Public service isn't simple, but it matters

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Armenia established its first National Disaster Observatory for the systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of disaster data. Photo: UNDP Armenia

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark really did the organization proud during her visit to Singapore recently. She clearly and crisply outlined to the World Cities Summit why the work of the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE) matters.

So what’s our message? It is this: If there is still anyone who is searching for simple blueprints, handy toolkits, easy answers or quick fixes to the challenges public service faces everywhere, forget it. It’s just too complex.

But don’t give up just yet! We might know a few other things, too.

First, we know that if your top politicians and top officials don’t collaborate, nothing is going to happen. So sort that out. 

Second, before you start on about how the public service has to do this or that, ask yourself, why are they going to bother? What’s in it for them? Are they strongly motivated?

Recall, too, that public service is much more than just “delivery.” The legitimacy on which government depends is in no small measure the outcome of trust in public service. So public administration has a profound importance. Citizens' perceptions of ethics in public service shape satisfaction with services, trust in governmental institutions, and citizens' attitudes to politics and political leaders. 

Third, think long-term. “Foresight” is not merely another tool for long-term planning. Rather, we at GCPSE believe that foresight methodologies, at which Singapore excels, offer an innovative way to empower developing countries to take charge of their own destinies.

So, working closely with the Prime Minister of Tonga, we intend at the 3rd UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to show how foresight can do exactly that, reducing vulnerability and building resilience. We plan to help low-income countries in Africa along the same lines, and in 2015 hold a high-level event on statesmanship, vision and foresight in the 21st century.

Fourth, innovate! You haven’t heard that one before! But now consider it from the official’s perspective: are they going to gain greater kudos? Pride in their work? That, in the end, is the secret of development: people must want to be masters of their own destiny. Indeed, why did I bother to come to the office today?  It must have been for the pleasure of writing this to you!