Department of Economic and Social Affairs Public Institutions
Stimulating public sector innovation through digital technology and measuring the impact of digital government
31 March 2023
Henry blog

Digital divide in a growing world


In November 2022, the world population reached 8 billion and it is expected to continue to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030. The world is also expected to continue urbanizing - from 56 per cent of the total population living in urban areas in 2021 to 68 per cent in 2050. This would result in an increase of 2.2 billion urban dwellers, living mostly in Africa and Asia. In 2022, 73 per cent of the world’s population over 10 years of age owned a mobile phone (compared to 67 per cent in 2019). The number of internet users climbed to 5.3 billion (66 per cent of global population), which represented an increase of 24 per cent since 2019. However, 2.7 billion people remained offline. In addition, social media users nearly doubled from 2.3 billion in 2016, to 4.2 billion in 2021.


This fast pace of the world population’s involvement in the digital sphere, paired with rapid technological change involving new and emerging technologies, significantly affects the development of public administration systems worldwide. The aim is to make sure that these developments are making the lives of people better and support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and its Goals. Going forward, efforts are urgently needed to, among others, address digital divides, improve data governance, and mitigate risks arising from the use of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and social media, through new policy and regulatory regimes and standards.


Ensuring broad digital access


National digital strategies should focus on concrete results and ensure widespread introduction of digital technologies which is particularly important to close digital divides within and between countries. Overall, they should aim at enhancing the lives and well-being of people. One main challenge of a transition to large-scale implementation of innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), is the removal of barriers that prevent their widespread use such as the difficulty for developers to access unbiased and complete datasets.


Development of domestic technologies and software products


As part of their national digital strategies, States should stimulate the development of and purchase critically important domestic information technology, carried out to meet State and municipal needs, which could in turn make them more digitally empowered, including by allocating annual budgets for their development.  Investments and incentives to support domestic development and manufacturing could be used to facilitate the digitalization of public administrations. Some countries, for example, introduced policies to reduce taxes for organizations working in the field of information technology.


End-to-end technologies


The further development of end-to-end technological solutions should be encouraged given their impact on structural changes in the economy, on the creation of new industries and businesses and on the production of technologically advanced and innovative products and services. There is, for example, a need to move away from isolated experiments and pilot initiatives to the launch of end-to-end AI solutions, especially in areas that determine the quality of human life. Such technologies should become available as soon as possible to serve people and help achieve the 2030 Agenda.


Public sector engineers and IT specialists


Innovative technological projects are not going to be feasible without improving the quality of training for engineers and IT specialists. Their education should remain part of school curricula. In addition, educating a new generation of engineers and IT specialists in developing countries should be supported by international organizations and bilateral donors. A related important measure is also ensuring adequate renumeration and financing to improve the living conditions of public sector workers involved in the field of information technology, especially to discourage brain drain from developing countries.


Information security


The security of information systems and communication networks of public institutions needs to be improved, particularly to reduce the risks of leaks and misuse of confidential information and personal data of citizens. This can, among others, be achieved through stricter review and guidance on the use of official equipment and information and communication tools.


Use of cryptocurrency in financial transactions


A notable trend of digitalization has been the growth in cryptocurrency markets, which calls for a completely new form of regulatory oversight by States. Cryptocurrencies are secured using cryptographic techniques. Transactions are done digitally through encrypted technology known as blockchain. The use of cryptocurrencies comes with opportunities but also challenges, which could damage public administration systems and undermine stability, especially in developing countries. Among others, it could lead to financial stability risks. In addition, cryptocurrencies may become a widespread means of payment and even replace domestic currencies unofficially, which could endanger the monetary sovereignty of countries. A question also arises regarding the calculation and remittance of taxes when making transactions in cryptocurrency.


By Henry Sardaryan Member of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Dean, School of Governance and Politics, Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russian Federation



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Promoting the effective governance principle of participation to anchor the whole-of-society and the whole-of-government approaches and meet the SDGs
31 March 2023
Rolf Alter blog

The principle of participation is a fundamental principle among the 11 Principles of Effective Governance for Sustainable Development adopted by ECOSOC in 2018. It is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and included in several Sustainable Development Goals and targets, especially SDG16.


The principle of participation means that to have an effective State, all significant political groups should be actively involved in matters that directly affect them and have a chance to influence policy. This principle is subject to different definitions that may lead to confusion between public participation, access to information, social responsibility, citizen engagement, and it is also subject to diverse typologies. One seminal example of these typologies is the “ Ladder of Citizen Participation” by Sherry Arnstein (1969). It notes that citizen participation can range from “non-participation” (through manipulation and therapy); to “tokenism” (through informing, consultation, and placation) to “citizen control” (through partnership, delegation and citizen control) which is the ideal option and model. The International Association for Public Participation (IAPP) identified five general modes of public participation, namely inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower, indicating an increasing level of shared decision authority. 


Why do we need to promote and anchor concretely public participation?


There is no need to recall that participation is a human right, essential to building peaceful and resilient societies, and has a central place in international law, based on diverse international, regional, and national legal instruments, particularly those relating to the environment. It is also a cornerstone of the entire sustainable development dynamic for “The World We Want”, which leaves no one behind. The World We Want requires in fact a global and active mobilization of all decision-makers and stakeholders. Public participation contributes to sustainable State-building as a pillar of democracy, and as an enabler to build peaceful and stable States and promote sustainable development. It is also a key lever to empower all stakeholders, in particular at the subnational level to increase trust in local and regional public institutions, to improve public service delivery, and to promote the well-being of entire populations, citizens, and local communities. Finally, public participation contributes to the promotion and anchoring of effective governance, namely effectiveness, accountability, and inclusiveness.


The necessity and urgency to create an enabling environment for public participation


Dealing with the world of multiple crises which is threatening order, peace, security, stability, democracy, well-being, and sustainable development, it becomes urgent to create a favorable, encouraging and attractive environment for public participation to restore hope and rebuild trust in political leaders and public institutions. However, there is no ideal formula, or miracle recipe or a unique approach valid everywhere and at any time. The national context matters. Public participation has to take into account the history, the level of development, the social capital, the institutional arrangements put in place, the priorities, the objectives and available resources.


Obstacles faced by public participation


Public participation faces a multitude of obstacles, including the existence of different forms of resistance to change and to participation in political and public life from political leaders, politicians, political parties and civil servants. Public participation is oftentimes seen as a risk to lose or reduce power and authority, with the presentation of various arguments to deny or block public participation, such as the lack of citizen interest, the fact that citizens "don not understand what it is all about" or that "It is a waste of time and resources"! Such behaviors have been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic and the state of global health emergency.


Without awareness, training and preparation, civil servants can thus prove to be a serious obstacle to effective public participation, because they are the ones deciding on the degree of participation and on who should participate and whether to take into account the contributions of citizens or not. They are also in charge of implementing and controlling administrative and financial resources, not to mention that they are in charge of the control of information and data to be communicated to leaders, politicians and decision-makers.


Building blocks of effective participation


An effective public participation requires:


- Strong political will, a change of mindsets, continuous daily efforts at all levels of governance, and capitalization of reforms. This requires integration, coherence, coordination at the global, horizontal and vertical level; consultation, dialogue, concertation, a continuous quest for consensus, and coherent, rational and concerted decision-making processes.

- An equal participation of all stakeholders in a spirit of mutual trust and respect, taking into account the national context specific to each State. This requires the preparation and organization of free, fair and transparent elections, the fight against dominant interest groups, taking appropriate measures to leave no one behind, and providing equal support to all stakeholders regardless of their conditions or background.

- Recognizing, valuing and supporting the dynamic role of civil society through all its different components, which requires involving civil society in decision-making processes, having a proactive civil society; giving civil society the right to make proposals (See for example Morocco, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavian Countries) and taking into consideration their participatory initiatives.

- Adequate means of implementation, which requires allocation of appropriate financial resources, existence of professional and competent human resources and civil servants, implementation of measures for learning, training, capacity-building, peer learning and learning by doing, as well as taking into account best practices and lessons learned;

- Investing in civic education to make sure that citizens are not considered only just taxpayers, voters, and consumers of public services! Civic education is a key lever for public participation, making entire populations, citizens and local communities aware of their roles, responsibilities, rights, duties and obligations; organizing information, awareness and empowerment activities, and emphasizing the role of schools, training and education institutions.


Public participation must be based on a holistic conceptual framework including at least:


- Issue(s) to be addressed and identification of responsible and concerned jurisdiction or institution(s);

- Identification and quantification of causes, supported by statistics, documents and references;

- Identification of relevant stakeholders who need to be engaged, including special interest groups and vulnerable groups;

- Taking into account of multiple gaps between urban and rural areas;

- Clearly defined objectives of participation;

- Clearly defined details of participatory process, including date, venue, transport, language to be used, methods of participation, information and documentation and facilitators for participation.


Finally, decentralization and local governance are crucial as local and regional governments are the most appropriate level for the implementation of public participation. They can link populations, citizens, communities, territories, and stakeholders who can thus become committed and active players in the sustainable development dynamic, who are listened to, respected and whose needs and priorities are taken into account. As a consequence, their sense of belonging will be strengthened, and they can therefore support and adhere to local decisions and policies, particularly concerning the SDGs.


By Najat Zarrouk, Member of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), Director, Development Branch and African Local Government Academy, United Cities and Local Government of Africa and President of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration (IASIA)


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Changing mindsets to transform governance for SDG achievement
30 March 2023
Rolf Alter blog

Mindsets are ingrained, presumptive ways of thinking. They consist of beliefs and attitudes that a person has assimilated throughout their lifetime about themselves and the world around them. As such, mindsets are reflected in the way we think and act, shaping the way public leaders and public servants behave. Changing mindsets of leaders and public servants is essential to transform governance in support of the SDGs. The necessary institutional transformation for SDG achievement needs to be reflected in new behavioral changes embodied by the public service workforce.



The working paper “Reinventing public sector workforce training and institutional learning towards changing mindsets” drafted by experts of the UN Committee of Experts of Public Administration (UNCEPA) focuses on the need to reinvent public sector workforce training and institutional learning to change mindsets and advance the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Shifting mindsets is imperative for letting go of old beliefs and for creating new ones that support the transformation toward a greener, more resilient, and inclusive society. These new beliefs and work habits will enable institutions to become more effective, accountable, and inclusive, while supporting the 2030 Agenda. Going forward, governments could helpfully direct resources to retooling public service delivery where needed and to providing public sector workers with new knowledge, technical and practical skills and with an enabling environment for action.


The new mindsets that can help build more effective, inclusive, and accountable institutions include:


- Agility for systems thinking

- Collaboration for better coordination, integration and dialogue

- Innovation to support transformation

- Use of an evidence-based approach in support of sound policymaking

- Use of a results-based approach for impact assessments

- Foresight skills for long-term planning and sound policymaking

- Ethical behaviour and sound moral principles

- Openness in support of integrity and transparency

- Personal accountability in support of an accountability culture

- Digital skills to support digitalization of the public sector

- Empathy, relational skills and emotional intelligence

- Socially conscious leadership to safeguard people, the planet and prosperity for all and leave no one behind

- Responsiveness to provide people-centric services, with a special focus on vulnerable groups

- Support the achievement of intergenerational equity

- Sensitivity to gender and racial inequalities and towards vulnerable citizens so as to be able to promote equal opportunities

- Risk awareness and risk acceptance to cope with the dynamics and unpredictability of the multiple and interlinked global crises

- Openness to innovation.


The working paper also highlights the need to rebuild public trust, as a key indicator of how people perceive the quality of government institutions. Public trust is both an input to and an outcome of governance. There is a growing consensus that the lack of trust in public institutions and political leaders can reduce the perceived legitimacy of public institutions, deepen political polarization and favour populist movements. The COVID -19 pandemic further challenged public trust in government in some countries owing to corruption scandals and restrictions such as curfews.


Rebuilding public trust is critical for sustainable development, as the way institutions are set up and operate in practice influences the trust that people place in them and their ability to promote transformation at the societal level (such as through changing social norms or fostering whole-of-society approaches). This transformation is necessary to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Building trust and reconnecting with people is therefore crucial in strengthening public institutions and enabling them to face ongoing challenges and to prepare for future ones.


Rebuilding public trust demands better public communication strategies and skills. The increasing number of digital platforms; the spread of misinformation and disinformation and the growing political polarization demonstrate the challenge of ensuring that people are only exposed to information of good quality. Public servants involved in communication need to play an active role in public communication strategies that are aimed at informing and inspiring people to take action towards more democratic, sustainable, resilient and green societies. The role of public servants involved in communication should be legitimized by expertise and professionalism.


In addition, public communication becomes more responsive when it relies on datafication, namely the transformation of social action into quantified data, as this allows governments to identify and analyse the interests and needs of people. Good practices in datafication-enabled communication use different sources of feedback and replace top-down dissemination of information with interactions with the public and two-way communication strategies. Collaborating with third-party messengers (such as online influencers and popular public figures) to reach particular social groups expressing low levels of public trust emerges as a new strategy. At the same time, the use of emerging technologies and communication on social media or other online channels carry risks of misuse, making their ethical use an imperative for public sector communicators. These communicators should be oriented by the principles of transparent and ethical information and debate. All these challenges call for capacity-building across public institutions and demand new skills and specializations and a democratic and citizen-centred mindset among public leaders and public servants.


By Alketa Peci, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Professor of Public Administration and Government, Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration, Getulio Vargas Foundation


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Budget credibility in times of crisis: Principle versus reality

29 March 2023


Rolf Alter blog

At a time of crisis budget credibility becomes a very complex issue, especially as acute crisis normally has non-predictable impacts on government revenues and spending, which significantly influences the realization of planned figures. Changes in budgets are inevitable but should be realized via evidence-based and transparent processes.




In our current world, impacted by multiple crises, such as the hopefully soon ending COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, almost all governments do not have the capacity or are not willing to respect that there are some general “good practice” rules for making necessary budgetary changes and operations.


Lack of transparency is, for example, very visible in relation to the war in Ukraine. In 2023, Bilmes and Stiglitz stated that in the US “Accounting for the cost of the weapons and munitions being supplied to Ukraine is hazy. There is no clear budgetary provision for the hugely increased replacement cost”. The same is true for European countries, which also supply weapons and munitions to Ukraine. As an example, the budgetary (and also legal) consequences of the decision of the Slovak government to supply MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine are not known. The fact is that the Slovak Army for several technical and other reasons can no longer use these fighters and keeping them in the country would not be cost-effective. However, whether the temporary government has the right for this decision and what the budgetary consequences are remain two unanswered questions.


Lack of evidence-based budgetary decisions was also very visible during the COVID-19 crisis, especially during earlier phases. Many governments, especially in Europe, did not know what to do and how to act given that it was their first pandemic experience. As it was politically necessary to show political and react to the pandemic, many governments established huge expenditure programs to support the national economy, achieve social equality and prevent the spread of the virus. Most, if not all, of these expenditures were decided “from evening to morning” - without any systemic ex-ante analysis- and were passed via parliaments through extraordinary procedures. The ex-post analysis of most of such “sewn with a hot needle” decisions shows that public money was wasted just to gain“political points”.


The question arises – what kind of mechanisms might help to prevent similar situations and to motivate governments to adhere to budget transparency and credibility standards?


By Juraj Nemec, Member of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Professor of Public Finance and Public Management, Masaryk University


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Lebanon case study: Advancing the fiscal transparency agenda

29 March 2023


Rolf Alter blog

Lebanon’s recent crisis has shed light on the lack of transparency, weak fiscal discipline, and poor financial reporting and oversight that have pushed the country’s score to the bottom of the Open Budget Survey (6/100 in 2019 and 9/100 in 2021) where it stands below the regional average of countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Data on public spending is available ad-hoc, in non-searchable formats and hardly allows to make year-to-year comparisons or follow trends. Public participation practices are non-existent with the country scoring zero on the Open Budget Survey for several consecutive years. As the country battles with an unprecedented multifold crisis, improving fiscal transparency, access to information, and public participation in budgeting are essential ingredients for recovery. 



Civil society’s efforts to improve public engagement in the budget process have strongly emerged during the past year. The Gherbal Initiative, launched in 2018, managed to make economic and budget data available to the public on a web-based platform and to lobby for the full application of the access to information law No. 28 of 2017. The Lebanese Transparency Association (local Transparency International Chapter) worked at enhancing the role and participation of civil society in budget advocacy by trying to put together a coalition of CSOs that would carry forward transparent and participatory budgeting.


The Lebanon Citizen Budget Dashboard


To complement and expand on these efforts, the Institute of Finance Basil Fuleihan at the Lebanese Ministry of Finance joined efforts with civil society to create the Lebanon Citizen Budget Dashboard (LCBD) in 2020 – thus providing access to disaggregated budget data. The LCBD harvests metadata from the Ministry of Finance of Lebanon, notably data retrieved from the official budget and from monthly reports published by the Ministry and transforms them, using technology at hand, into understandable, easy-to-read figures, appealing graphs, and visuals which the researchers can manipulate and use. The dashboard also provides access to general information on the budget calendar to help citizens better contextualize the data and includes a feedback section in which users can leave their comments for improvements and share their need for information.


In less than a year, the dashboard became a unique point of access to budget data. The Institute witnessed a growing demand for accessing and understanding fiscal information demonstrated by the large number of inquiries received through social media and other communication channels as well the number of requests for awareness sessions, especially from youth groups, new political formation, and media. 


Live demonstrations and hands-on training on the use of the data were organized for more than 26 civil society organizations and youth groups, leading think tanks, and partners in Lebanon. The Institute of Finance was invited to demonstrate the LCBD approach and results in workshops organized by the IMF-Middle East Technical Assistance Center and the International Budget Partnership as well as bilaterally to ministries of Finance in Iraq and Sudan.


Building back better requires investing in fiscal literacy


How public money is collected and disbursed has become one of the most pressing questions for citizens today, notably in contexts where corruption and misuse of public resources are widespread. Better public money management is central to building back better in conflict-affected areas. It is a building block for the fiscal adjustment and structural reforms that the Lebanese citizens and refugees hosted by Lebanon will have to endure during the coming years. For this purpose, it is important that they are part of the conversation, fully engaged in the public debate, and that their voices are being translated into more inclusive budgets and public policies, catering for the real needs of communities, with no one being left behind.


Coalitions, partnerships as well as support by the international community are thus crucial: first, in building the technological infrastructure and skills that prepare and empower public administrations to open their data; and second, in establishing fiscal literacy programs that build an informed citizenship able to engage positively in the conversation.


By Lamia Moubayed Bissat, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Director, Institut des finances Basil Fuleihan, Ministry of Finance, Lebanon


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Better Data for SDGs - empowering stakeholders and decision-makers

28 March 2023


Rolf Alter blog

Halfway through the 2030 Agenda ambition and results of sustainability are still not well aligned. Calls for accelerating its implementation focus frequently on greater financial resources. But what about the backbone of sound policy-making, data and evidence? Do we really know where we stand today? Do we really know where we need to go to get there?


There was a sharp awareness of the critical role of data for a successful implementation of the SDGs, when they were decided upon in 2015 and work on developing and implementing a global indicator framework for the Goals and targets began. Member States and UN agencies invested from the start in the underlying data grid developing indicators and measurement approaches. At the same time, countries around the world began to upgrade their statistical capacities and engaged in strengthening national data governance. Over time, it has become even more obvious that the value of reliable, comprehensive, and operational SDG-related data cannot be underestimated - both for the purpose of evaluation of progress and for priority-setting, resource allocation and delivery of public policies and services.


The UN Committee of Experts of Public Administration (CEPA) is currently looking into the issue of governance and public administration-related data in accelerating the implementation of the SDGs. Three areas are suggested for particular attention in future data development and governance:


Data for coherence


The very nature of the 17 SDGs requires understanding and measuring the interlinkages, trade-offs, and synergies among them. The current challenges of risk management demonstrate the potential benefits of identifying and evaluating accurately cascading relationships and compounded impact. Policy coherence would similarly be improved if these types of data were to become available.


