In this tech-powered new normal, the public sector plays a key role both as a regulator of the use of technologies and as a policymaker who decides how to use these tools in the delivery of public services.
Associate Professor Naomi Aoki of the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Public Policy stressed these points during the third of the four-part webinar series of the 6th Annual Public Policy Conference (APPC) organized by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) recently.
She explained that the COVID-19 crisis resulted in the extensive use of technologies in public services and programs such as contact tracing, mask purchase regulating system, chatbots, virus testing, online and digital schooling, telemedicine, and telework, to name a few.
Given the pressure on governments to digitalize services during this pandemic, Aoki came up with four mindsets that must be embodied by civil servants.
First is to be receptive to open innovation. According to Aoki, the pandemic requires the quick adoption of innovation in the delivery of public services. She said that the “key to high-performing and agile civil service [is the] willingness to work with certain external actors” or with “people who already have the capability and knowledge to innovate or who can offer ready-to-deploy innovations”.
Aoki mentioned some approaches for open innovation. One is for organizations to announce the types of innovation they are looking for and be willing to finance it. Another is to make data available to the public.
However, she noted some barriers that may come with open innovation such as cultural (i.e., resistance to external innovations) and institutional (i.e., lack of top-management support and buy-in within the agencies).
Second is to be mindful of design thinking and user orientation. Aoki said civil servants should practice user-design thinking by shifting from an ‘agency-focused’ to a ‘client-oriented’ mindset to identify which innovations are most useful to the public.
She also emphasized the importance of involving multiple stakeholders and users in reviewing policies or solutions before releasing them. This, according to Aoki, would enable policymakers to identify “blind spots and recognize any confusion of inconvenience” that users may encounter later on.
Third is to ensure public trust in technologies. “Machines need to be as trustworthy as the humans who deliver public services. It is important for the [citizens] to be able to trust public services, whether or not they are provided by machines or humans. People will not use machines if they do not trust them,” Aoki said.
To make people trust machines, the government may use public communication to introduce to citizens how these machines work and how it would help them.
Lastly, civil servants should care for the digitally disadvantaged. According to Aoki, some experts argued that the pandemic “has aggravated the impacts of digital inequalities socially and economically” putting digitally disadvantaged people at more risk to the virus. She explained that these people have the least access to digital information from health organizations and other important sectors of society. Hence, low digital literacy results in poor health literacy.
To resolve this issue, Aoki urged governments “to increase physical access to connected devices and the internet, and provide support to increase digital literacy” especially to digitally disadvantaged people.
The APPC is the main and culminating activity of the Development Policy Research Month (DPRM) celebration led by PIDS every September.
The DPRM aims to promote awareness and understanding of policy research's importance in formulating evidence-based policies, plans, and programs. This year’s DPRM theme is “Bouncing Back Together: Innovating Governance for the New Normal” or, in Filipino, “Makabagong Pamamahala para sa Sama-samang Pagbangon sa New Normal”. ###