suggestions for professional, talented public administration

Talent in public administrations

16. Professionalise public management, not pack it with tenured civil servants

The aim is to shift towards a management model which is legally recognised as a distinct venue for managing political direction and public employee careers which delivers institutional stability and complies with standards of merit and ability.

17. Devise a plan to rejuvenate the public sector workforce

This proposal would be a driver of internal change in public administration and make it more accessible to society.

The plan needs to include measures to prevent the loss of knowhow and expertise, bring in new managerial talent, promote horizontal mobility, relocate resources based on new needs, rethink the leadership model and promote gender parity in management positions.

18. Promote natural workforce adjustment to reconvert public employment

This involves leveraging the impact of digitalisation and an ageing workforce to upend the current pyramid by getting rid of low-skilled posts and expanding ones which generate greater value.

19. Design merit- and flexibility-based hiring and careers

This proposal would bring an end to exclusively rote-learning civil service exams while extending mandatory performance assessment as a criterion for professional development. It would also link careers and reskilling and upskilling plans with greater flexibility to foster various types of mobility.

20. Evaluate senior public service posts and make them market-competitive

The aim of this measure is to make public administration attractive to the finest talent in the market.

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