Data for participation


The pandemic has demonstrated the cost of lacking participation of citizens, the private sector, and civil society in designing and implementing crisis management. At the same time, progress in achieving sustainability depends on active and informed participation based on understandable, available, and reusable data for all stakeholders. This applies equally to all levels of government, especially in support of the strategic direction of localizing the SDGs.


Data for decision-makers


SDGs require support from the highest political level, as amply demonstrated through the voluntary national reviews and voluntary local reviews. For leaders, data need to be condensed to set priorities and mobilize the government machinery for implementation of the Goals. Earlier experiences and practices of performance-based budgeting have, for example, shown the value of a tight set of high-level policy objectives for sound policy-making, evaluation and timely interventions in the case of deviations from the anticipated policy path.


No doubt, advancing quickly along these suggestions will depend on investment in data technology, governance and a strategy of bringing diverse policy communities together around the “statistical table”. Generating a shared data culture will be worth the effort.


By Rolf Alter, Rapporteur of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Senior Fellow, Hertie School of Governance


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Peace with Nature

28 March 2023


Geraldine photo

There is a growing recognition that climate change and the environment may have a significant influence on conflict and human security, but also that conflicts significantly affect the environment. Climate change certainly affects human livelihoods and security. Impacts may vary according to context and environment, and it is certainly true that climate change can contribute to conflict but is unlikely to be the sole cause. In situations where climate change is a determinant of conflict, it may exacerbate conflict and/or can precipitate conflict in already fragile situations. There may be cases where climate change is (or was) not so relevant as a cause of conflict, although it is also clear that conflicts today are impacted by, or impact, environmental degradation.



Research on the environment and security tends to be dominated by two main approaches: firstly, a focus on environmental cooperation; and, secondly, a focus on resource risk. The cooperation perspective has an optimistic view of spill-over effects from environmental cooperation. For example, cooperation around shared environmental concerns has implications for cooperation between groups around other issues, including peacebuilding. The resource risk perspective recognizes that resource inequity may lead to intrastate conflict and therefore stresses the role of conflict mitigation through environmental cooperation, treating the mismanagement of natural resources as the key threat for conflict relapse.


There are three fundamental approaches to environmental peacebuilding based on security, livelihoods, and politics, which are overlapping. At the same time, we recognize that there are four potential pathways to increased conflict risk as a direct result of climate change:


  1. Livelihoods: pressures on resources for survival;
  2. Migration: how far people are forced to move due to environmental degradation;
  3. Armed group behaviour: including exploitation of local resources; and
  4. Exploitation by political elites: particularly from extractive industries.

Integrating these issues into a form of environmental peacebuilding builds community resilience directly linked to sustainable development.


This implies that climate security risks can be mitigated by strengthening the capability of institutions in fragile and conflict-affected settings to adapt to climate change and effectively manage natural resources. This institutional mitigation requires significant bureaucratic and managerial capability both to manage at national and local level, but also to realistically participate in the transnational agreements required to mitigate climate change. The Principles of Effective Governance of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) therefore have a direct influence on climate change within fragile and conflict-affected environments.


At its twenty-first session, the Committee considered the question of building strong institutions to combat climate change and its impacts and for the sustainable management, protection and restoration of natural resources.  The Committee suggested potential ways forward for governments based on creating incentives, reforming taxes and subsidies, the establishment of metrics and a change in human behaviour. At the twenty-second session, the Committee will take this further by drawing attention to connections between the state of the environment and peacebuilding with specific reference to institutional challenges within fragile and conflict-affected countries.


Within insecure settings there are additional challenges since these are inherently difficult areas to govern and, government may also lack significant capacity to cope. Despite this, public administration and institutions play an important role in developing integrated approaches regarding long-term development objectives amid the multiple challenges that countries emerging from conflict face, not least in balancing short-term needs for security with the longer-term requirements of sustainable development. Indeed government, public administration and governance of public institutions is more complex in conflict-affected countries than in peaceful ones: precisely as the lack of capacity remains acute.


Potential policy approaches to environmental peacebuilding the Committee may wish to focus on would include:


  1. Better analysis: understanding underlying causes and mechanisms allows countries experiencing climate change and increased conflict risk to improve analysis and reporting along with programming to mitigate risk. Better information may also better differentiate between short term aims and long-term goals.
  2. Co-ordinated policy thinking: an approach based on environmental peacebuilding encourages coordinated policy thinking. Environmental security encompasses the entire socio-ecological system and encompasses challenges that cut across traditional governance boundaries like local/national.
  3. Taking a climate-sensitive lens: environmental peacebuilding requires recognition of the fact that climate change and natural resource issues are at the core of conflict and need to be recognized as a means of addressing underlying injustice.
  4. Recognizing gender and youth: recognizing these groups within environmental peacebuilding efforts can help to further identify potential injustice, while also taking into account the most vulnerable users of natural resources.
  5. Working internationally: enhanced engagement with the UN peacebuilding architecture in supporting projects that promote climate resilience and adaptation in conflict-affected States. This approach could offer enhanced opportunities for engagement with regional and sub-regional organizations and international actors to better cope with the trans-national effects of climate change.


By Paul Jackson, Member of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham


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Another take! Times of tectonic shifts and global changes: The public service and the Global South

Monday, 27 March 2023


Geraldine photo

This week, from 27 to 31 March 2023, the Committee of Experts of Public Administration (CEPA), a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, meets.  It has been confronted by the realisation that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine may have transformed the world as we known it since roughly the start of the century. 


Both exposed a gulf between the narratives, perceptions and needs, with lived realities and facts which, though dimly aware, we can still not grasp the full magnitude. The surge of COVID-19 globally caught governments off-guard. Many reacted tardily and some indulged proactively in a blame game to escape the surging public criticism.


The COVID-19 pandemic crisis was severe and losses both in money and human lives were great, notably in Northern countries (more than a million deaths in the US alone). By contrast, in the South, including my own country, the damage, though significant, was less than what we feared. We are mercifully now in a recovery mode but still largely reliant on narratives and sources mostly, if not exclusively, from the Global North which, as one might expect, reflect a regional outlook and local needs, and therefore do not represent either universal truths or planetary imperatives - though they are frequently presented as such.


In the mid-twentieth century both governments and people, including in the Global South, looked to the United Nations for information, guidance, support, and inspiration. More recently, however, at the height of the pandemic, the global organization, specifically the World Health Organisation (WHO), came under strong attack, caught in a tug of war which left the South on the side lines. Simply put, the COVID-19 pandemic was weaponized as a golden opportunity to pursue Northern agendas. This attempt is still ongoing, reinforced by the war in Ukraine.  In many ways, this simply demonstrates the extent to which our world, still to this day, remains Atlantic - centric and hardly at all receptive to concerns and needs in the South.


Need I remind ourselves of the long list of visitors who made it to the capitals of Sub-Saharan Africa but also the Sub-Continents asking their government leaders to take sides on a conflict in which they had no part.  There can be little doubt that in the words of no less than the Indian Foreign Minister, still to this day “Europe’s problems are seen as the world’s but by contrast needs and problems of the South are only for the South to address and resolve”.


We have seen this contrast play out, in broad daylight, during the current crises. We have seen millions of refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine but welcomed with open arms in European countries though seldom such a treatment has been extended to Africans, West Asians or even Latin Americans who desperately try to find a welcome shore and often drown in the process.  


What the war but also the COVID-19 pandemic have amply demonstrated is the need for SELF RELIANCE. This is a need that we may have neglected overly reassured by the availability of global cooperation.  This would disassociate the need for national governance, notably of the South, and national housekeeping from the imperative of building capacity and of developing custom tailored policies and strategies that are focused on the needs and take note of the potential of the countries of the South. Both long term and short term requirements need to be addressed.


What the Ukraine war brought into sharp relief is a picture of a world which is a lot more diffracted and diversified than we have ever imagined. Progressively a number of governments are waking up to the perils of overly relying on foreign policy outfits governmental or non-governmental - to meet diverse contingencies that change with speed.  Not all of these contingencies are home-grown, but few are global in scope like, for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic which took us by surprise.


Relying on foreign “experts” and know-how from abroad carries enormous risks unless a Southern Government has homegrown expertise and dedicates personnel (manpower) to reach its own conclusions. Dependence has grown perilous not only because challenges and issues to be addressed seldom conform to standards that are worldwide in scope, but also because contrary to practices from roughly 1950 to roughly 1980, know-how is now provided mostly as a commodity for sale and at a price.

I shall not, for a moment, question either the integrity or professionalism of experts and consultants, who tour the world advising foreign governments. They work for private companies and non-profit organizations and are supported, for the majority, by Western sources. Seldom can they be impervious to pressures from their “bosses”, who need to show “results”, and they are also very often bound by limited experience or knowledge about the particular countries where they have mostly lived and worked. Few specialists can claim the breadth and versatility but also the professionalism, integrity, independence and vision of a noted scholar and expert. I refer to Jeffrey Sachs, who for several decades, served the United Nations in “sustainable development” and related issues.  He, for one, has frankly admitted the pressures to which he was subject when, in the 1990’s, he was called upon to advise countries in Eastern Europe transitioning from socialism to free enterprise economies.


One conclusion seems inescapable: that foreign advice and know-how derived from either individual experts or “think tanks” - private or public - are seldom as dependable as they are often made out to be.  The benefits they yield are certainly proportionate to the expertise and leadership available at home. We need to focus attention on building or rebuilding administrative capacity, know-how expertise and leadership, on the regional, sub-regional and national levels, in Africa, Latin America and arguably also Asia.


I used the word rebuilding because, under the aegis of neoliberalism and globalism many governments were pressured to listen to the gospel of privatisation and drastically cut staff complements at their command.  It started with the US, UK and Australasia but soon spread like wildfire with polemics against “bloated bureaucracies” and the virtues of “enterprise”. Soon, lacking self-sufficiency, the governments were forced to go out to the markets even for staple needs. To give one example, drafting a legal document - a bill in other words - was often cause to call on well-known law firms, national or international, in order to do a job that should be done at home. Not only has this proven remarkably costly but also perilous in the extreme because it left the government - or country - with NO INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY - and dangerously exposed to the recurrent need to reach out for technical assistance in very basic matters of governance.


Though much can be outsourced of what a government does, on the national, subnational, and local levels, this cannot include planning, strategy, and vision. Sustainability, integrity and independence in governance are strongly predicated in building for each sector of government activity a mostly self-sufficient repository of expertise and institutional memory.  That this could have recourse to foreign skills and know-how goes without saying.  But it should be only an adjunct and not the main component of the skills required by the government to meet its staple needs and fend off likely pressures from interest groups, foreign or domestic.


On the morrow of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the light of facts that the war in Ukraine has brought to light, the countries of the South, but not the South alone, have come to question the legacies of globalism and neoliberalism. They have come to realise that they must revisit the structures, the policies, and practices of government departments in light of their experience and their capabilities. In this particular light they must upgrade their capabilities, safeguard their independence and prestige.


It has been said before but bears repeating that “a cheap public service can cost a country a lot”. In all too many countries, including some in the North, the public service profession has steadily been losing its  former appeal.  The causes for this trend have seldom been an issue of comparative earnings. To offer an opinion, I would really venture to say that the public service has suffered a loss of identity - loss of its professional core.  The mantra of four decades has wanted public servants to become broadly “comparable” to their private counterparts.  After decades of praising efficiency and effectiveness, making unfair comparisons between the public sector and private enterprises, we should hardly be surprised that the best and the brightest may not be coming forward to staff our public services, not only on a professional but also permanent basis.  Apart from expertise in a particular field, the core of a professional, as far as we are concerned, is public service.


Decline of the concept of service matches that of lifelong service on a professional basis.  We have come to accept that working for the government is like any other job. We have come to accept that all that matters is skills. We forget three other “E’s” that are no less important than economy, efficiency and effectiveness.  These are Equity, Ethics and Equanimity: essential components of service, especially the service for those in need. 


None of the above can either be transplanted or developed in a person in the space of a few months or even years.  Rather, they are the outcome of a lifetime of service to the country and the government.  “Hopping” from one job to the next may not be the best way of staffing the public service. Our countries in the South deserve and need  life-long commitment and service and, to this end, a career structure. These paths are not the only ones, of course, but certainly the surest paths to rebuilding the public service we need. We need corps of advisers and corps of senior managers recruited and administered with a career in view.  We need them for society in order to build government and public service as a career of choice. We need them for development as a sustainable drive for the good of all people, not only of a few minorities.


We need them to restore faith in the institutions of government which has waned in recent decades. And, last but not least, we need them to safeguard the dignity and independence of the countries of the South.


By Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Chancellor, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa


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Can crisis governance drive out the capacity for complexity governance?

27 March 2023 


Geraldine photo

The contribution of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) to the 2023 HLPF contains eight topical recommendations. This blog is inspired by the first recommendation, which is about the very dynamic context in which governments currently have to operate and find effective responses to a diversity of challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments in a crisis management mode, and many of them performed relatively well in this respect – but others did not. Meanwhile, the pandemic is only one of the many crises that are cascading in most countries, varying from climate-related natural (but human-made) disasters to geopolitical tensions and wars. We have begun talking about a polycrisis – and some already suspect that this polycrisis could become permanent: a permacrisis. Will that be the new normal?


Nobody can predict what will happen in the next decade(s) but dealing with crises will certainly remain an important challenge for national and subnational governments. Not only out of necessity but partially also because a crisis brings unprecedented power and resources to the ruling government. We can already see that some governments have started using emergency legislation shortcuts for less urgent issues, while bypassing parliaments, stakeholders, the best available knowledge, and a long-term outlook. There is no reason to believe that the old saying that power corrupts does not often apply.


Complex, ‘wicked’ problems


This situation is a problem for various reasons, but one important reason may not be so obvious: the fact that much of the political focus and resources are being used for crisis management can divert attention from complex,  ‘wicked’ problems. The point here is that many crises are either complex, wicked problems themselves – or they are caused by them. Climate change is both a crisis and a complex problem. The same applies to a pandemic. Such complex, wicked problems are not like fires that can be easily extinguished. They keep on burning, like an underground peat fire. Addressing them requires (in)formal, deliberative, and inclusive institutions and processes. Wicked problems are difficult to define, have a non-linear dynamic and seem unsolvable. They are ambiguous and the list of potential solutions is endless. No single country or public sector organisation – from a solitary city to the central government – can tackle these issues alone. This may result in paralysis, or an overestimation of what policy can do about wicked problems. Some of these challenges are called super-wicked problems: time is running out, the central authority needed to address it is weak or non-existent, and policy responses discount future costs and impacts in an irrational way. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic share characteristics of such problems.


Crisis management needs fast, decisive action and availability of resources. It requires linear thinking. Addressing wicked problems is slow, needs an inclusive approach and specific knowledge. It is not linear. The paradox is that addressing the big issues of our time requires at the same time crisis governance and complexity governance; we need to be thinking fast and slow – to paraphrase Daniel Kahneman – simultaneously. 


Possible way forward


On a positive note, paradoxes are seemingly contradictory situations. There may be ways out. One example is to train public officers to apply different governance approaches for different problems, mixing approaches and switching between them according to the requirements of the situation. This existing practice of going beyond the normal or fashionable governance style is called metagovernance (governance of governance).  Another example is that when governments focus too much of their attention on issues framed as crises and the related emergency measures, societal stakeholders – civil society, the private sector and academia – can sometimes step up and organize their role as “countervailing powers”, helping to keep governments accountable and on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, with a long-term perspective and at all levels. A third example is that a government organisation could discipline itself to maintain the ‘slow’ pace in parallel to ‘fast’ crisis management. The European Commission, while at the same time battling the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing a comprehensive response to the climate crisis in 2021, decided that from then on all its ex ante regulatory impact assessments of new legal and policy initiatives should integrate the SDGs and foresight, while maintaining a high level of knowledge input and stakeholder involvement. Last but not least, civil servants need to be trained to address trade-offs in a way so that mutual gains are achieved instead of having a win-lose situation.


There is also a response that should be prevented, namely focusing solely on efficiency again. The economist Mariana Mazzucato has clearly shown that the dominance of efficiency over effectiveness has made governments weaker and less responsive to emerging challenges. The polycrisis might again trigger an efficiency movement because of the huge costs of tackling crises. However, the result would be further destruction of the institutions we have to support the public cause.


To conclude: yes, crisis governance drives out the capacity for complexity governance, and this requires seemingly contradictory governance responses. But there are ways to work constructively from this reality, and they start with awareness of the paradox.


By Louis Meuleman, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and Visiting Professor at Public Governance Institute, KU Leuven University, Belgium. 


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Connecting the Silos of Decision-making

Friday, 27 January 2023


Levi Lennart photo

Bo Rothstein photoAgenda 2030

In 2015, all of the UN's 193 member countries, after many rounds of negotiations, agreed on a Master plan for the survival of humanity and our planet, entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It is an extremely ambitious plan with 17 sustainability goals and 169 targets. What this Agenda 2030 provides is a unique, global, national, and local investment plan in three central dimensions of survival – the social, the environmental, and the economic. These goals and targets can only be achieved by a political system that has the ability to coordinate decision-making using a holistic and long-term approach.


For Agenda 2030 not to stop at a lot of beautiful words, effective implementation is of course required. It presupposes the will and ability for critical, ethical, systemic, and ecological thinking and acting. And not just being based on, e.g., gut feelings, or on the content of our wallets, or economism.


Higher education targeting tomorrow´s decision-makers

Today's students are tomorrow's decision-makers. But the education system worldwide is still not well adapted to these needs. Instead, one could argue, with only a slight exaggeration, that we have organized our higher education to bring about just competence for a variety of professions. Added to this is the fact that the political system is still organized according to the so-called silo principle. This appears to be the main cause of the current energy crisis and also of the severe shortcomings in the handling of the covid pandemic that the Swedish Corona Commission so clearly laid out.


Lack of coordination

Our own, in other respects highly developed country, Sweden, is organized into 11 government departments + the cabinet committee, 15 parliamentary committees, 343 authorities under the government, 21 regions, and 290 municipalities. All of these are expected to cooperate for the implementation of Agenda 2030. Approaches to cooperation both horizontally and vertically exist, but they are undeveloped and insufficient.


This fact has been pointed out by the Swedish Government´s coordinator of Agenda 2030 implementation, former public health minister Gabriel Wikström. In his 2022´s interim report to the government, he writes that application is slow, even though Sweden has a much better-starting position than most other countries. Wikström calls for a transformation of our society, adapted to the conditions of the future. And he finds that the politicians have not yet decided on one. His conclusion is gloomy: "On the contrary, current developments point to the fact that, among other things, we will not reach the majority of the national goals, that economic and social inequality is not decreasing, and that we are far from consuming and producing sustainably."


If humans as a species were unambiguously rational and guided by reason, we would not have exposed our existence to all these threats, or at least be fully occupied with averting them according to Agenda 2030. But this is done insufficiently, and piecemeal, as Gabriel Wikström and many with him point out.



This is primarily so because of several obstacles to integrated implementation. Many of the central actors:


  • - do not see the needs because they are technology optimists, or are skeptical of the Agenda;
  • - feel they are already doing enough;
  • - want to act, but don't know how;
  • - do not make use of the leeway they still have;
  • - want to do everything by themselves, without coordination with others;
  • - do not have time to look away from short-term or urgent work.


Many actors seem overwhelmed and discouraged by the gravity and complexity of the challenge. But what many see as a challenge of overwhelming magnitude and complexity should also be able to trigger an urgency and a drive to act that overcomes the short-sightedness and silo mentality that, possibly genetically, seems to be hardwired into our consciousness, perhaps because it promoted survival in our early ancestors' existence on the Savannah.


Nothing new

Solving these large complex coordination problems requires, in our opinion, major educational efforts. This has also recently been jointly called for by the three umbrella organizations of the international university system – the International Association of Universities (IAU), The Francophone University Agency (AUF), and The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), which together represent over 2,000 universities worldwide (IAU, 2020).


