U.S. public agencies at the federal, state and local levels – and governments across the world – have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic in various ways. Public administration professionals are navigating through the heavy economic and social pressures they’ve faced since the start of the pandemic, and they’ve learned about the need for flexibility and adaptability within multi-level governance systems.
Although the pandemic has caused many issues and challenges in public administration, there are also other trends worth monitoring. In this article, we explore eight current trends and issues in public administration, including those directly connected to the pandemic and those that aren’t.
1. Increased Digital Governance
The complications of the COVID-19 pandemic have ushered in the next generation of government digitization. For many public agencies, digital transformation went from "good to have" to "must-have." Governments have sped their digital journey along three important dimensions to accommodate the spike in service demand while working virtually:
- Building a more digitally-skilled staff.
- Growing their digital infrastructure.
- Investing in citizen connection.
2. Improved Data Management
Within and beyond government, data is becoming increasingly important. Public agencies are developing new ways to maximize the value of the data they have, including sharing it correctly and ethically. The trend toward fluid, dynamic data is transforming how government and its partners in academia, charities and the commercial sector utilize and exchange data around the world.
This can include repurposing data to acquire fresh insights into the past and present, as well as making informed projections about the future. Organizations can create programs that are based on an intelligence architecture. Past performance, along with real-time data, can help public administration officials make better decisions for the future.
3. Anticipatory Public Services
Citizens are increasingly receiving tailored, seamless and proactive services in their daily lives, and they expect the same from government entities. For example, state and local agencies are exploring the increased use of digital tools – such as automated text message reminders – when administering the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
In order to transform their services and realize this idea of seamless service delivery, governments are pursuing several strategies, such as:
- Committing to entirely digital services.
- Constructing infrastructure to enable such seamless services.
- Establishing proactive services based on life events.
4. Comprehensive Cybersecurity Measures
With government agencies investing more in digitization – including more efforts in using data and anticipatory services – cybercriminals now have more potential targets in the public sector. Improving the nation’s overall cybersecurity is a national priority, as a single cyberattack on one government target can pose a danger to a whole industry or sector. Government officials are working to break down internal silos, identify vulnerabilities, and employ skilled cybersecurity professionals at all levels.
5. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Another concern related to increased digitization and data usage is ensuring that government agencies also prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion. Responsible organizations are now concentrating more on the underlying causes of systemic inequalities and examining how their policies are produced, implemented and reviewed. Some of the approaches being used are:
- Accessible design of government services.
- Co-creation and citizen engagement.
- Data sovereignty and equity.
- Equitable access to public goods.
6. Flexible and Remote Workplaces
Organizations are rethinking how to carry out their missions. The pandemic brought the future of government employment into the present, from remote labor to telemedicine and online classrooms. This direction coincides with the rise of flexible and remote workplaces, including methods for managing a distributed workforce and providing high-quality citizen services remotely.
7. Agile Administration
Again, the COVID-19 pandemic underlined the importance of rapid, flexible and mission-driven governance, and public administration offices across the globe have demonstrated that they are up to the task. Government entities must be able to make quick judgments and move ahead with confidence, especially during emergencies. Policymaking, legislation, procurement and the workforce are all examples of where this is needed.
8. Rebuilding Government Trust
In the U.S., trust in the government has hovered near historic lows for years. One of the keys to rebuilding this trust is understanding that “the government” is not one entity; it’s composed of many different agencies that fulfill different roles and offer different services.
Deloitte Insights, a global research agency, proposed the following six “archetypes” of government agencies, each with their own set of considerations and strategies for restoring trust:
- Educator: Impart knowledge, skills and resources to inform, influence or drive an outcome (example: Census Bureau).
- Enforcer: Enforce rules and regulations by detecting wrongdoing and enacting consequences (example: law enforcement agencies).
- Innovator: Drive new ways of thinking and doing or support the innovation of others through investment (example: NASA).
- Regulator: Develop rules and regulations that effectively deter undesired or illegal behaviors (example: Food and Drug Administration).
- Retailer: Offer goods and services to external customers or staff in a competitive environment (example: U.S. Postal Service).
- Retailer-Like: Provide a service, often for a fee, but no competitive alternative exists (example: Department of Motor Vehicles).
Government agencies can identity their archetype, focus on their public perception, study what has worked for other agencies within their archetype, and build strategies to strengthen their perception. It can be a complicated challenge, but rebuilding government trust is possible.
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