Are these thoughts brand new? Not really. Over 30 years ago, Sweden had a deputy prime minister whose task was to think and act "across the silos", to coordinate the many task-specific actors both horizontally and vertically -- into a functioning whole. His name was Odd Engström.


But one can also go back to Axel Oxenstierna's form of government from 1634, where it was emphasized that the Government´s five councils should "reach each other's hand", and that it was permitted "to interfere in the service and affairs of the other" so that “all the affairs of the kingdom may be carried out properly and without neglect or interference".


Present Swedish politics

Present Swedish politics, however, is based on a negotiated document that will guide the current Swedish government's policy, the so-called Tidö agreement. This document, unfortunately, contains nothing to indicate that such very serious coordination problems will be dealt with. Agenda 2030 is neither mentioned in this agreement, nor in the prime minister's declaration for his new government. The silo approach in policy is alive and well. Considering the global challenges that the world must deal with, we find this extremely remarkable.


A new Lancet commission

A reasonably holistic Lancet Commission on 21st-Century Global Health Threats has recently been established (Kanem et al, 2022) to examine the broad set of threats facing the world over the rest of the century. This longer perspective is needed since threats such as climate change, food systems, antimicrobial resistance, or inverted population pyramids require many decades for actions to alter future trajectories. The Sustainable Development Goal focus on 2030 is an important motivator for immediate policy action, but a longer-term perspective is needed to fully assess and respond to emerging threats.


Governments, international organizations, and local communities will need to manage multiple threats at the same time. Many of these threats interact and lead to complex health, economic, social, and geopolitical consequences. Climate change, population growth, and political fragility may coincide leading to large-scale migration. Food systems can be designed to improve health, reduce poverty, and slow climate change, or the reverse. Specific and cross-cutting technologies and policies are needed to reduce the risk of emerging threats or to decrease the harm from threats as they unfold. The most important strategies for risk and harm reduction are unlikely to emerge if each threat is examined in isolation from the others.


Teenager Greta Thunberg told the world leaders some 3 years ago: Don´t listen to me. Listen to the science.


Last year Antònio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations emphasized: “We have a choice – collective action, or collective suicide.”


This is why we should be in a great hurry to start our transition -- now!


By Lennart Levi, Emeritus Professor of Psychosocial Environmental Health, Karolinska institute, and Bo Rothstein, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Gothenburg

(A version in Chinese of this article is published on



Guatemala’s supreme audit institution’s work to promote education on good governance in schools and universities

Wednesday, 21 September 2022


Edwin Humberto Salazar Jerez photo

Supreme audit institutions play a key role in promoting accountability, integrity, transparency and in ensuring the quality of public spending for the benefit of citizens. In recent years, the Office of the Comptroller General of Accounts of the Republic of Guatemala has developed several programs that aim to promote these values in the national education system.


The “Sowing seeds of transparency” program

In accordance with the Inter-institutional Cooperation Agreement between the Comptroller General of Accounts and the Ministry of Education, on October 29th, 2020, the “Sowing Seeds of Transparency” program was implemented with the objective of strengthening the education of a Culture of Ethics in the public schools of Guatemala, considering the teachers as a fundamental pillar in the teaching-learning processes.

An Orientation Manual of Curricular Development, “Sowing Seeds of Transparency” was designed with the purpose of promoting the education of students in topics related to principles, values, morals, ethics, transparency, probity and fight against corruption. An Implementation Guidance on this Orientation Manual was designed to support its application. Directors, supervisors and teachers in the country have been trained on this Orientation Manual, with the number of trainees reaching 31,156 people in 2021. In 2022, different training activities have been developed, in which 23,842 people have participated to date. This year, the first cohort of the training course “Strategies and Didactic Methodology Sowing Seeds of Transparency” graduated. This course was developed for teachers, directors and supervisors.


The “Young people for transparency” program

In coordination with the Ministry of Education, the “Young People for Transparency Program” was developed. It is aimed at students and teachers in public schools at the elementary and middle school levels, with the purpose of raising the interest of students in knowing and applying the values of ethics, probity and transparency in their daily life. This program was developed through a mobile application, in which 4,187 students participated in 2021. 2,350 students enrolled in 2022.


The University youth program for good governance, probity and transparency

The “University Youth Program for Good Governance, Probity and Transparency” aims to foster a culture of ethics, probity, transparency and accountability among university youth, thus preventing corruption, promoting active and responsible citizen participation for good governance in institutions. The training course “Public Ethics and Transparency for Good Governance” was developed. 237 students participated in 2021 and 410 students in 2022.


By Dr. Edwin Humberto Salazar Jerez, Comptroller General of Accounts of the Republic of Guatemala



Gambling away our future

Monday, 1 August 2022


Levi Lennart photo

In our time of multiple, complex and interacting crises – think for a moment about the following three opening sentences: “If all goes well, the history of mankind has only just begun. Mankind is about two hundred thousand years old. But the earth will remain habitable for hundreds of millions of years to come – enough to end disease, poverty, and injustice forever, enough to create heights of flowering that are unthinkable today.”


This is what Oxford philosopher Toby Ord (2020) wrote in his extraordinarily interesting and thought-provoking book “The Precipice – Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity”- enough time – unless we trip ourselves up. Because humanity, according to Tony Ord, seems to belong to “a species that is worryingly close to its own annihilation.” In fact, he says, today we are balancing on the brink of a precipice.


But isn´t this pure alarmism? A depressing shot from a pessimistic philosopher?


A master plan for sustainable conversion

But more and more important stakeholders have actually realized the enormity and complexity of the challenges, and what would be needed to be done. Seven years ago, after many rounds of negotiations, all 193 member states of the United Nations succeeded in agreeing on a very ambitious master plan for sustainable change – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan with 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets that was developed precisely in order to prevent such an annihilation. A unique, global, national and local investment in the Agenda’s three major dimensions – the social, the environmental, and the economic – with coordination, holistic approach and long-term perspective in decision-making and implementation (United Nations, 2015).


WHO´s programme “One Health” is a related approach to designing and implementing policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes (WHO, 2017).


Sweden’s then Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén explicitly promised that Sweden would be a leader in such preventive work. And the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen, 2020) adapted the 17 SDGs as parliamentary goals – but also stated that “in many areas there is still a long way to go before the goals are achieved, and that strong multilateral measures and a transformation of society will be required to deal with the global and complex challenges.”


Breakdown or breakthrough?

UN Secretary-General António Guterres describes the current situation, with all its challenges, as a turning point in history: “Mankind is facing a sharp and urgent selection situation: a breakdown, or a breakthrough. Coronavirus disease is turning our world upside down, threatening our health, destroying economies and livelihoods, and deepening poverty and inequality. Conflicts continue to rage and worsen. The catastrophic effects of a changing climate – famine, floods, fires and extreme heat – threaten our existence” (United Nations, 2021). All countries must deal with all this in a coordinated package of measures for a better world.


With less than eight years left until 2030, the question must be asked whether most of all this will stop at ‘beautiful words’. The Swedish Government´s coordinator for Agenda 2030, former Cabinet Minister of Public Health Gabriel Wikström, states in his official report (2022) that things move slowly, even though our country had a much better starting position than most others. He called for a transformation of our society, adapted to the conditions of the future – and finds that politicians have not yet decided on one. “On the contrary, current developments indicate that, among other things, we will not achieve most of the national targets, that economic and social inequality will not decrease, and that we are far from consuming and producing sustainably.”


Our collective responsibility

Toby Ord emphasizes in his book that we do not only bear a collective responsibility for the almost 8 billion now living fellow human beings, but also in the face of the hundreds of billions that have lived before us, and that, together, developed the living conditions of humanity. It is up to us not to destroy everything that our ancestors and all generations before them have built up. And it is also our responsibility that trillions of not yet born, future generations are not denied the opportunity to live their lives – and to further develop humanity and its planet.


If man as a species had been unambiguously rational, we would not have exposed our existence to these threats, or we would at least be fully engaged in averting them according to Agenda 2030. But this is usually done inadequately and piecemeal, as Gabriel Wikström has pointed out. Some stakeholders

  • • Do not see any need for them, being technology optimists, or skeptical of the Agenda;
  • • Feel that they are already doing enough;
  • • Are willing to act, but don´t know how;
  • • Do not use the opportunity for action available;
  • • Want to do everything themselves, without coordination with others; or
  • • Don´t have time to look up from short-term or urgent tasks.


Or they are simply overwhelmed and have given up because of the size and complexity of the challenge. And what appears to many as an overwhelming complexity of the 17 SDGs, and a lack of understanding, instills the urgency required to trump the short-termism inherent in our brain.


According to Gabriel Wikström, the signals from the top political level are weak and unclear, and most societies are organized from a downspout perspective, the effect being that in several respects we will approach or risk passing a breaking point, after which some threats may be impossible to ward off. Toby Ord claims to be able to calculate that the risk of a global catastrophe sometime in the next 100 years is 1 in 6. That includes a considerable number of close calls (nuclear weapons) and notable laboratory escapes of highly pathogenic contagions - with one of whom going out of control. If he is right, it means that we literally are gambling away our future.


Contemplation and implementation

As a philosopher, Ord wants us to reflect deeply and continuously on the future goals for the good of humanity, something he calls “The Long Reflection”. I wholeheartedly agree and would argue that this requires educational systems (cf Karolinska institutet et al., 2019; Levi & Rothstein, 2021; International Association of Universities, 2019) that teach the next generation of decision makers (i.e., today´s students) to think and act

  • • Critically (and not just based on wishful thinking); and
  • • Ethically (and not just driven by profit motive); and
  • • In systems (and not just focusing on one problem at a time); and
  • • Ecologically (and not just governed by economism or any other ism).


Existential and complex problems may require the entire “package”. And added to this, basic knowledge as to how to overcome down-pipe thinking and singlemindedness (White et al., 2019). And utilizing existing support from the three major associations of universities - International Association of Universities (IAU), Francophone University Association (AUF), and The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), jointly representing more than 2,000 universities of the world


Ord has written a fascinating and important book, a must read, in the class of the American biologist Rachel Carson´s epoch-making “Silent Spring”, published 60 years ago. Both call for action on a global, national, local and individual level. When we begin to understand that we have steered our world to the brink of a precipice, we do not have time to wait for more warning signals. “Our world is in deep trouble – and so too are the Sustainable Development Goals”, as formulated by António Guterres (2022) when he addressed delegates during the HLPF´s high-level segment recently. Reading Toby Ord´s book may help you to think and act accordingly.


By Lennart Levi, MD, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychosocial Medicine, Karolinska institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

(A version in Chinese of this article is published on



Go far, go together

Friday, 17 June 2022


An oft-quoted African proverb says that if you want to go fast, go alone; and If you want to go far, go together. This message of working together in partnership is echoed in the theme of this year’s United Nations Public Service Day, celebrated every year on 23 June, as decided by the UN General Assembly. [1]


Taking its lead from the 2022 theme of the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF), which will review progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17, the 2022 UN Public Service Day commemoration will focus on the role of public institutions and public servants in building back better from COVID-19 through partnership.  “Building back better from COVID-19: Enhancing innovative partnerships to meet the Sustainable Development Goals” will be the focus of a virtual celebration of the Day to be observed this year on 22 June at UN Headquarters in New York. During the virtual event, stakeholders will gather to discuss the role that various forms of partnership can and should play in building back better from COVID-19 and in meeting the SDGs.


The 2022 United Nations Public Service Award (UNPSA) winners will also be announced during the online event. The UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), through its group of experts on the Award, contributed to the final round of review and evaluation of the short-listed cases.  Over the years a significant number of UNPSA initiatives have contributed to the achievement of SDG 17 and its targets. CEPA takes pride in being part of the review process, ensuring UNPSA remains a fair, objective and independent process.


CEPA has consistently emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership. In the principles of effective governance for sustainable development adopted by CEPA and endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council in 2018, Principle 3 focuses on collaboration: “To address problems of common interest, institutions at all levels of government and in all sectors should work together and jointly with non-State actors towards the same end, purpose and effect”. Commonly used strategies include centre of government coordination under the Head of State or Government; collaboration, coordination, integration and dialogue across levels of government and functional areas; raising awareness of the SDGs; network-based governance; and multi-stakeholder partnerships.


As governments across the world face increasingly inter-connected challenges in climate, environmental degradation, education, employment, health care, housing and social services, including basic access to energy, water and sanitation, the public sector must respond with coherent policy measures that are based on multi-pronged strategies and multi-stakeholder partnerships, harnessing synergies across sectors and administrative levels. 


Lessons from UNPSA initiatives and other multi-stakeholder partnerships suggest that a precondition for successful partnerships is the effective alignment among partners in terms of vision, values and objectives – the partners must share a common goal and objective for the partnership to work.


Secondly, whether it is public-private or national-local government arrangements, partners must put the people at the heart of their partnerships, based on a strong service orientation.


Thirdly, successful partnerships, including those among Member States, often put a premium on mutual respect and ensure that partners are equal, regardless of the amount of financial resources committed.


Fourthly, effective partnerships benefit from a strong governance framework, with clear responsibility and accountability agreed and implemented among partners.


Fifth, being partners does not do away with the imperative of communication. Even with transparency embedded in partnerships, clear and regular communication among those concerned is essential to coherent and coordinated implementation of partnership agreements.


Finally, all of the aforementioned steps will be easier to take if the partners have a collaborative mindset that is conducive to the efficient operation of partnership agreements and to monitoring and evaluation.


On the occasion of the 2022 UN Public Service Day, I wish all innovative partnerships across the world great success. Efficient, effective, equitable, inclusive and sustainable public services depend on it.


By Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, CEPA Chairperson


[1] On 20 December 2002, the General Assembly designated 23 June as Public Service Day by adopting resolution 57/277.



A Hippocratic oath for the coming generations

Thursday, 5 May 2022


Climate change is the biggest health challenge in the world today. It poses a steadily increasing direct and indirect threat to future generations.

Humans are facing unprecedented challenges, first and foremost related to climate change, nature loss and embedded in this also issues related to health and food security.

The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change claims that ‘climate change is the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century, but it is also the greatest opportunity to redefine the social and environmental determinants of health’.


The recent sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the world is now hotter than it has been for 125 000 years, and current CO2 concentrations are the highest for two million years. The current emission pathway indicates a temperature increase of 3oC by the year 2100. It is not known what extremes await us, even with the 2oC increase that the more optimistic estimates suggest. At the current rate, the increase will exceed 1.5oC in a couple of decades. Even the most conservative scenarios consider a temperature increase of 2oC to be quite likely by the year 2050 – with the current level of emissions. As expected, the report also points to not only a likely increase in the extreme events we are already seeing, but also suggests that these will become more widespread: floods that happened every 1000 years will be seen every 100 years, and more areas will be exposed to them.


Ecosystems have served us extraordinarily well so far with their net carbon capture. In fact, more than half of our emissions are absorbed by ecosystem sequestration. If the ability of nature to absorb CO2 is weakened or, in the worst case, reversed, we will really have problems. One of the most frightening topics in the IPCC report is the risk of a reversal in the net terrestrial and marine CO2 uptake to a net emission to the atmosphere. We are already seeing the outlines of this in the reduced ability for CO2 uptake in tropical forests, CO2 emissions (in the worst case also methane (CH4)) from increased thawing of permafrost, wildfires and warmer and more acidic oceans. Such self-reinforcing feedback loops can lead to climatic tipping points. It is not therefore ‘only’ a matter of CO2 and the climate, but also about the loss of nature and the resulting weakening of ecosystem services such as CO2 uptake, carbon storage and flood control.


Nothing is as potentially threatening to public health as climate change. It has already directly claimed numerous victims as a result of flooding, fires and extreme heatwaves, but the IPCC report warns this is just a precursor of what is to come. The indirect effects will be even greater because the disease, water and food shortages, poorer sanitation and migration resulting from the deteriorating living conditions, extreme heat, fires and rising sea levels will in themselves constitute major social and health challenges. The term ‘climate refugee’ has already been established, and these refugees could stem from different regions for different reasons. The European Commission describes this clearly in its report Proposed Mission: A Climate Resilient Europe: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has taught a lesson about how closely environmental, societal and human health are connected. What we have lived through and still will is a mild foretaste of the shocks that climate change may and will cause in the future.’


Apart from the severe consequences of climate disasters like floods, landslides, fires, death from heat stroke is also becoming an increasingly relevant problem, even in areas where this has never previously been seen. For example, compare the extreme temperatures up to 50°C that were recorded in Canada in early summer and subsequently on the west coast of the United States, and the record temperatures in Europe in late summer. We have already seen heatwaves that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and ‘wet-bulb’ temperatures’ in excess of 35°C are expected to become more frequent and widespread, leading to an exponential rise in deaths from heat stroke.

This is just one of the many factors included in the calculations of which parts of the planet will become uninhabitable under different climate scenarios. Although humans inhabits most parts of the planet with climatic extremes, the human climate niche is relatively narrow at the hot end in terms of food supply, water and temperature tolerance. It is estimated that 1–3 billion people may end up outside the habitable niche in the course of 50 years. Put bluntly, the choice is between relocation, where this is possible, and a high risk of death from heat stroke. It is also worth remembering that extreme temperatures, droughts, fires and floods also mean enormous losses for the planet’s other forms of life.


Loss of nature and climate change are closely linked, and encroachment on nature also increases the risk of pandemics. A comprehensive analysis of 6800 ecosystems on six continents shows the mechanisms that link the destruction of nature and pandemics. Ebola, AIDS and rabies, and a host of other diseases, such as MERS, SARS, influenza A (H1 N1) and the Nipah virus, can all be traced back to close contact between humans and animals. Nevertheless, a coronavirus pandemic was needed before the problem was taken seriously.

There has also been a marked increase in the number of zoonotic diseases in recent years. This is largely because humans and domestic animals are encroaching on new territory, we are chopping down existing forests and fragmenting ecosystems, which means we are having more close contact with wild animals. This promotes the spread of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens to humans, either directly or via domestic animals.

Another reason for the increase in diseases is that reduced biodiversity seems to favour a few chosen species with a particularly high potential for the spread of infection, such as rats, bats and some primates. In particular, bat populations are reservoirs for viruses that cause Ebola, Nipah virus infection, SARS – and now COVID-19 – in humans. When their natural habitats are destroyed, they are forced to seek food where humans and livestock live. This increases the risk of infection. Population numbers and consumption are common drivers of climate change and loss of nature. These problems require a systematic approach, and the challenges must also be addressed through education.


The impact of climate change on our health not only relates to the direct and indirect ramifications of climate change itself, but also the psychological effects, such as anxiety. The Greta Thunberg generation is questioning whether there is a future when the outlook seems so bleak. This raises the issue of how risk should be communicated. There is no simple recipe for this, other than following the research, as summarised in the IPCC’s reports. The situation is serious. The world and humanity will still exist, but undoubtedly at the growing expense of our physical and mental well-being. We need hope for the future, backed up with action. The window to act is shrinking, while the impact on the future is worsening. We need a policy with a thousand-year perspective – and a Hippocratic oath for those yet to be born.


By Dag O. Hessen, Professor in Bioscience at the University of Oslo and head of the Centre for Biogeochemistry in the Anthropocene (CBA)




Access, authentication and preservation: three keys to boosting the integrity and inclusivity of public information

Wednesday, 23 February 2022


The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes in Goal 16 that all should have access to information as a part of ensuring access to justice for all and ensuring accountable and inclusive institutions. Recognizing this shared goal, in 2015, the Law Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) created the IFLA Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age to set a clear standard that governments could use to ensure public access to legal information. The Statement was subsequently adopted by the IFLA Governing Board in December 2016. It can be found at


In order for people to have access to justice, and for the rule of law to be meaningful, all people need access to the laws that govern them. The growth of the Internet and the increasing availability of information technology to more people provides governments with a new opportunity to provide access to law.


However, this cannot be taken for granted. The IFLA Statement sets out three standards to ensure that digital legal information meets the needs of citizens everywhere: 1. That it is available to all with no fee for access; 2. That it is authenticated in a way that citizens can be assured that the information is trustworthy and authoritative; and 3. That it is preserved in perpetuity and will be permanently available to people without charge.


These three hallmarks of the statement, no-fee access, authentication, and preservation, should serve as a guide to countries seeking to provide trusted and inclusive online access to legal information as a part of their national development plans to implement the UN 2030 Agenda.


Going into more depth on each of these hallmarks, first, the Statement specifically calls for no-fee access, believing that it is a government’s duty as the author of public legal information to provide it to their citizens. Such a goal not only ensures the public have the access necessary to understand the laws that govern them, but also that citizens can better engage with government officials and policy-makers. For many years, outstanding work has been done by worldwide Legal Information Institutes and Free Law communities to bring the law to people via electronic platforms. However, now the IFLA Statement specifically calls on governments themselves to provide access to legal information directly as the original publishers of such information.


Many countries have made significant strides in providing free digital access to law. One example is Kenya, where the National Council for Law Reporting (Kenya Law), provides access to legal information through its website. Kenya’s website provides access to all national basic legal texts including legislation and cases. The National Council for Law Reporting ensures the most up-to-date information is available on the website, so a user need not worry about relying on out-of-date information.


Second, the Statement calls upon governments to provide assurances to users of digital legal information that the information they are accessing is reliable and trustworthy by authenticating the information. Authentication of legal material published online is a key component of the IFLA statement, because users need assurances that the information they use is unaltered and official. This is essential for upholding integrity.


A good example of this principle is the European Union’s Official Journal, found on the Europa website. The journal is produced in PDF with digital signatures available in all official EU languages. Users need not worry about the contamination or alteration of the information in this official publication, and the authentication ensures its reliability.


Finally, the Statement calls upon governments to ensure that legal material they provide to the public is preserved, so that people now and in the future may rely on the availability of information. Link rot and the transience of digital and electronic information remain real concerns for users of electronic information, and users of digital legal information should not fear that vital information upon which they need to rely will not be available to them when they need it, including of course to hold governments accountable.


This goal can be accomplished through a variety of technologies, but also can be done by working in partnership with memory institutions like libraries and archives who have long specialized in the preservation of humankind’s knowledge and information. Working with memory institutions can also ensure that all people have enduring and permanent access to legal information.


For example, in the United Kingdom, the National Archives recently announced that beginning in April 2022, its website will host court judgments, increasing transparency and free access, but also better ensuring permanence. The National Archives was chosen “because of its long-standing expertise in storing and publishing information securely.”[1]


The institutions who make up IFLA’s membership are poised to work with governments in reaching these vital goals to ensure the people of the world can participate in and understand the laws that govern them. To that end, the Law Libraries Section is currently compiling “Best Practices” documents to help educate policy makers and advocates alike. Through giving practical examples, we look forward to showing how libraries, archives, and other memory organizations can work with governments to ensure that all people have access to legal information and the laws that govern them.


by Leslie A. Street, Clinical Professor of Legal Research and Director of the Wolf Law Library, William & Mary Law School; and Anne E Burnett, Foreign and International Law Librarian of Alexander Campbell King Law Library, the School of Law, University of Georgia

[1] Press Release: Boost for open justice as court judgments get new home at (last accessed 30 January 2022).


Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are critical for the recovery from COVID-19

Tuesday, 2 November 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to Africa’s sustainable development prospects. The pandemic has reversed progress on the overarching goal of eradicating poverty in all its forms everywhere. The pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity, inequality, unemployment and informality. For the first time in a decade, global poverty has increased, with the United Nations estimating that the pandemic has pushed more than 114 million people into extreme poverty. African countries face fragile and uneven recoveries as a result of surging COVID-19 infections and inadequate vaccination progress in many countries. Climate change, a growing debt burden, inflationary pressures, volatile commodity prices, and supply chain disruptions are also major challenges facing African countries. Going forward, the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of investing in strong policies and institutions, including those that focus on crisis prevention, preparedness and response. Adequate resources and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions will be critical for Africa’s recovery from this pandemic – and building the resilience to cope with shocks to come.
Fortunately, internationally agreed development frameworks and commitments provide a blueprint and inspiration for the way forward from the pandemic and to build back better. Two of the most powerful instruments of change in Africa are the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Importantly, the two Agendas are complementary and mutually reinforcing, providing similar commitments for Africa’s development, including the eradication of poverty, hunger and inequality.


The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all countries in 2015, have been described by the United Nations Secretary-General as a blueprint for getting back on track and fighting poverty and hunger, confronting the climate crisis, achieving gender equality and much more, within the next ten years. The SDGs can also aid countries on the path to recovery from the pandemic and build resilience to future shocks. More than ever, effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to achieving the SDGs.

Crucially, recovery from the pandemic and attainment of the SDGs should not be sequential or separate. Achieving sustainable development and strengthening resilience requires national policymakers, development partners, civil society and the private sector to adopt a long-term perspective. Collectively tackling the most pressing challenges facing African countries will depend on building transparent and accountable institutions at all levels, based on effective governance for sustainable development, coupled with a steadfast commitment to promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

By and large, African countries have limited levers to influence global economic prospects, international trade, and resource flows. However, strengthening institutions – at the regional, national, and subnational levels – lies in the hands of all countries. Africa has made considerable strides in enhancing review mechanisms on the continent and as an active participant in global processes. For example, of 45 countries that signed up to conduct voluntary national reviews of the implementation of the SDGs in July 2022, 20 are from Africa. The African Peer Mechanism involves countries carrying out in-depth reviews, including of governance performance, with 40 countries having joined.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AU Agenda 2063 requires their integration and mainstreaming into national policy frameworks and uptake across national and local governments, from planning departments to the offices of auditors general. This means aligning national development plans and strategies with SDGs implementation at the national and local levels. It involves re-orienting institutions towards recognizing the connectedness of issues. For instance, the recently concluded Food Systems Summit underscored that agricultural policy is not only connected with food security, but also has deep implications for biodiversity and also needs to take into account the impacts of climate change. With many African countries experiencing rapid urbanization, the effective and inclusive institutions at the local level will be key to the welfare of millions. Encouragingly, cities and regions are getting to grips with localizing and implementing the SDGs. Across the continent, countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have seen local and regional authorities conduct voluntary local reviews, taking stock of the local implementation of the SDGs.

The United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration developed 11 principles of effective governance for sustainable development as a pragmatic response to the good governance aspirations of the 2030 Agenda. The principles, which have been endorsed by Member States, are an essential global reference point. To promote their implementation, a series of operational guidance notes on sound policymaking has been prepared and is being expanded to other areas.

The pandemic has fast-tracked changes and trends already underway, from contactless payments to the ubiquity of virtual meetings. Given these changes, we need to closely examine how Africa can harness and leverage this wave of innovation to enhance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063. For example, while evidence suggests that online schooling is not a direct substitute for learning in person, the virtual classroom has a role to play – the challenge is to make use of it in a way so that no one is left behind. This will require action to combat inequalities associated with unequal access to information and telecommunication technologies and services. The pandemic has shone bright – and sometimes stark – light on the crucial role of reliable and low-cost broadband access and inequalities that may be worsened in the absence of reliable and affordable broadband access. There is also much scope for reflection on the central role of institutions in the areas of digital government, health, disaster preparedness, and communication of science and managing and responding to pandemic risks.

The United Nations actively seeks to promote effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions, working with the African Union and its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), among other partners. As part of this effort, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, together with the APRM, is convening a regional workshop to explore the role of institutions in Africa’s recovery from the pandemic. I hope the conclusions and recommendations of this workshop will help speed progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

by Ms. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, issued on the occasion of the “Workshop on Accelerating the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda and AU Agenda 2063 in Africa: Building Resilient Institutions for the SDGs in the time of COVID-19.”


Making national institutional arrangements for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals more effective: a work in progress

Thursday, 26 August 2021


Strong and effective institutions are paramount to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is well recognized in the Agenda itself. However, five years after the start of the implementation of the Agenda, governance issues remain at the forefront. The 2021 edition of the World Public Sector Report, published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), looks in detail at changes in national institutional arrangements for implementing the SDGs since 2015, and examines selected aspects of their effectiveness.


Since 2015, most countries have adjusted their institutional frameworks to support their commitments to implementing the 2030 Agenda. This has comprised, inter alia:

  • - incorporating the SDGs and other elements of the Agenda into the national institutional context (for instance, national strategies and plans, planning processes, and the work of parliaments and existing government or multistakeholder institutions);
  • - creating new institutions (for example, high-level coordination mechanisms or technical working groups); and
  • - setting up new mechanisms for engaging various stakeholders around SDG implementation.

Such changes have taken place gradually, at a pace typical of those to be expected in the institutional area, with typically some years between initial design and implementation. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an abrupt shock to all countries. The pandemic and governments’ responses to it have impacted the functioning of public institutions in ways that directly affect the capacity of governments to deliver the SDGs, starting with the basic functions of government, including the delivery of public services and public administration. The imperatives of managing of the pandemic have meant that governments have had to take quick decisions in terms of resource allocation, prioritization of policy agendas, and sustaining the functioning of key institutional processes, all of which potentially create tensions with long-term goals such as the SDGs.


The pandemic has also revealed institutional weaknesses in areas critical for piloting the SDGs, such as crisis preparedness, policy integration, communication, and others. This has happened in countries at all levels of development. On the other hand, the year 2020 has also witnessed institutional innovations in areas as diverse as administrative management, stakeholder engagement, transparency and accountability. Lastly, the pandemic also highlighted the importance of trust between people and governments, as well as the broader social contract under which societies operate.


Documenting changes in national institutional arrangements for SDG implementation

Many countries are still putting in place or adjusting key elements of their institutional systems in relation to SDG implementation. Patterns of institutionalization of SDG implementation at the country level are highly idiosyncratic, and no regularities or “typical” patterns are discernible. Countries have built on pre-existing arrangements and created new institutional mechanisms based on national contexts and circumstances. The type of institutional arrangements that countries choose to put in place and the timing of institutional changes have also varied. In spite of these differences, there is a clear trend towards the increasing complexity of institutional arrangements for SDG implementation and the multiplication of potential entry points for different government and non-government stakeholders to support SDG implementation. In fact, compared to other internationally-agreed development frameworks, the first five years of implementation of the 2030 Agenda have seen unprecedented institutionalization at the national level. Yet institutional adjustments are not always linear. Changes in political circumstances in a country can increase or decrease the visibility and prominence of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs on the national policy agenda and affect institutional arrangements in ways that can reinforce them or diminish their effectiveness.


The long time-scale of institutional changes should in itself be considered as an important factor in the capacity of countries to deliver the SDGs. It also implies that the institutional side of SDG implementation is vulnerable to short-term changes in national contexts, including changes in policy agendas. These considerations suggest the need for increased attention to the challenges and practicalities of institutional reform.


The rapid changes observed across national public institutions during the pandemic, and their potential implications for the post-pandemic period, stand in stark contrast to the largely gradual adjustments made by countries to the institutional frameworks for implementing the SDGs between 2015 and 2019. Among potential risks created by the pandemic, the lowering of the political priority of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, the decrease in the resources available to various institutional processes related to SDG implementation (for instance for data collection and production or for stakeholder engagement), and the reduced capacity of public institutions to focus on long-term issues while addressing emergency situations, are prominent. In sum, the institutional changes observed since the beginning of 2020 have disrupted the regular, incremental process of institutional adjustments, which could negatively impact institutional frameworks for SDG implementation.


The wide reach of the impacts from the pandemic into all sectors of economies and societies has also underscored even more the interconnectedness of the SDGs and the need for policy integration. Institutionalized coordination within public administration and with other institutions is an imperative for cohesive policy responses. The pandemic also highlights the dependence of public administration on collaboration with other actors to meet challenges and achieve transformative change. Successes in tackling the pandemic and its effects have often featured or included, for instance, civil society, the private sector, and parliaments. Going forward, the institutionalization of avenues for multi-stakeholder action can facilitate progress towards short- and long-term goals, including the SDGs.


Assessing the effectiveness of SDG follow-up and review systems and processes

Effective monitoring, follow-up, review and reporting are crucial for strengthening the implementation of the SDGs. This has gained further importance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Extreme poverty and inequality have increased. The most vulnerable have been particularly affected by the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Urgent and coordinated action is needed to address the impacts of the pandemic on SDG implementation. Monitoring systems and timely, comparable data are fundamental resources to assess the differentiated setbacks along the SDG goals and targets and to inform policymaking in the longer-term recovery efforts.


National efforts to institutionalize SDG monitoring, follow-up, and review are evident. However, the resulting systems differ depending on how the SDGs have been integrated into each country’s institutional structure. Moreover, while most countries have identified the institutions responsible for SDG monitoring, the performance of such institutional arrangements is not always conducive to effective follow-up and review.


Progress is also evident in the traction of the voluntary national review (VNR) process and its spillover effects at the subnational level. Overall, countries have improved the preparation of the VNRs and the reports themselves. Online reporting has also increased, as countries leverage ICTs and open data to communicate on SDG progress and implementation. Yet, the limited provision of regular SDG implementation reports to parliament illustrates the lack of articulation with the institutional oversight system to ensure accountability. A note for optimism is the increasing number of external audit reports on SDGs and the significant uptake they have had in several countries. Stakeholder engagement has also increased, and more diverse stakeholders are contributing to SDG follow-up and review.


Significant opportunities for improvement include the coordination and integration of SDG monitoring, follow-up and review with existing monitoring systems, and strengthening subnational participation in SDG monitoring as well as subnational reporting processes. Other constraints relate to data gaps, disaggregation and quality, coordination of data producers and the capacity of local governments to collect and analyze data. Subnational governments have also experienced challenges with regard to the definition of roles and responsibilities for SDG monitoring, follow-up and review and their operationalization. The value of embedding VNRs as part of a continuous cycle of national monitoring, follow-up and review also deserves attention.


The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the fulfillment of monitoring responsibilities and the routine operation of national statistical systems and oversight bodies. It has also imposed new challenges to the participation of stakeholders, and disrupted VNR preparations as a result of social distancing measures. In this context, innovation, new partnerships and digital technologies have been crucial to support SDG monitoring. Going forward, structural bottlenecks related to communications infrastructure and access to digital devices should be addressed to ensure inclusive and effective SDG monitoring, follow-up and review.


Taking stock of efforts to build the capacity of public servants to implement the 2030 Agenda

The capacity of public institutions and individual public servants is a key determinant of the effectiveness of national institutional arrangements for SDG implementation. The importance of building the capacity of public administration at all levels for implementing the 2030 Agenda was recognized in the Agenda itself; in particular, the text of the Agenda identified key areas where capacity building should receive attention and resources. Since 2015, considerable efforts have been made by national governments, academia, non-governmental organizations, international organizations and other national and international actors to raise SDG awareness among public servants and build their capacity for SDG implementation. Those efforts have covered areas such as planning, monitoring and reporting; policy integration; stakeholder engagement; and many others. A key question is the extent to which the sum of those efforts has been meeting national needs in this regard. As shown in the report, publicly available information on ongoing capacity building initiatives is limited and does not, in general, provide a clear answer to this question.


Here too, the pandemic has caused shocks that may have profound implications for the delivery of the 2030 Agenda. During the pandemic, public institutions and public servants have faced compelling demands on their resources to continue to provide key public services. Many have been faced with crisis situations requiring radical shifts in the way they operate, as well as reallocation of resources. In addition, the constraints imposed by the pandemic on physical meetings, travel, and other resources have affected the delivery of capacity building efforts, with a shift to digital delivery modes whose long-term impacts are yet unknown but could have negative implications for SDG implementation.


There is therefore a need to better understand the trends in and features of capacity building efforts in support of SDG implementation targeted at public servants, in terms not only of how they have developed over the past five years and are meeting the needs of countries, but also of how they could be adjusted in the future, taking into account lessons from the pandemic period.


by Mr. Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


International Practice on Digital Health Certificates

Digital Government Exchange 2021 Safe Travel Working Group (Thursday, 22 July 2021)




Globally, we see ongoing discussions on how vaccine-certificates could be part of the effort to reopen the economy and an increasing need collaborate and support cross border verifications of vaccine certificates.


This led to the idea to leverage on the Digital Government Exchange (DGX), a platform that the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and the Government Technology Agency Singapore formed in 2016. DGX facilitates dialogue amongst GCIOs and public sector leaders from over 10 countries/cities and institutions[1]. DGX aims to build a community of like-minded digital governments and smart cities that would facilitate mutual learning and sharing and explore areas for future collaboration. A special DGX Safe Travel working group[2] was formed to discuss mutual recognition and drive inter-operability in this area.


This blog details member countries’ implementation of digital vaccine certificates to facilitate travel and takeaways. In general, solutions can be grouped into three broad categories, namely generation of digital health certificates, cross-border verification, and open-sourced technical specifications or frameworks. Multi-lateral organisations and private associations have also been quick to weigh in on possible e-wallet solutions which help to store and manage COVID-19 tests or vaccine certificates. These includes the IATA Travel Pass, CommonPass and ICC AOKpass.


(A)Generation of Digital Health Certificates

The acceptance of health certificates as proof of eligibility to travel has gathered pace, with several countries building their own digital health certificate systems and modelling them on other such solutions concurrently in development at the international level. Besides proof of vaccination, proof of a negative COVID-19 test or evidence of recovery serves as supporting travel documents.


  • Israel’s GreenPass and Singapore’s HealthCerts were implemented in the first half of 2021, with the European Union’s Digital COVID Certificate EU DCC (for France, Sweden and other EU member states ) scheduled for mid-2021. Other Members are in the planning phase with many focused domestically as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Overview of Member’s Solutions


  • Canada plans to leverage its contact tracing app ArriveCAN to return a “Yes” or “No” for vaccination status. There are plans for ArriveCAN  to injest both hi-fidelity digital and verifiable PVCs as well as low-fidelity (pictures of PVC) ones. Other Members are developing solutions to display these health certificates as QR codes which can be produced in a digital or hardcopy form for example:


  • - Australian citizens will be able to print their health certificates, display them on their mobile devices (e.g. via Apple or Google wallet) or display hardcopies issued to citizens without access to smartphones. Digital access to citizen’s immunisation information will be facilitated through the Australian Government’s myGov platform.


  • - Israel’s ‘Green Pass’[3] can be displayed on an Israeli Health Ministry app with a function to print or upload to a website/portal, enables access to leisure facilities such as gyms and hotels. Nearly half of the population is currently in possession of the Green Pass. The QR code can be scanned by off the shelf scanners but the verification process requires a software module which can be based on open source.


  • - EU’s DCC can be presented as a QR code which a traveller can choose to carry as a digital or paper certificate. It aims to allow Europeans to travel easily between the 27 member states. At the end of May 2021, France was the first country in the EU to have a system up through TousAntiCovid app which has approxmiately 15 million users enables the self-upload of vaccine certificates, negative COVID-19 test results and recovery status to their smartphone by scanning the QR code on the test result form or via an SMS link. Sweden’s Digital COVID Certificate is part of, and has contributed to, the EU Digital Covid Certificate. Information for the vaccination certificate is retrieved from a national vaccination registry to formulate a digital vaccine cert which will be sent to the user’s secure digital mailbox unlocked using their eID. Sweden has open-sourced its solution[4].


  • - Singapore’s HealthCerts[5] (vaccine, negative COVID-19 test result) has been designed as an open standard, in order to promote adoption and inter-operability. It is based on OpenAttestation (OA)[6] framework, an open source framework which uses blockchain to issue cryptographically trustworthy documents which can be verified independently without the need for proprietary software equipment. OpenAttestation has been used in several sectors including educational certificates, electronic trade documents, and COVID-19 pre-departure test certificates.


  • From May 2021, UK’s existing National Health Service (NHS) phone app can display vaccine certificates when travelling abroad. This is only available for people in England who have had two doses of an approved vaccine. There are plans to add PCR and serology test information.


In compliance with international standards, members have indicated plans to comply with the guidelines set by the WHO when it is confirmed.


(B)Verification of Digital Health Certificates

For cross-border travel, countries need to verify that digital certificates are issued by a competent authority, have not been tampered with, and are valid (not revoked).


Options for verification such as scanning the QR code with a verifier app is available. Majority of Members are developing proprietary verifiers including EC’s Digital COVID Certificate which can be decrypted through a public key and allows offline verification. Sweden’s verifier app has been open sourced and France’s TousAntiCovid Vérif, has 2 modes for verification for activities in France and another for transportation companies. Singapore’s HealthCerts can be read by any QR code scanner (without the need for a proprietary software) and rendered in a human-readable format, verified through Singapore is exploring the addition of an offline QR version for health certificates.


Proprietary verifier apps would require customs officers to know which app to use depending on the country need not cope with multiple versions of apps. The consideration is to push the heavy lifting to the authorities or certificate issuer for easy verification downstream.


Other options include Israel’s approach of pre-departure submission by uploading digital health certificates for pre-arrival verification, avoiding the scenario of being turned away upon arrival. Several commercial digital wallet solutions such as the ICC AOKpass allow passengers to upload their travel documents as part of the check-in process ahead of arrival. For example, Singapore’s HealthCerts can be viewed on the AOKPass.


Members have published their technical specifications and frameworks so that companies and Governments can adapt the source code and develop their own solutions. such as EU’s DCC, Singapore’s HealthCerts, and UK’s Global Trust Framework.


There is a need for multilateral discussions through platforms such as DGX


Resuming international travel would not only bring about economic benefits, such as tourism and business, but would also connect families and loved ones that have been separated for over a year since this pandemic began. To facilitate cross-border travel, platforms such as the DGX Safe Travel Working Group are important platforms to facilitate discussions. This is especially so with technical discussions, to ensure that as and when we are ready, policy-wise, to resume travel with countries, implementation can be hastened.


As a next step, Members will discuss the approach for mutual recognition of digital certificates such as online If policy decisions are ready, it could include outliers that required further thought such as recognition of vaccination overseas, timing between first and second dose, vaccines not approved by incoming country, etc.


By Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore’s Government Chief Digital Technology Officer and Members of the Digital Government Exchange Safe Travel Working Group


Kindly contact the DGX Secretariat at or should you have further queries.


[1] DGX members include Amsterdam, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, New York, Sweden, the United Kingdom (UK), the United Nations (UN), and the World Bank.

[2] DGX Safe Travel working group members include Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, UK and UN DESA.

[3] Due to low infection rates, Israel lifted the Green Pass restrictions within the country as of 1 June 2021

[5] Singapore’s HealthCerts

[6] OpenAttestation Framework can be found at



Are some countries “rich enough” that they purchase for the lowest price?

Monday, 07 June 2021


Sustainable public procurement (SPP) provides Governments with the opportunity to move beyond procuring only from suppliers that deliver the least expensive products, to prioritizing procurement from suppliers that respect human rights and the environment. Since public procurement, on average, represents 13 to 20 per cent of gross domestic product, SPP has the potential to provide a major boost to sustainable development and could be seen by many countries as a strategic priority. However, to be really sustainable, public procurement also needs to be efficient, to assure that public money is spent for good reasons and that the best possible price is achieved.

The existing public procurement legislation in most countries permits to use the “best bid” (combination of qualitative and quantitative assessment) or the “lowest price” (just price counts) criterion to select the winner. The EU procurement directives today even propose that the “best bid” criterion should be the preferable solution, especially for works and services. The purpose for such expectation is obvious and perfectly expressed by a well-known slogan:

“I’m Not Rich Enough to Buy Cheap Things”

This expression does not neglect the option to search for the lowest possible price – but only as long as a person/institution knows exactly what it will receive for such a price and is happy with such a product. It gets what it pays for. However, this is possible only if “standard” items are purchased; and most services and almost all works cannot be fully standardized!

At first glance it seems to be obvious that experienced governmental purchasers well understand that it is very risky and problematic to use the lowest price criterion when purchasing services and works (and even some goods), and it is often also not the most sustainable solution. However, the real data are surprising – for example, the information from the Tenders Electronic Daily (EU procurement journal) shows that most old EU member states purchase approximately 90 percent of works and services using the “best bid” (MEAT) criterion. However, most of the new EU member countries purchase 80-90 percent of their works and services using the “lowest price” criterion. In a detailed research mapping 2016-2020 health care procurement in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (APVV-17-0360) it was found that the “lowest price” was for almost all hospitals the only selection criterion.

The fact that purchasing works and services using the lowest price approach does not help to save public money is well known and documented on many examples. If we look just at the area of road constructions in Central Europe, for example Poland had to cancel a deal for a builder to work on a key highway when it failed to pay its Polish partners; the Czech Republic still did not settle (after more than ten years) all disputes with the firm that constructed a part of its highway D1 close to Ostrava with a very poor quality; and the Slovak Republic had to cancel the deal with a builder of its D1 highway part close to Zilina.

Almost everybody should understand the principle, but the practice in many countries differs. Why? A full and definite answer may not exist. However, some explanations might be found.

Is it, for example, possible to connect this issue with the quality of public procurement (public sector) control and audit? We think so. The existing knowledge suggests that in less developed countries “compliance” control dominates - process is more important compared to results. However, this type of control has devastating effects on public procurement results. Public authorities and their purchasing officials need to be sure that the process does not include any problematic element. And in such environment the decision to purchase for the “lowest price” is the safest decision. Control bodies/media, and other watchdogs can question the way how the “best bid criterion” was operationalized via the set of used sub-criteria (for example: was the weight of experience well selected?). However, at least as of today, the simple selection by the “lowest price”, realized by reverse e-auction is normally not attacked by any external body, and is usually approved without disputes. Why take risks to achieve public savings – especially if budgets and salaries of involved officials are fixed? There is no motivation to do things differently.

How to escape form this trap? There is no simple answer; however the general recipe exists: we need to start to understand procurement as management and not as administrative process. And to try to check results, not probity. Only then, SPP can become a new standard for effective and efficient PP, as promoted by the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) in April 2021.


by Juraj Nemec and Louis Meuleman, Members of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration


Links between SDGs 2 and 3: Perspectives of Eatology

Monday, 17 May 2021


 A key feature of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the multi-layering of links among the Goals. While this may add to complexities in implementation, it also gives rise to potential synergies and integration and to positive spillover impacts among the Goals.


In this blog, I would like to share my thoughts on two SDGs – SDG2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, and SDG3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. 


Twinning of these two Goals will help achieve targets under the two Goals.  For example, target 4 of Goal 3 aims to reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and wellbeing. Target 8 of Goal 3 aims to achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.


While clearly there are many effective steps one can take to achieve these two targets, including through healthy lifestyles, of particular relevance to them is action taken to achieve target 1 of Goal 2, which aims to end by 2030 hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. Having easy access to macronutrients and micronutrients is essential to good health. An inadequate intake of nutrients in your diet can affect your wellbeing leading to ill health and disease.


More than two thousand years ago, the "Huangdi Nei Jing" - an ancient Chinese medical guidebook - indicated that the “best medicine” available to human beings is the one that prevents illness; the second best is the one that anticipates illness that is about to occur; and the third best is the one that treats illness that has occurred. In this context, the “best medicine” can be secured through nutritious food intake, along with exercise, mental fitness and other health-related actions.


How does one manage to foster health through your food intake? Under the conceptual framework of eatology that I have developed,  eating has four functions of "alleviating hunger, causing disease, preventing disease, and curing disease". How to "fill hunger" without "causing disease", how to "prevent disease" and "cure disease" through the science of eating is the knowledge that everyone should master, as it is a key part of the best medicine.


Under the concept of eatology, eating occurs in a timeframe which can be divided into: “before, during, and after eating”. Before eating, one needs to consider level of hunger, type of foods and season one is in and select the food ingredients accordingly.  During the meal, one needs to pay attention to the "seven appropriateness" related to the seven dimensions of eating (quantity, type, frequency, temperature, speed, sequence, rawness and methods of cooking). After eating, “two tests” are needed - whether the food is properly digested and stool is normal – thus closing the loop of eating. This is illustrated in the dial below.



Approved by experts of the World Eatology Forum convened on the margins of the 2019 G20 Osaka summit, the above-listed dietary guide takes the form of one set of dials. The small dial on the inner ring denotes "an eater’s 7 dimensions", and the three pointers on the large dial section it into three time zone, namely the pre-dining zone, during-dining zone, and post-dining area.


The three phases combine to constitute a full cycle of the food intake experience. In most dietary guidelines, only the during-dining stage was discussed, and the other two stages - the pre-dining stage and the post-dining stage – are often omitted. They are, nevertheless, as important as the during-dining phase in completing the nutritious food intake cycle.


Healthy and balanced food intakes help protect against hunger and malnutrition, prevent non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. While diversified, balanced and healthy diets can vary from culture to culture and region to region, an essential step to a healthy diet is to have a right amount of macro- and micro-nutrients, balanced on the basis of individual needs, as well as the three phases of pre-, during- and post-dining. If we as individuals can make this happen, we are contributing towards the achievement of SDGs 2 and 3 and related targets.


We must therefore be responsible for our own health and for changing our lifestyles accordingly. Health management is a systematic project, divided into upstream, midstream, and downstream. The upstream is food intake, the middle is mentality and exercise, and the downstream is medical. It is necessary to establish the concept of "food before medical treatment", to improve the ability to "prevent diseases", and to abandon the concept of "earning money to treat diseases". Be the active person for a healthy and long life, not a passive person prone to illness. Simply put, by prioritizing balanced and healthy food intake, you are prioritizing prevention over treatment and tell yourself - I am the person responsible for my health, and I am the beneficiary of my good health.


by Guangwei Liu, Director-general of World Eatology Forum

Higher Education and the Really Big Challenges

Monday, 05 April 2021


  Our humanity and our planet exist in a time of great challenges. Billions of our fellow human beings still live in great poverty - and are thus denied a decent life. The inequalities in living conditions, wealth and power are enormous. Oppression of women, corruption and lack of democracy remain major challenges. Global health risks, increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters, violent extremism, terrorism and the associated humanitarian crises and forced displacements of people do threaten to reverse much of the developments of recent decades. The depletion of natural resources and the negative effects of environmental degradation, including desertification, deforestation, drought, soil degradation, marine pollution, freshwater scarcity and loss of biodiversity, contribute to and exacerbate the list of challenges facing humanity. The negative consequences of climate change undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. Rising global temperatures and subsequent sea level rises are seriously affecting coastal countries, including many of the least developed countries and small island nations. Many societies' survival and the planet's biological support system are in danger.
However, we also live in a time of great opportunity. In the last generation, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Access to education has increased sharply for both boys and girls. The proliferation of information and communication technologies and global interconnection has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies, as well as scientific and technological innovation in areas as diverse as medicine and energy.
Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes its major report Global Risks. The latest report is accompanied by an analysis of the human costs of the Covid-19 pandemic. About 500 million people have been affected by poverty. Many of the world's students have had to cancel their studies. World trade as well as economic growth has declined. People's opportunities for employment and livelihoods have been severely hampered by the global virus pandemic. And a 1 per cent increase in unemployment means a 2 per cent increase in morbidity in chronic diseases. The pandemic is endangering the livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of people.
However, in 2015 all 193 United Nations´ Member States adopted a world-historic "Agenda 2030", with 17 global goals for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development, and 169 sub-goals. It aims to eradicate poverty and hunger, realize human rights for all, achieve equality and empowerment for all women and girls, and ensure lasting protection for the planet and its natural resources. The global goals are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, the social, and the environmental.
However, an old Chinese proverb says that "words do not cook rice". In our opinion, Agenda 2030 requires decision-makers at all levels to strengthen their ability to think critically (i.e. not just go by their gut feeling), think ethically (i.e. not just in dollars and cents), think in systems (i.e. do not "take on one hell at a time") and think in long-term sustainability terms (i.e. not just for the next term of office).
We have for a long time argued in various contexts that these four abilities should be integrated into all higher education. The ability to think ethically can no longer be reserved for philosophy students alone, the ability to think in terms of long-term sustainability can no longer be limited to those who study environmental issues, and so on. Today's students are tomorrow's decision-makers, both in Sweden, in Europe, and globally. We now have support for this from several international university federations, including the International Association of Universities (IAU).
But, as we have already pointed out, the step from recommendations to effective and coordinated implementation is often very long. And this step is far from straightforward. The downspout thinking and the inability to think self-critically is institutionalized in many political systems. For example, our Swedish government is organized into 12 ministries, with 23 cabinet ministers, each with clearly defined areas of responsibility. The Prime Minister's Office, which could have had the task of integrating when the challenges are complex, is mainly concerned with balancing the interests of the political parties active in the government base, rather than those of the various policy areas. Each ministry's area of responsibility includes several government authorities that must apply the laws and carry out the activities that the Swedish Parliament and the government have decided on. There are 341 authorities under the government. Each is governed by its ministry through annually issued regulation letters. Our country is further divided into 21 regions and 290 municipalities. Sweden is certainly not unique in this fragmentation of government institutions that hampers policymaking and implementation. 
That we have an urgent need to break with the downspout policy and that we must exercise the system's capacity for critical thinking has now been illustrated with brutal clarity by the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thinking in dollars and cents instead of ethically has proven to have serious effects on the financing and organization of our elderly care. In Sweden we have seen a catastrophic lack of coordination in handling the effects of the pandemic between the various state authorities, regions and municipalities that has been recently been revealed by a public commission (the so called Corona-commission). 
Higher education must now take its responsibility to break in the education of the decision-makers of the future with tendencies towards adaptability instead of critical thinking, group loyalty instead of responsibility, short-sightedness and destructive economics instead of a perspective based on a well-thought-out ethics. This will require a very comprehensive and long-term educational effort in higher education.
The question we ask is whether today's university and college managements are ready for such a responsibility. A responsibility that actually means that the next generation of decision-makers learns to think critically-ethically and in systems, and with a focus on the well-being and survival of humanity and our planet. With a new way of thinking that characterizes curricula and course content, taking into account a unanimous UN recommendation.

by Lennart Levi, MD, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychosocial Medicine, Karolinska institutet, Stockholm, Sweden & Bo Rothstein, PhD, Professor of Political science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

(A version in Swedish of this article was published in Dagens Nyheter, February 22nd, 2021.)

(A version in Chinese of this article is published on

Digital Government Initiatives in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic must be inclusive

Tuesday, 12 January 2021


In a year where people worldwide have had to engage in social distancing, mask wearing and a range of unique behaviors to stop the transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), it is easy to think that we are more divided than ever – physically and socially.

But on the ground, we often see a different picture - there is real cooperation.  Across the world we witness people help each other – including among frontline public servants, such as our healthcare workers, teachers, sanitation workers, transit workers and many others. The response to the crisis has also seen many innovative and adaptive initiatives and actions by all levels of government. Indeed, in many countries, it is governments that are leading the way.

This was clearly set out in DESA’s Compendium of Digital Government Initiatives in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The cases highlighted in the Compendium show the innovative approaches being undertaken, the digital tools being harnessed, to deliver assistance in unprecedented situations. Digital government has stepped up its central role as a necessary element of communication, leadership and collaboration between policy makers and society. Digital tools are connecting healthcare workers and patients, teachers and students, service providers and customers. 

But digital tools have not reached everyone – the older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, for example, are among those yet to be meaningfully connected.

Furthermore, we are not simply in the middle of a pandemic – but also, according to our colleagues at the World Health Organization - an “infodemic”. There has never been a greater need for accurate, verified information. The best way to combat mis- and dis-information is to raise awareness – something that many of the cases in the above-mentioned Compendium are designed to do.

The experience in harnessing digital tools in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic has yielded many lessons, a key one being deploying digital solutions for everyone, not just those who can afford the access.  Looking ahead, peoples’ expectations of governments, having already increased during the pandemic, are bound to grow – they will demand more and better levels of e-services in the post-pandemic era. As policy makers respond to these rising expectations, continuing to innovate and use digital technologies in an inclusive way will help to propel progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, leaving no one offline.

Finding and facilitating solutions for the most vulnerable groups must be a priority for policy makers, to enable the delivery of online services and to stop and eliminate further digital divides. Digital technologies are crucial in delivering accessible, reliable and inclusive services, especially for vulnerable groups. They should be harnessed to do good and create value for society as a whole.

For the international community, an urgent priority ahead is to overcome the digital divides. In the least developed countries, only 19 per cent of individuals were online in 2019. We are leaving a large majority behind. We need solutions that help bridge the digital divides so that the benefits of digital technologies can reach those being left behind, unconnected. In a recent blog on digital transformation, also in this space, my colleague Elliott Harris, proposed a digital strategy of ten key elements, which I echo.  I think they provide useful guidance for the way forward and share them again here for easy reference by our readers:

  1. Committed and transformational leadership at the highest level;
  2. Alignment of a country’s digital transformation strategy with mid- and long-term development plans, and more holistic digital strategies and plans at both national and sub-national levels through whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches;
  3. Policy and legislative frameworks for data privacy and cybersecurity;
  4. Flexible and customized policies and services for special areas, such as health, education, employment, social protection, among others;
  5. Data sharing and data integration to overcome data silos across governments and sectors and enhanced interoperability;
  6. Digital social inclusion strategies to ensure that the digital transformation leaves no one behind;
  7. Harnessing frontier technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics to provide more effective services, for example in rural areas;
  8. Mid- and long-term investment in ICT infrastructure, including for the so-called “non-contact industries”;
  9. Capacity building of both government and non-governmental stakeholders; and
  10. Creating an enabling digital ecosystem and mobilizing resources for digital government transformation.

by Ms. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs


Let’s Wake the Giant Now!

Tuesday, 08 December 2020


It is the final decade to implement 2030 #SustainableDevelopment Goals (#SDGs). Most governments are failing their commitment towards promoting #Sustainable #PublicProcurement: an immense opportunity loss for leveraging the purchasing power of the public sector towards SDG agenda.


We have long thought that #sustainable #public #procurement (#SPP) can be truly “fit for purpose”. The question remains largely unanswered. Were we optimistic to think that "we can wake the trillion-dollar giant?" As Carsten Hansen put it in his latest report (October 2020).


Will this awakening happen by 2030? What are the real barriers? What kind of enabling conditions do we need to create? How can we advance research? mobilize incentives for cultural change and buy-in? reinforce practitioner level capacity? acknowledge and integrate the impact of SPP cost factor in budgets and decision-making processes?


#SDGGoal12 specifically, provides a wide platform for linking #PublicProcurement practices with #SustainableDevelopment outcomes, aligning public spending with national development objectives of governments and the wider international community.


Can #publicprocurement be better positioned as a strategic policy tool to drive and create markets to address societal needs? To what extent this is doable in low-and middle-income countries suffering from austerity, and where budget constraints and debt burden are overarching priorities?


Undeniably, the cost factor in low-income and middle-income countries is amplified. The price of SPP is considered an extra burden and public procurement officials often prioritize short-term price savings over sustainable outcomes due to budgetary constraints.


A most interesting conceptual framework was developed by @carstenhansen. It revolves around four dimensions, including the legal framework, the implementing public organization, the practitioner level, and the readiness of the national supply market.


@carstenhansen points to knowledge and capacity gaps as major challenges. Skills at all levels are enablers for SPP: policymakers, customers, suppliers, contractors, as well as procurers are all concerned. The skills of influencing, negotiating, communication, and analysis need to be fostered.


The UN system @SustDev & international partners are called upon to continue mobilizing needed resources through TA and funding, The ODA allocated for SGG12 is very low and insufficient (1% og Gross ODA disbursement, OECD, 207) to support Governments (especially in developing countries) pursuing PP reforms and addressing the multi-dimensional challenges of SPP implementation.


Summary remarks delivered at the virtual expert group meeting on institutions and governance for accelerating #SPP., 24 November 2020. UN CEPA Working Group on Sustainable Public Procurement 





By Lamia Moubayed Bissat,  member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration


Public participation in external oversight: Demystifying false dilemmas

Wednesday, 04 November 2020

*Joaquín Caprarulo, Patricia Guillén Nolasco and Marcos Mendiburu


Citizen participation in external oversight has gained renewed salience in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resort to extraordinary powers and financial resources to face the health crisis and its economic impact highlights the importance of accountability and transparency to strengthen trust in public institutions.


The international seminar “Citizen Participation and External Auditing” (in Spanish) addressed two important issues for Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs), namely  the impact of citizen participation in external audits on SAI independence and on the technical nature of audits.


Some SAI staff argue that participation—including civil society participation—could negatively impact SAIs’ independence by biasing the audit work towards particular interests. Further, the prominently technical character of SAIs’ work is frequently underscored, and citizens’ lack of this kind of knowhow is pointed out. While SAI independence and the technical nature of auditing are important, these arguments give raise to false dichotomies between “external oversight” and “participation.”


SAIs’ independence is not incompatible with participation. Independence needs to be understood as a guarantee that the public entities subject to oversight will not interfere with the performance of SAIs’ functions. That aim does not conflict with SAIs’ responsiveness to the needs and demands of the citizens.


An overview of citizen participation experiences among Latin American SAIs does not provide any evidence to support the concerns about citizen participation. Experiences like that of Argentina’s General Audit Office or Colombia’s General Comptroller of the Republic, which have had participation mechanisms in place since early in the century, show no negative effects of participation on their independence.


Conversely, the interaction with citizens can help buttress SAIs’ independence when facing potential political interference. In fact, one of the main potential sources of interference with SAI independence in some countries of Latin America relates to a process of selection of their top executives that does not favour the suitability and independence of candidates, but instead privileges the distribution of offices among political parties. In contrast, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the involvement of the Social Participation Committee of the state anti-corruption system in the designation of the  auditor general led to a more legitimate selection process.


Independence should not be confused with isolation. Nowadays, in resonance  with Sustainable Development Goal 16, effective oversight institutions cannot be conceived in isolation from society. 


This conclusion requires a revision of the model of horizontal accountability. The model has drawbacks when applied without considering the interaction between SAIs and other institutions, or between them and the  rest of society. As stressed by Jonathan Fox at the seminar, “Accountability should be conceived as a chain of actors that reinforce one another, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, considering  that the chain is as strong as its weakest link.” Accountability requires independent and effective SAIs working together with other (independent and effective) actors of the oversight system, including the public. 


Regarding the second prejudice against social participation—the lack of citizens’ capacity to participate due to the technical nature of external oversight--, the aim is not to replace roles and expertise but to complement them. Oversight is complemented and enhanced by public contributions involving a broad range of actors. Social audits are no substitute for external auditing and its technical capacity, but they provide valuable information and bring up the perspective of society.


Many examples show the value of citizen contributions to public oversight. A joint audit between the citizen oversight body (veeduría ciudadana) and the Colombian SAI to audit the public resources deployed for the reconstruction of households damaged by the destruction of the urban center of the Gramalote municipality in 2017 produced 10 administrative findings that had disciplinary implications as well as fiscal impact.  In Costa Rica, a 2018 audit on the quality of drinking water services in vulnerable communities involved the local indigenous communities in the prioritization and validation of indicators. In 2003, the participation of persons with disabilities in an audit of the Auditor General of Argentina on the accessibility of public transportation made it possible to identity the failure of transit buses to comply with the use of ramps for people with disabilities during rush hour.


Technical expertise is not a requirement for contributing to government oversight. In Perú, citizen oversight monitors (“monitores ciudadanos de control”) are volunteers, trained and duly accredited by the SAI, who conduct social oversight of public works or of the delivery of goods and services financed with public resources. In 2019, 2,187 monitors in 24 Peruvian regions made 2,234 visits to 1,275 worksites. They generated 1,714 citizen reports indicating lack of compliance. These reports resulted in oversight measures by the SAI, and in penalties for 1,036,426 soles. This program has now been adapted to virtual oversight over the use of public resources in delivering baskets of basic goods to vulnerable populations in response to the pandemic.


As emphasized by Nelson Shack, Peru’s General Comptroller and president of OLACEFS, “There is much capacity in organized civil society to contribute to audit work, broadening the reach of oversight measures… No one has more interest than the neighbour herself in making sure that the public works that benefit her community and her family are effectively performed.”


For the Spanish version of the blog, click here.


*Joaquín Caprarulo is coordinator of the democratic strengthening and open justice programs of the Civic Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ), Argentina.

Patricia Guillén Nolasco is manager of citizen participation in Peru’s General Comptroller of the Republic, which currently chairs OLACEFS’s Citizen Participation Committee.

Marcos Mendiburu is an expert in transparency, accountability and open government.


Ten Key Elements for Accelerating Digital Transformation for Sustainable and Resilient Recovery from COVID-19

Tuesday, 13 October 2020 1


The blog is adapted from an opening address delivered at the webinar Capacity Development Webinar on “Accelerating Digital Transformation for Sustainable and Resilient Recovery from COVID-19


The year 2020 witnessed unprecedented challenges amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing and quarantine measures underway to contain the virus, digital solutions - by leveraging ICTs and digital government, particularly AI, big data analytics, and robotics - have become critical to both government and non-government sectors.


Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Governments to accelerate digital transformation, including digital government. In this context, digital government, which is highly reliant on real-time data and analytics, has enabled Governments:


  • - to make rapid policy decisions,
  • - streamline institutional coordination and business processes,
  • - empower local authorities to address COVID-19 at the frontline and
  • - ensure effective delivery of online services.


While the opportunities offered by the digital transformation are many, so are the challenges. Concerns have re-emerged over data privacy, the digital divides, poor ICT infrastructure in many countries, and lack of digital capacities. The general public is also demanding that their governments move quickly and take strong action in promoting and strengthening non-contact-based industries, such as distant education, telemedicine and remote employment.


Vulnerable groups, who are most affected by the digital divides and are lagging behind in the process of digital transformation, are also calling on governments to ensure an inclusive digital transformation. Increasingly, governments are expected to provide customized and personalized services to address the special demands from different parts and sectors of society.


To address some of these challenges, countries have started to review their national strategies for digital transformation in the context of pursuing a sustainable and resilient recovery in the Post-COVID-19 Era. Others have proposed new digital roadmaps or initiatives for revitalizing their economy and improving national competitiveness. Many Governments are also further expanding their digital infrastructure by developing AI, big data, cloud computing, and 5G. Some of these initiatives are included in a recent Compendium of Digital Government Initiatives in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, published by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Country experience suggests that effective digital transformation strategies and roadmaps for sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 should include the following ten key elements:


  1. committed and transformational leadership at the highest level;
  2. alignment of a country’s digital transformation strategy with mid- and long-term development plans, and more holistic digital strategies and plans at both national and sub-national levels through whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches;
  3. policy and legislative frameworks for data privacy and cybersecurity;
  4. flexible and customized policies and services for special areas, such as health, education, employment, social protection, among others;
  5. data sharing and data integration to overcome data silos across governments and sectors and enhanced interoperability;
  6. digital social inclusion strategies to ensure that the digital transformation leaves no one behind;
  7. harnessing frontier technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics to provide more effective services, for example in rural areas;
  8. mid- and long-term investment in ICT infrastructure, including for the so-called “non-contact industries”;
  9. capacity building of both government and non-governmental stakeholders; and
  10. creating an enabling digital ecosystem and mobilizing resources for digital government transformation.


This is a long list of tasks, but it is the only pathway forward. Furthermore, the impact of the pandemic is trans-boundary and requires concerted action from all countries. The call for global digital cooperation and solidarity is more urgent than ever as digital technologies and innovation stand at the center of effective and innovative responses and recovery strategies to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from Governments, other non-governmental stakeholders also play a critical role in promoting global digital cooperation. Partnerships are key to an effective digital government transformation.


by Mr. Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs


Taking an evidence-based approach to governance policy in the face of COVID-19

Tuesday, 11 August 2020


Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while addressing the enormous challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic requires identifying, implementing, and scaling the most effective social policies and programs. Too often, however, this key principle—effectiveness—can get lost amid other considerations.


Determining which social policies and programs are truly effective, and parsing out approaches that do not work, requires rigorous, policy-oriented research. Focusing on research alone, of course, is not enough: Research needs to make it into the hands of decision-makers, and decision-makers have to understand how to apply lessons from research to their unique contexts.


This is a tall order—but not impossible. At J-PAL, we work to bridge the gap between researchers and policymakers. This is a two-way street: Researchers must prioritize designing studies that answer policy-relevant questions, and policymakers must be open to learning about program effectiveness and acting on research findings.


An experimental approach


We focus on a specific type of research: randomized evaluations, also known as randomized controlled trials, or RCTs. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, awarded to J-PAL co-founders Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo and longtime J-PAL affiliate Michael Kremer, recognized this methodology as transformative to the field of international development.


This “experimental approach” was relatively scarce in the field of development even two decades ago, but now is now at the core of a growing global ecosystem of hundreds of researchers, research institutions, and NGOs, many of which have worked with J-PAL affiliates to produce thousands of randomized evaluations. This work informs policymaking in almost all sectors of development, from agriculture to crime and conflict to governance.


Randomized evaluations break down large development problems into specific questions. For example, “How do we reduce the spread of COVID-19?” can instead translate to, “How do we design information campaigns to increase uptake of preventative health behaviors,” and “How can we improve the delivery of health products and services,” among dozens of other related questions. These questions individually and collectively generate lessons and insights that can help reduce the spread of the pandemic and lessen its economic effects.


Experimental evidence in governance


In governance, there has been a significant accumulation of experimental evidence across three core areas: Increasing political participation, reducing corruption and leakages, and improving state capacity for service delivery.


These interconnected themes are cross-cutting across the SDGs, many of which rely on effective, accountable, and transparent government—in particular SDG 16, which calls for peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.


Randomized evaluations in these areas have taught us several lessons about how to best strengthen the role of government in poverty reduction. We have learned, for instance, that giving households information about the social benefits they are entitled to can help shift the balance of power between citizens and local officials, reducing opportunities for corruption and increasing access to social services.


We have learned from multiple studies that gender quotas for women in local government bodies can improve women’s representation in politics, increase provision of public services, and improve perceptions of women as leaders. Many RCTs have also been conducted to measure the effects of voter information campaigns during elections, showing that providing voters with information about candidates, when information is widely disseminated and credible, can lead to more qualified and accountable candidates being elected..


These are just some areas within governance where randomized evaluations have provided useful insights, with hundreds of other completed and ongoing projects answering questions related to taxation, civil service recruitment and reform, community-driven development, and many more topics.


RCTs in governance and related topics can also provide important insights for policymakers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Research in Indonesia, for example, has found that leveraging community knowledge and on-demand applications to identify the poor when distributing social programs— a key question for governments rolling out new benefits in response to COVID-19—can provide more flexibility, without large costs in accuracy, compared to other traditional ways of identifying the poor. Experimental research during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone showed that holding meetings between community members and health staff to discuss and tackle service delivery issues, or giving status awards to clinic staff, can improve the community’s trust in the health system—an issue of paramount importance during the outbreak of an infectious disease.


Individual studies certainly don’t always provide lessons that are generalizable across different contexts. However, evidence from an RCT can often generalize when we are thoughtful about contextual factors and understand what drives the impacts of the program or policy being evaluated. When studies are designed with these mechanisms in mind, they can provide important considerations for policymakers looking to incorporate research into their decisions.



The potential (and limitations) of randomized evaluations to inform policy decisions


While randomized evaluations are excellent tools for learning about the impact of a policy or program, they are not always appropriate for all situations. For example, randomization may not be politically or logistically feasible, and it may be unethical to provide a certain intervention to a treatment group or withhold it from a comparison group if past research has demonstrated its effectiveness.


In such instances, it’s worth emphasizing that randomized evaluations are just one tool in a policymakers’ toolbox. Quasi-experimental or other quantitative analysis, descriptive research, analysis of administrative data, and direct feedback from participants are all important for well-rounded decision-making.


But when feasible and ethical to carry out, this rigorous research has shed light on important findings that have led to more effective policies and improved lives: more than 400 million people around the world have been reached by programs that were scaled up after they were shown to be effective through evaluations by researchers in the J-PAL network.


Ultimately, and perhaps now more than ever, putting the world back on track to achieve the target of less than 3 percent of its population living in extreme poverty by 2030 will require effective, evidence-based social programs that address the needs of those left behind. There is no silver bullet to achieve this goal—but through rigorous research, strong research-policy partnerships, and a commitment to use evidence in policy design, it is within our grasp.



David Alzate is a Policy Associate at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and manager of J-PAL’s Governance Initiative, which funds innovative randomized evaluations to identify the most promising approaches to improving governance. Eliza Keller is a Policy and Communications Manager at J-PAL, where she works with governments, foundations, and other partners to develop effective strategies to strengthen governance and reduce poverty.

The Predictable Piece in a Crisis

Tuesday, 23 June 2020


For most of this year, the coronavirus outbreak has continued to upend the world we live in. It has shaken our foundations to the core, displayed the fragility of the modern world, and put countries and citizens to the test. What started out as an invisible enemy, 5 million times smaller than a human, has torn away our reality and forced us to accept a new unpredictable normal.


From Serbia, we watched carefully as the virus moved across continents and as leaders around the world struggled to contain its spread. We knew our borders would not be spared, and like others, began to put the restrictions needed in place. 


After nearly two months, we were able to lift the state of emergency and cancel the curfew. Though the fight against the virus is not yet over, we were able to prevent a major outbreak inside Serbia. Swift action and international partnerships were key in making this happen, but these achievements were only possible by critical investments made before Covid-19.


Years ago, Serbia turned to innovation to fight stagnation, and has since used the power of technology to improve people’s lives. Through international support and national investments, Serbia has become an emerging tech hub, committed to digitalization and to ensuring a better quality of life for all citizens. 


This pandemic proved that the decision to bet on technology and innovation was right, and perhaps never more crucial. Years of investments made us resilient and agile today. They permitted us to diversify our capabilities and allowed for much-needed creativity in a time of crisis. In turn, they enabled us to partner with companies and citizens to address what we saw as three key challenges. 


First, we feared alienating communities and had to make sure people were regularly informed. We launched an open data portal to aggregate and display all relevant figures, including number of people tested, and an automatic chatbot on Viber to provide citizens with news and answers. We also created a ‘Digital Solidarity’ portal to provide resources to those stuck at home, and a ‘Be a Volunteer’ platform to coordinate help for older citizens and other at-risk groups.


We then turned towards our children and developed a non-stop education system, broadcasting all classes online and through national TV. To ensure no one was left behind, we formed a coalition with the private sector and quickly provided smart phones, tablets and internet for almost 3,000 disadvantaged students. We also provided full electronic registration of children in preschool through the eGovernment Portal, ensuring enrolment even as kindergartens were temporary closed.


Lastly, we knew more innovation was needed and that our citizens could make an impact. We wanted to find ways to channel their innovation for the common good. We called Serbian SMEs, asking for innovative projects that could be rapidly deployed and scaled up, and provided up to EUR 50,000 for each project selected. Nearly 300 proposals were received, and 12 solutions were selected. This led to the creation of the first Serbian ventilator, the first mask in the world made of durable, white plastic used in the food industry, and a disinfection tunnel for use in public places.


These are just some of the ultrafast innovative solutions that helped position Serbia as one of the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation top-productive countries around innovation during Covid-19. Without them, our reality today might have been much different. This virus is still not yet fully understood, but predictably, investment in technology and innovation remain a constant for a rapid and efficient response.

by Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister of Serbia


Tuesday, 23 June 2020


The Bureaucracy Lab, part of the World Bank, has been researching public and civil services across the globe, for the past five years. We use micro-data on the characteristics of public officials and their organizations to inform and improve the public sector. Too often, we think, reforms and changes are not based on hard data. We seek to change that, by using rigorous survey data, micro-data (at the individual level), and field experiments (RCTs). Here are some of the things we have asked ourselves in our research over the past five years, and the answers we found. For a more elaborate discussion of these and other findings, take a look at our report ‘Innovating Bureaucracy for a More Capable Government’.

What increases public sector productivity?
Many factors either contribute to productivity, or deteriorate productivity. Here are some that we found were of particular importance in civil services:

•    Merit in recruitment matters

Organizations where selection and promotion are more meritocratic are likely to have more motivated staff. In Pakistan, we found that organizations that were self-assessed by civil servants as being more meritocratic in promotions also had staff that were more satisfied with their experience in the service. This correlates with other research that found that civil servants who reported that they were hired through political connections were less motivated to work hard and serve the public or were less satisfied with their jobs. All of this implies that civil and public servants hired because of merit, will be more productive.

•    Performance pay can improve productivity through better management

Evidence from our survey in the Philippines suggests that performance incentives can improve management. Interviewees noted that the performance bonus scheme had motivated management to be more focused on target setting and monitoring. All in all, this evidence suggests that performance pay created improvements in management that can over time help create a performance culture in the bureaucracy. This, in turn, can boost productivity.

•    Better managed public sector organizations are more productive

Our work in Ghana has shown how management can impact productivity. As shown in the figure below, better managed organizations tend to be a lot more productive in the completion of projects. This has potentially huge implications for public services and the national economy at large. Analysis of the Ghanaian management and productivity data, for example, implies that a single standard deviation increase in the quality of public management would increase GDP by 8 percentage points. In addition, this graph shows that there is incredible variety in productivity and performance across the public sector. 

How does public sector employment interact with the overall labor market?
The public sector is, in many countries, by far the largest employer. This means that the effect of its characteristics can be felt far outside of its own sector, and impact how private companies behave and fair in the economy. The World Wide Bureaucracy Indicators investigate exactly how the public and private sector interact. 

•    Public sector wage premiums can impact where people will look for work

Overall, we find that in many countries jobs in the public sector are better payed than similar jobs in the private sector. This ‘public sector wage premium’ can have significant distortionary effects on the broader labor market. This premium can skew individual employment preferences toward the public sector and away from the formal private sector. It can even impact individuals’ education choices away from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, given that many public sector jobs seek more other skills. Although wanting to work for in the public sector is of course not a bad thing in itself, if too many talented individual prefer the public over the private sector for the wrong reasons (money instead of intrinsic motivation), this can hamper private sector growth.

•    The public sector is a better employer for women than the private sector

Three facts are worth highlighting here. First of all, in most countries, the share of women working in the public sector is higher than the share of women working in the formal private sector. Secondly, the gender pay gap is ten percentage points lower in the public sector than the formal private sector. This means that women get payed better in the public sector, than for similar jobs in the private sector. And finally, the public sector pays a higher wage premium to women than to men. A more elaborate discussion can be found in this blog.

How can we improve civil servant motivation through HRM mechanisms?
Motivation, as was already established, is strongly linked to productivity. Motivated civil and public servants are also likely to go the extra mile and stay in their job longer. All these factors make is worthwhile to look at HRM tools that might increase motivation.

•    Pay inequity in the public sector can hurt motivation

We mentioned before that the public sector often offers better wages than the private sector. This wage premium is, however, not resulting in more motivated bureaucrats. There are two reasons from this. First, surveys of civil servants reveal that only 40 percent of respondents across seven coun¬tries were satisfied with their pay lev¬els, despite a significant wage premium in each of these countries. A possible explanation could be the considerable pay dispersion and pay inequity within the public sector. Second, even bureaucrats who are satisfied with their wages do not have higher levels of self-reported motivation. Money, it turns out, is not a great motivator once people have gotten the job. 

•    Recruiting staff with high levels of public service motivation

Public service motivation can be defined as the desire to serve the public interest. Research has found that employees with high levels of public service motivation perform better. Bureaucrats in the Philippines and Pakistan (SRB) listed job security and future career ambitions as the two main reasons for joining the government, ahead of public service and mission (see figures below). This shows that it is especially important to recruit the right type of people into the public service.

                                                                      Self-reported reasons for joining the public sector:

•    Encourage the “right” attitudes in the job

To create a more motivated workforce, several actions can be taken by management. First of all, it should be clear to employees what the goals are they should try to reach, and these should be in line with the goals of the organizations. Secondly, performance appraisals and regular feedback are important in this regard as well. Thirdly, well-designed and relevant trainings can create a motivation boost. And fourth and final, more motivated employees tend to have been given the autonomy to carry out their tasks.

Where to go from here?
This is only a snapshot of what we have learned about public services over the years. And yet, even more remains to be learned. With the use of surveys, micro-data, and experiments, we continue to discover more about how public services function and can be improved. Our focus on developing countries is especially relevant, given academics tendency to focus on more developed countries. If you want to learn more about our results and findings, or about our work, don’t hesitate to contact us.

By Wouter van Acker [wvanacker[at]]

Public procurement as the source of resources to cope with future socio-economic crisis

Sunday, 24 May 2020


Most experts are predicting that COVID-19 pandemic will not only cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, but also lead to deep socio-economic crises, with declining economic performance and millions of people in new needs for help.

The domestic mobilisation of resources seems to be the most effective tool to cope with decreased revenues and increased expenditure needs in the coming period. According to unofficial estimates, in less developed countries better functioning of the national public procurement systems may save up to 5 % of GDP (more in wealthier, but highly corrupted countries). What changes are necessary?

The “reforms” should focus both on effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is not directly covered by many public procurement systems, where national procurement legislation does not include the planning phase. In such a case, the need to deal with ex-ante effectiveness evaluations before starting the process should be a “must”. Any decision about the purchase (especially of more expensive) goods, works or services should be based on relevant form of feasibility analysis (what and why do we need?). In more developed countries such mechanisms already exist and reflect Value for Money principle; however, in less developed countries these systems are either missing or are not well functional (some countries request ex-ante approval of more expensive purchases from a supervising body, but such a body normally does not have sufficient analytical capacity to decide correctly).

The “tough” task is to evaluate real efficiency/economy of governmental purchases (did we get best price?). Most statistics calculate the difference between the forecasted and the final price. However such an approach does not work at all, as more experienced contracting authorities all prefer to overestimate forecasted price to be safe (passive waste). Direct comparison of prices is possible only for homogeneous goods – this means in very few procurement cases. However, effective benchmarking can be the solution. Well-established benchmarking not only shows differences in purchasing prices for commodities, but also requests explanations and elaborations. Most purchases of goods and almost all purchases of services and works are non-homogeneous, so the difference can appear; it just needs to be explained and elaborated on. 

The well functional systems of ex-ante evaluation of procurement needs and of ex-post benchmarking of results have great potential to help to save resources and could be promoted as an effective procurement tool by CEPA. 

Juraj Nemec, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

How to incorporate SDGs into national budgeting systems

Sunday, 24 May 2020


The report “Emerging issues in public financial management and budgeting for the SDGs” states that “the budgeting for the SDGs as a practice is still in its infancy. Several countries have announced, through voluntary national reviews, the intention to reflect the Goals in budgetary processes but few have specified why it would be relevant to do so or how the practice could be made operational”.

For most countries the simplest and potentially fast solution is to re-organise the national system of program-performance budgeting (for countries without program-performance budgeting sub-system, the task may be even simpler – with the commitment or existing matching plan to connect finances to SDGs, these countries can build effective, new system, directly in a new form).

According to academic analyses, current systems of program-performance budgeting in less developed countries do not meet the expected goals of such a system. This give rise to the need to re-design national budgeting systems, to make them more effective in terms of transparency, accountability and efficiency. Such re-design would allow for incorporating relevant SDGs into national development plans, as well as indicators and targets at the national level and subsequently on lower levels. Such an approach could be recommended to all countries by UN bodies as immediate solution.

The more comprehensive (and longer-term) approach might be to develop specific SDGs-related expenditure classification level, which needs further discussions and represents longer-term alternative. Because SDGs do not cover all functional COFOG areas (COFOG = functional budget classification), simple replacement of COFOG by SDG classification is not feasible (or even may be not possible). This means that two options could be discussed – to set a third extra level of budget classification (SDGs budgeting classification) or to redesign COFOG to serve also as the tool of making SDGs-related expenditures more visible). Both approaches are technically possible; however the decision about optimum solution needs comprehensive discussions with all stakeholders. CEPA may recommend to UN bodies starting to think about launching such discussions.

Juraj Nemec, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Covid-19 budgeting for SDGs note Postscript

Saturday, 23 May 2020


The Budgeting for SDGs Note was written, when we could not know how extraordinary important, probably more than ever, both the achievement of SDGs and the budgeting for this achievement would soon become. For the governments, the pandemics suddenly means decreased budget revenues and increased budget expenditures. For the citizens, it might mean life or death, i.e. drastic changes in access to health, jobs, education, welfare, security and numerous other public services. 

Governments are stepping in, undertaking various pandemic related measures both at national and subnational government levels - direct transfers, tax expenditures, etc. The policy tracker, summarizing the key economic responses, governments of 193 countries are taking to limit the human and economic impact of the pandemic is daily updated at IMF. How will all these funds be spent, to whom they will be directed, who will benefit, etc. are the questions that might be answered only if governments (both national and subnational) will be completely transparent and fully disclose all the data and information. Only the full disclosure would enable public participation and scrutiny over these funds and their impact on achieving SDGs.

Although there are governments (as elaborated in the Note) that have been already transparently budgeting for SDGs and as  there are governments that could be expected to transparently budget for the pandemics, majority of countries have low levels even of the overall budget transparency (BT). The most recent, 2019 Open Budget Survey (OBS) of the International Budget Partnership (IBP), which assesses the state and trends in BT, opportunities for public participation in budget processes and roles of oversight institutions shows that the global average BT score of 117 surveyed countries is just 45 out of 100. That means that global BT is insufficient, as a score of 61 is considered the minimum threshold for the informed public debate on budgets and only 26% of surveyed countries meets this benchmark. Few countries provide meaningful opportunities for public participation and only quarter of them scores at adequate levels of oversight by both the legislature and supreme audit institutions. 

While the average global BT score is insufficient, the scores for some of the questions particularly important in the times of pandemic are unfortunately even much worse. For example, 85% of surveyed countries is not – in their executive budget proposals nor in any supporting budget documentation – presenting information on tax expenditures (exceptions or other preferences in the tax code provided for specified entities, individuals, or activities, with a statement of purpose or policy rationale, a listing of the intended beneficiaries and an estimate of the revenue foregone) (Q45). Or, 70% is not – in their executive budget proposals nor in any supporting budget documentation – presenting information on quasi-fiscal activities for at least the budget year (with a statement of purpose or policy rationale for the quasi-fiscal activity, i.e., the reason for engaging in this activity and the identification of intended beneficiaries) (Q38).

Particularly worrying is, that almost 70% of countries is not presenting alternative displays of expenditures (such as by gender, by age, by income, or by region) to illustrate the financial impact of policies on different groups of citizens, for at least the budget year in their executive budget proposals (Q36) nor are they presenting the differences between the enacted level of funds for policies (both new proposals and existing policies) that are intended to benefit directly the country’s most impoverished populations and the actual outcome in their year-end reports (Q94).

However, despite these poor overall results, good examples are found in nearly all parts of the world and the top-tier countries – New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Mexico, Georgia and Brazil – which are releasing extensive budget information (scoring 81 or higher), are not necessarily the richest nor most developed ones. The same holds for e.g. Guatemala, Indonesia, Kyrgyz Republic and Ukraine which all rapidly improved in relatively short time (reaching threshold of 61). 

As shown in the IBP’s, “How Transparent are Governments When it Comes to Their Budget’s Impact on Poverty and Inequality?” there are good examples to follow, e.g.: 

- Bangladesh’s 2017-18 Budget includes a detailed supplementary Gender Budgeting Report, presenting the spending dedicated to advancing women across various departments; 
- The UK’s 2017 Budget provided a distributional analysis of the budget by households in different income groups;
- South Africa’s 2017 Budget Review’s presentation of intergovernmental transfers, discusses the redistribution resulting from national revenue flowing to the provinces and municipalities and presents the allocations on a per capita basis
- Pakistan’s 2017-18 Budget Proposal provides a detailed breakdown of pro-poor expenditure. The government sets out policy priorities, expected outputs, and estimates of past and future spending for several programs aimed at poverty alleviation and provides a comprehensive overview of ongoing policies, including a chapter on social safety nets, covering both financial and performance information of poverty alleviation schemes over a period of eight years

Transparent management of public funds has been a constant requirement, but in times of Covid-19 affected budget deviations, i.e. decreasing revenue and increasing expenditure, it has to be even more pronounced. The extraordinary circumstances in which decisions sometimes should be made over the night cannot be an excuse for the lack of transparency. These decisions may affect the efficiency and equity of revenue and expenditure, the economic, social and political circumstances and consequently the wellbeing of citizens, particularly of the marginal and excluded ones. Demands for SDGs BT should be complemented with demands for Covid-19 BT. All governments’ budgetary decisions’ information and data – including and particularly emphasizing those related to the achievement of SDGs and those related to Covid-19 – have to be fully transparent to all parts and sectors of governments, parliaments, oversight institutions and general public. 


Katarina Ott, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration


The importance of subnational governments

Saturday, 23 May 2020


In most countries around the world, subnational governments (SNGs) are on the front lines in implementing programs to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The subnational governments are the primary level of government responsible for delivering education, clean water, sanitation, basic health care, sustainable cities, basic infrastructure and many other aspects of the SDGs. Across the world, SNGs are responsible for ensuring their population’s public health, safety, and social protection. On average, SNGs are responsible for 55% of a country’s expenditure on public order and safety, 38% of expenditure on health, and 15% of expenditure on social protection (OECD).


These subnational governments derive their revenues from a combination of intergovernmental transfers and own-source income, such as local user charges. As the world grapples with the fallout from COVID-19, the SNGs are facing severe budgetary challenges. In most cases, national governments are reducing budgetary transfers.  Many typical sources of own-source revenues (for example, hotel surcharges, tolls, parking fines, industry contributions) have been drastically curtailed. Subnationals who borrow directly will also find it more difficult and costly to access capital and will likely have to defer or curtail capital spending. 


At the same time, the SNGs require greater resources to mitigate the virus, address the health crisis and support vulnerable populations – while still providing vital basic services like trash collection and electricity. In many countries, SNGs are also responsible for countercyclical income replacement programs, such as unemployment insurance, that are further increasing their spending. Such costly mitigation efforts threaten to undermine the financial balance of SNGs as their expenditures rise sharply and revenues collapse leading to possible liquidity crises and long-term revenue shortfalls. 


Many SNGs have embraced the SDGs and have incorporated key elements of these goals into their local finances, or were on a path to do so prior to the outbreak of COVID19. Efforts in a diverse set of countries including Argentina, Japan, Brazil, Belgium and ranged from participatory budgeting to digitized initiatives to using SDG targets as a budget framework, and such efforts were set to expand over the next decade. The current fiscal shortfalls mean that regional and local governments will have far fewer resources at a time of huge and immediate need, thus threatening the capacity of subnational governments to ensure public health in the short-term and provide essential services in the long term. 


During the immediate crisis, the subnational governments need to take on a leading role, in several respects that are vital to social welfare and the functioning of communities. These will likely include (but are not limited to):

•    Communications: Communicating accurate health information to the population 
•    Implementing new containment measures (testing, tracing, isolating, population monitoring, coordinating, ensuring compliance, forecasting, eventually administering vaccines). 
•    Supporting local businesses
•    Supporting local institutions (schools, hospitals, clinics, parks, museums, etc.).
•    Ensuring food supplies and distribution, especially to the elderly and vulnerable
•    Ensuring basic income support is disbursed properly
•    Organizing the efforts of community and local civil society organizations


In the current circumstances, the SNGs will be forced to make painful spending cuts and layoff public sector workers which may further exacerbate the economic downturn. Often SNGs are large employers who make up a significant percentage of their country's workforce (OECD). If SNGs are able to retain their personnel, they may be able to reduce the severity of an economic recession while providing stable employment and services for their populations. 


In short, in most countries, it is essential for local governments to function well and it is impossible to achieve progress on the SDGs if these governments are destabilized.  Not only are the subnational governments facing the worst budgetary environment in decades, but in this case, they are at the mercy of what happens in neighboring communities and regions, where outbreaks and mismanagement may undermine their own efforts.  


Thus, an addendum to the paper on SDG budgeting is that there needs to be a concerted global effort to support the subnational levels of government.  This effort could include IMF and World Bank lending facilities to ensure liquidity in the subnational borrowing sector, as well as direct assistance for subnational spending on essential services, subsidies for public sector salaries, and targeted grants to enable the SNGs to carry out the communication, testing, and program implementation to mitigate the impact of the virus on public health.


Linda Bilmes, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Africa, SDG budgeting and Covid-19: to suspend the ongoing reforms is not the best decision

Saturday, 23 May 2020


Prior to Covid-19, the SDGs were gaining traction among African governments as a framework to focus policy on inclusion, equity, economic growth, and sustainability. Some African countries have presented their progress reports on the SDGs in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). From 2016-2020, the African Group has conducted or planned for 2020 44 VNRs.


Then came the current crisis causing a shift in the focus of policymaking from the SDG long-term agenda to the Covid-19 short term emergency.  If short term emergency actions are not appropriated balanced with SDG long-tern agenda, this shift might result in an endless recovery affecting dramatically Africa’s SDG agenda.  UN CEPA members strongly believe that keeping and reinforcing the ongoing SDG budgeting reforms is the way to go in terms of managing this tradeoff.


SDG Budgeting a recognized key success factor. After 5 years into SDG implementation efforts, one aspect is becoming quite clear in the African policymaking arena: the achievement of the SDGs requires strong political will to allocate enough budgetary resources towards the sectors contributing to their achievement. The MDGs lessons cannot be forgotten. As shown by MDGs, the inclusion of the SDGs in long-term development plans is not enough. It is crucial, not to say determinant, that the State budget takes the SDGs as their main matrix. SDG budgeting has become instrumental as well as one of the key success factors for effective governance. In fact, in some recent policy briefs, SDG budgeting is clearly linked to SDG financing. African policymakers are realizing that SDG budgeting being a source of transparency, accountability, policy integration, budget coherence, budget performance evaluation, and credibility is emerging as an important piece of development finance. 


On the other hand, we all also recognized that SDG budgeting reforms in Africa are in their preliminary stages. The reality still be a de-link between SDG policy frameworks, development planning, and budgeting, which translates in weak transition of SDG policies into strategic budget decisions. As a result, African budgets lack reporting on SDGs’ expenditures and consequently poor accountability over SDG implementation. However, we all also know that national budgets have a crucial role to play in SDG financing. According to UNDP estimates, national budgets can finance the SDGs between 25% and 75% of the total financing needs. If indeed this is the case, SDG planning-budgeting-monitoring-evaluating- reporting is an avoidable matter.


All this rational has pushed for an increased, although slow, adoption, among African countries, of contextualized SDG Budgeting reforms, on a doing-learning approach taking into account that there is no universal methodology.  In this context, UN CEPA 11 principles of effective governance and the associated 62 strategies grounded on effectiveness, accountability, and inclusion should be considered, among others, by African policymakers as a good conceptual framework for the implementation of SDG budgeting.


We all have to come together, policymakers, civil society, the private sector, and the UN System, to keep the SDG budgeting reforms as a priority despite Covid-19 disruptions.


Covid-19 and the reset of budget priorities. The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated social and economic crises have delayed, even more, Africa’s chances to achieve the SDGs by 2030 – unless African policymakers spot the root of the challenges, the opportunities of leapfrogging, and respond rapidly with a comprehensive and integrated intervention. The global economy is going through turmoil. Investors moved around US$90 billion out of emerging markets, the largest outflow ever recorded. IMF projected for 2020 a fall of -3 percent in global growth. The current crisis is the worst recession since the great depression and much worse than during the 2008-09 financial crisis. 


In Africa, for a couple of reasons, the worst of the pandemic is expected later.  By that time, the social and economic impact will add to pandemic’s effects on global trade and commodity prices, which are already badly hitting African economies. According to UNECA (2020), the negative economic impact of adopting lockdowns as a containing measure is exacerbating the humanitarian dimension and threatening livelihoods: a slowdown in growth from 3.2 percent to as low as -2.6 percent, 5-29 million pushed into extreme poverty, 19 million jobs lost, vulnerable employment up at least by 10 percent, 17 percent of households affected by Covid-19 face at least transient poverty.


As Africa seizes to address the virus as well as its negative impacts, budget priorities and associated resources have been reset to save lives and livelihoods, which was the correct thing to do. However, Covid-19 response and recovery are absorbing resources and turning attention away from realizing the SDGs. But what African policymaking cannot afford to do, even in these difficult times, is taking resources away from SDG actions. The responses to the current crises as well as the recovery cannot be de-linked from the SDGs. Africa must not lose sight that the deep negative impact of the current crisis reflects the fact that MDGs are unfinished business, particularly those related to human capital: poverty, health and education. The MDGs legacy felt short: 34 African countries spend less than USD 200 per capita annually on health care with very low levels of efficiency and 5 countries spend less than USD 50. Today’s reality is that medical testing equipment, ventilators, medical supplies, sanitation and water are in chronic shortage.


This is the time to recognize how crucial it has become the achievement of SDGs and how instrumental, for this achievement, SDG budgeting is.


Africa’s Covid-19 recovery must be organized around SDG principles: inclusion, growth, equity, and sustainability. Therefore, SDG budgeting is an avoidable matter. A strong Covid call in terms of financial support is out there. A group of African ministers has requested financial support, including a debt relief in the amount of $44 billion. UNECA (2020) has estimated Africa’s financial needs not only to cope with the short term pandemic issues but also with the recovery: i) USD 100 billion African health and social safety net fund, for the most vulnerable; and ii) USD 100 billion for Africa’s economic stimulus. The amounts are huge. The exceptional increase in budget resources to cope with the Covid-19 crises challenges budget transparency, credibility, and accountability as well as budget effectiveness to respond to the social and economic crises. If mobilized resources are not strictly channeled to the most negatively impacted, being people or SMEs, with a balanced view between short term emergency and long term agenda, the humanitarian crisis will be prolonged. Africa faces the current crisis not in good shape. With high debt levels, increasing fiscal deficits, increasing borrowing costs, and depreciating currencies, fiscal discipline has become strategic in addressing successfully the current crises. Facing the possibility of managing an exceptional amount of resources and consequently facing a higher risk of mismanaging these resources, SDG Budgeting is imperative as a mitigant. 


This is not the time to abandon the ongoing SDG budgeting reforms. As well said by UNECA (2020), African youth will not forgive the misappropriation of Covid-19 funds.


Cristina Duarte, member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Post-conflict environments and Covid-19

Tuesday, 19 May 2020


The establishment of a viable public administration is a key part of State-building in the aftermath of conflict and of supporting long-term peacebuilding. In previous sessions CEPA has discussed issues facing many governments and groups who exist within a precarious state of post-conflict where threats of insecurity and violence and legacies of injustice and mistrust make government extremely difficult. To these issues we can now add Covid-19 and the potentially devastating effects on already vulnerable populations and groups.
I have argued previously that discussion of government and governance in such situations is not, in principle, any different to discussing government in general, it is just that post-conflict environments represent an extreme case and the various strands of SDG 16 can be united by the principles of effective governance, and indeed the application of our principles may be more important in situations where they seem to be so far from being achieved.  


The paper associated with this discussion links statebuilding as an activity to peacebuilding as a long-term underlying aspect of good governance. It emphasises the role of multiple layers of government, pointing out that local government is frequently ignored in most statebuilding programmes and yet, Covid-19 as a crisis has again emphasised the important role of local government in crisis management.


This links to the need for a balanced approach to governance in post-conflict and post-pandemic environments in the sense of balancing short-term security or health measures with long-term consequences of taking specific decisions. There is much speculation about immediate policies but equally critical are longer-term considerations of conflict prevention, community inclusion, multitrack diplomacy and local capacity development. 


Public institutions are critical in promoting integrated approaches to achieve long-term development goals in the face of immediate challenges. The principles of effective governance for sustainable development need to act as an important guide in balancing short-term needs with long-term sustainable development.
Covid-19 presents us with a set of challenges and opportunities related to governance in general and these are very acute within post-conflict and fragile environments. The pandemic has exposed a series of political and institutional weaknesses as well as structural biases – for example, where populations may be vulnerable, alienated or isolated – and these are particularly acute in contexts where governance is already hard and where poor or weak governance could lead to violence. The virtual CEPA meeting on 21 May 2020 will examine the relationship between conflict and Covid around three questions:

1.            What is the future for statebuilding and peacebuilding in a post-pandemic world and how might Governments cope with disrupted aid flows?
2.            How could fragile and conflict-affected countries manage post-pandemic public sector recovery effectively in situations where there may be contested sovereignty or weak oversight of responses to the pandemic?
3.            Post-conflict countries contain some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. How might countries adapt their approaches to institutional effectiveness and leaving no one behind given the effects of the pandemic and evolving prospects for the next decade of action?


Paul Jackson, member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration


COVID-19 Makes Effective Governance for Sustainable Development More Urgent Than Ever

Wednesday, 13 May 2020


The full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on a common understanding of the basic principles of effective governance for sustainable development. Adherence to these tenets of governance underpins progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the manner in which we deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Achieving SDG 16 would reduce the chances that future situations turn into crises, and when such crises do occur, that their impact will be mitigated. This would be due not least to strengthened institutional capacity to foresee and reduce risks, as well as respond quickly and effectively to emerging threats to public well-being. While COVID-19 response and recovery will absorb resources and may turn attention away from realizing the SDGs, we must not lose sight of the fact that delivering the SDGs will help us to get a better handle on global threats that may await. Strong institutions for sustainable development are crucial to these efforts.

The UN CEPA principles of effective governance are grounded in effectiveness, accountability and inclusion. In the spirit of SDG 16, and as COVID-19 starkly shows, inclusion is crucial. There must be a focus especially on the needs of the most vulnerable and furthest behind, particularly women and children, as well as Planet Earth, whose development conditions the future of humankind. This calls for major changes in governance, in the spirit of multilateralism and solidarity, and in resource allocation towards sustainable development goals, a matter that may be more difficult as countries deal with domestic responses to COVID-19. 

Importantly, governments must recalibrate budgets that may have been channeled disproportionately to the top 10 per cent of the world's population and towards purposes contributing to the perpetuation of endless wars. The reality of COVID-19 calls for a review of public finances and particularly allocations to health budgets, as well as the need to revisit education and training. SDG 16 and the role of the state have grown in importance, yet again, with the hope that it is not a passing fancy linked to stimulus packages for the here and now.


In the period between the 18th session in April 2019 and 19th session of the Committee in May 2020, CEPA members and the Secretariat have been working with governments, regional organizations and UN system entities to promote operationalization of the principles of effective governance. One concrete output of a joint UN DESA-African Union workshop, which took place in Pretoria from 30 October to 1 November 2019, has been the initial development of a monitoring and evaluation tool for Africa which is built on the principles. This tool could constitute a baseline for the region. At the invitation of OECD, the Committee also commented on a draft policy framework on sound public governance with a view to promoting coherence between the global and the regional levels, strengthening the linkages with the SDGs and addressing both governance successes and governance failures.
Importantly, CEPA has identified 62 strategies, each associated with one of the 11 principles of effective governance. The process of coordinating the preparation of the technical guidance notes on these strategies for use by government advisers and practitioners is underway, based on global expert advice. Five of have been prepared as early drafts for comment and are available as inputs to the 19th session.

On 15 May 2020, during the virtual 19th session, the Committee will follow up its intersessional work by examining four main questions:
•    Given the ongoing cooperation with the APRM and OECD, taking into account different regional needs and mechanisms, what specific opportunities are there for collaborating with regional organizations going forward?
•    What data and indicators are needed to support the Committee’s analytical work and policy advice on effective governance for sustainable development?
•    Are there any specific observations on the relevance and utility of the strategy guidance notes to government advisers and practitioners? Do the early draft notes and overall framework provide a sufficient proof of concept for further work?
•    Does the COVID-19 pandemic change anything where operationalization of the principles is concerned?
We are living through a challenging time and as Francis Fukuyama says: “The crucial determinant in performance will not be the type of regime, but the state’s capacity and, above all, trust in government.” We engage as a Committee of Experts with the view that this trust in government is realized through the implementation of the governance principles.


Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Mr. Geert Bouckaert, members of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration


The Comeback of Large Governments

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, governments have come under pressure to establish response plans that would alleviate the impact of the crisis on people, economies and societies. Speaking at a high-level SDG Business Forum event in September 2019, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General reminded participants that as the global GDP contracts and the financing gap widens by an additional US$ 2.5 trillion, between 400-700 million people find themselves sinking below the poverty line, and turning to their governments for their very survival.
Challenges posed by the rapid expansion of the State
In many parts of the world, COVID-19 is bringing about the largest expansion of State power in generations, often in contradiction with SDG targets such as SDG-16 target 16.6, “develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels”. With no determined financial policy or institutional frameworks for intervention, this trend, which is taking place too quickly with almost no time for debate, will produce enduring changes in a country’s politics.
In their justifiable efforts to rescue the economy, workers, and an overwhelmed healthcare system, governments will increase healthcare spending and safety net programs. Alongside OECD guidance, governments are also intervening by delivering billions in bailouts to distressed industries, slashing interest rates in emergency actions, putting up stimulus packages that ensure the survival of SMEs, cushioning the present and future economic impact, and rapidly mobilizing vast resources.
While many of these steps are welcomed, a vast expansion of governments has implications for public debt, the economy, and also for human rights and privacy. Government intervention has to be a) financially sustainable and efficient, b) constitutional and in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the first, it is an exceptional opportunity to reiterate and renew our support to all efforts at combating tax evasion and illicit financial flows, flows that drain economies and funnel funding away from public hospitals and intensive care units.
It is also required that we design intervention frameworks and strategies that are in line with the principles of smart sustainable governance: regressive subsidies and tax evasion will have to be crunched, recruitment plans have to be reconfigured to prioritize public healthcare at the expense of bureaucracy, otherwise public debts may become unsustainable.
Challenges to Human Rights and the Right to Privacy
Asides financial sustainability, history suggests that crises lead to a permanently bigger State with many more powers and responsibilities. The threat to liberty and to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is real. According to CNET News, some governments have already began exploiting their unique power to monitor people’s movements and manage prices and requisition goods, with questionable results related to the efficiency of such apps.
Another article from Newsroom notes that as technology and AI are used to manage the spread of the disease, deliver food and other essential items to those most in need, invasive data collection and processing is spreading, despite the need for clear regulation regarding such use. This includes routine access to peoples’ movements, electronic records including medical records, and other unrelated data. The responsibility of governments to be better prepared and equipped cannot be relegated to citizens.
As countries struggle to repair the damage done to their lives and livelihoods, more fundamental questions about the size and power of governments are likely to emerge.
What risks do the new challenges bring to SDG 16 implementation? To what extent they would impact the three pillars on which the principles for sustainable governance are built namely effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness?
For advocates of sustainable governance and human rights, COVID-19 has to mean greater audacity and better regulatory frameworks.

Lamia Moubayed Bissat, Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration


Public-Sector Workforce of the Future: Observation Drawn from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated over the past months the crucial need on the part of governments to accelerate innovative breakthroughs and digitalisation to respond to the crisis, it has also revealed the vital importance of the public-sector workforce in essential fields. In all countries, this pandemic has brought back into the limelight the public-sector personnel that remain indispensable to save lives and provide basic services to the confined population, i.e. nurses and hospital workers, public health personnel, transportation operators, sanitation workers, nursing homes employees, cleaners, home assistants for the elderly, etc.

More than ever, their dedication and continuous presence has been of the essence to maintain not only the public health services necessary to fight the pandemic and reduce the mortality, but also to preserve the minimum community services needed by the most vulnerable people and the solidarity due by governments to the communities that risked being left behind.

It has shown that keeping communities together was part of an effective governance in times of crisis and that the most humble tasks performed by public sector employees at the lowest level were critical.

This category of public sector workers (so-called “street-level bureaucrats”) has sometimes been identified as a possible victim of future technological innovation. The fight against COVID-19 has demonstrated that their jobs will not disappear. On the contrary, technological improvements will need to be accompanied by human assistance from dedicated people who will perform these humble tasks needed to assist in particular the most vulnerable communities. It would be ironic to cut the services most needed to resist in times of crisis, whether it is in the public health, security or transport sectors.

In many countries today, the public-sector employees needed to maintain the basic services used by the population are the less paid and the attractiveness of their jobs is losing ground. They generally don’t receive financially the recognition that the population has often been keen to offer them in singing and waving at windows during the pandemic. Governments will thus have to deal with the necessity to reconsider the way these public servants are recruited and paid, their careers managed and their vital contribution to an effective public sector appraised.

One necessity unveiled by the pandemic could well be for governments to review the situation of the lower level public servants. The scale value of the indispensable workforce used in times of crisis might have to be changed. The merits of the less qualified pubic-sector workforce will have to be recognized and the public-sector workforce of the future will need to include and acknowledge the true value of the core public jobs.


Emmanuelle d’Achon, Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration

How could COVID-19 shape institutional reforms and creation of a public-sector workforce of the future that accelerates delivery of the SDGs?

Sunday, 10 May 2020


On 13 May 2020, the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) starts its 19th session with a virtual meeting that combines two topical agenda items: Promoting effective governance and institutional reform to accelerate delivery of the SDGs [item 4], and Government and public sector workforce of the future [item 7]. Both themes are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and action on them will play a key role in the recovery.

What lessons can be drawn with respect to building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels from the unprecedented measures taken in response to the pandemic?


The Committee has looked at the central theme of the 2020 HLPF on accelerated action and transformative pathways from a governance and public administration perspective (E/C.16/2020/2). Its contribution to the HLPF, which will be formally endorsed during the meeting, recommends that accelerated action to achieve the SDGs calls for ‘fast-track’ reform initiatives based on innovative breakthroughs, combined with incremental reforms that target long-term, cumulative results. Accepting the need to innovate means the willingness to take risks – and benefit from the consequences.
Another transformative pathway to sustainable development concerns budgeting for the SDGs. Integrating the SGDs in budgeting may benefit from a shift towards performance-based budgeting, particularly since traditional budget structures or "line item budgets” may thwart, or at least not encourage, SDG implementation efforts.
At the same time, the Committee recalls that leaving no one behind will often require avoiding top-down approaches to local development and the establishment of focal points within communities to assess the extent of possible decentralization, value optimization and impact of national-local transfers. Last but not least, combatting corruption is a precondition of effective governance for the acceleration of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

What are the risks to implementation of SDG 16 from these measures? Is the strong government paradigm harmful to efforts to leave no one behind? Could investment in digital government serve to counter any negative effects?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the ability of many governments to take extraordinary steps quickly with a potentially transformational impact. It has also exposed the fact that the effectiveness of government has been eroded by privatization – for example of health systems. We might learn from this for the huge task of attaining the SDGs: only a strong government can work effectively with the private sector and civil society to make sustainability a reality.
Investment in digitalization was already a strategic priority before COVID-19 and will be even more important during the recovery phase. Artificial intelligence can be a powerful means to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as well as to monitor progress towards all of the SDGs. It also brings about societal threats which have yet to be fully explored. The Committee’s paper on government and public sector workforce management in the digital era (E/C.16/2020/4) underscores that digital technology is transforming governments, government-citizen relations and public management. During this pandemic we are witnessing a faster rate of adoption of digital technology among some government agencies. It is crucial to maintain this pace so that services are more equitable, efficient, and effective.

What lessons can be drawn in shaping the public sector workforce of the future?

Governments are embracing digital technologies to achieve better governance. New practices enabled by information and communications technology are rapidly reshaping public sector workforce management. During this pandemic, many governments are practicing work-from-home policies and have issued flexible working hours. This reflects the ability to adapt and be agile for some governments but not for all. A handful of governments have responded well to the pandemic with the use of technology such as for tracking systems, information dissemination, and health services. 
While the COVID-19 crisis has shown many positive impacts of digitalization, it also revealed where improvements are needed most. In some ways, inequality has increased between pockets of society, as well as between countries. In general, challenges remain on data security, privacy and the definition of property rights. These are issues that relate to democracy, human rights and the future of government. It should be ensured that no one is left behind and that such technological shifts are geared towards accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Louis Meuleman and Ora-orn Poocharoen, members of the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration

Budgeting for the Sustainable Development Goals

Thursday, 6 February 2020


As government budgets significantly influence people’s lives and well-being while also providing opportunities to address societies’ most pressing needs, transparent, inclusive and credible budgets become key policy objectives. Moreover, the achievement of the SDGs depends on the ability of governments to execute budgets as intended and in line with national development objectives and needs. That said, opaque budget-making practices and unbalanced budget compositions, with underspending in sectors that may be critical to sustainable development, and overspending in others, continue to plague public financial management systems.  Such problems are exacerbated by limited opportunities for citizens to participate in budgeting as well as other challenges, such as limited capacity of oversight institutions to scrutinize budgets.


Better budgeting within the context of the 2030 Agenda means explicit and measurable presentation of SDG targets in budget allocations and reports as well as in other elements of the budget cycle. It entails informing legislatures, audit institutions and the public about SDG-related budget policies and execution. It requires engaging them throughout the budget cycle in accountable manners. There is thus a need for inclusive dialogues on how to improve budget transparency and enhance budget credibility, bringing together governments, civil society and all other relevant actors.


An SDG-oriented budget is one that is organized according to the SDGs, SDG targets and indicators. The benefits of SDG budgeting are many. These include improved budget coherence, enhanced accountability and comparability of national budgets. When done appropriately, the mapping and tracking of budgetary contributions to each SDG can also improve budget performance evaluation. Governments typically link their national objectives to the SDGs and adapt the latter to national contexts prior to adopting key performance indicators for monitoring national development. SDG budgeting can also be used to justify budget proposals and negotiate for greater allocations to priority programmes, particularly during the drafting phase of the budget.


SDG budgeting as a practice is still in its infancy. Several countries have announced, through the voluntary national reviews, an intention to reflect the SDGs in budgetary processes but few have specified why it would be relevant to do so or how the practice could be operationalized.


Experience has shown that the SDGs can be more easily linked to programme budgets if there is already a plan or strategy in place that sets out national priorities. The active involvement of finance ministries is also important. A sense of ownership of budgetary processes by all stakeholders, such as civil society, parliaments and supreme audit institutions, is key as these actors hold government to account regarding commitments to the 2030 Agenda. Among the most important enablers of successful SDG budgeting are discussions on how governments can track public resources allocated to achievement of the SDGs. An SDG budget classification system and use of performance budgeting methods are also useful.


For more information on budgeting for SDGs, please follow expert discussion at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), at::


The blog is based on the paper prepared by Committee members Katarina Ott and Juraj Nemec in collaboration with Linda Bilmes, Cristina Duarte, Lamia Moubayed Bissat and Geert Bouckaert, for the upcoming 19th session of CEPA.

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations

Monday 6 January 2020


There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2


The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at:


1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.


Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member



Friday 27 December 2019

Stories on Public Sector Innovation – Preventing child marriage and empowering girls through education in India



Public sector transformation is critical component in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the ways the Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs promotes transformation is through recognizing successful public sector innovations around the globe through its flagship activity United Nations Public Service Awards (UNPSA). The annual programme rewards the achievements and contributions of public institutions and highlights good practices for inspiration and possible replication in other countries.


We followed up with the past UNPSA winners to share the updates on their initiatives.


2017 UNPSA Winner: Kanyashree Prakalpa, Department of Women, Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal, India


India’s Constitution guarantees its citizens the fundamental rights to equality, freedom, and education, and the right against exploitation. The reality however was that for the majority of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country, such rights remained out of reach with child marriage and other gender-discriminatory practices common.


In October 2013, the Government of West Bengal, India, launched Kanyashree Prakalpa, a conditional cash transfer scheme that provides a safety net for those vulnerable families who are forced, by tradition, social compulsion or poverty, to truncate the education of their daughters and contract them to wholly illegal and dangerous marriages. Kanyashree’s strategy directly strikes at the inter-linked issues of child marriage and female school dropouts. The Scheme provides every adolescent girl between the age of 13 and 18 with an annual scholarship, and a one-time grant when she graduates from the scheme at age 18. The stipulation being, of course, that participating girls are in school and unmarried at the time of getting the benefits. To reinforce the positive impact of increased education and delayed marriages, the scheme also works to enhance the social power and self-esteem of girls through a range of “cash plus” interventions.


Kanyashree girls report feeling empowered - it is not just the prospect of receiving a grant y that empowers them, but that they receive it in bank accounts that are opened in their own names. It has put on hold their parents’ quest for a suitable groom. Many girls have grasped the opportunity to start a new dialogue with their parents, a dialogue in which they dare to speak of their future identities forged through continued education and professional training, identities that may or may not include marriage.


In 2017, when the Scheme was awarded the UN Public Service Awards the category “Reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive services and participation”, it had covered 4 million adolescent girls, with almost 1 million having reached age 18 with a complete school education, and without child marriage. Two and a half years later, the numbers have doubled. The Scheme has covered over 6 million girls since its launch in 2013, with 2.3 million girls graduating from it at age 18. The government has increased the annual scholarship amount, and removed the income ceiling, effectively universalizing the scheme for all adolescent girls who comply with its core message: “Say YES to education and NO to child marriage”.


In 2017, Kanyashree’s “cash plus” interventions were pilot initiatives implemented in select locations. Today, the Government of West Bengal implements a state-wide integrated set of schemes for adolescent girls that reaches them through both school and community platforms and provides them with a range of services and linkages to facilitate their all-round development. This programme is described in the graphic below.


Figure: Schemes for Adolescent Girls in West Bengal, India


The Kanyashree journey however, has just begun. Across the world it is acknowledged that young people are an important demographic whose time has come. Kanyashree girls are at the age when they are establishing their individuality and their own voice. Given adequate support, they have the ability to articulate their needs and desires, demand their rights and make their own choices. More important – they have tremendous potential as drivers for change.


However, the entire responsibility of transformation should not rest on the shoulders of the girls. Several systems – educational, health, social and commercial - need to work towards creating an environment in which girls aspire to become whatever they desire, including leaders, professionals or entrepreneurs. We must not lose sight of the fact that Kanyashree girls’ bank accounts are just a tool; true financial inclusion will be when these bank accounts see regular deposits and withdrawals that signify healthy, productive and happy lives.


For West Bengal to reap the benefits of its investment in its adolescent girls, policy makers need to see beyond the economic dividend of preventing child marriage to building a cohort of confident, responsible and active citizens, girls and boys, men and and women, whose values and actions contribute towards a more equitable, violence-free society and sustainable development.


For more information on Kanyashree Prakalpa and other winning initiatives, visit the UN Public Service Innovation Hub



Kanyashree Prakalpa, Department of Women, Child Development and Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal, India (2017 UN Public Service Award Winner on the category on Reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive service and partnership)



Friday 22 November 2019

UN DESA and African Union Join Forces to Accelerate Action for Integrating the Principles of Effective Governance in Agenda 2063 and 2030 Agenda



The African Regional Workshop on Effective Governance for Sustainable Development: Putting Principles into Practice took place in Pretoria, South Africa from 30 October to 1 November. Organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the African Union/African Peer Review Mechanism in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the workshop constituted a clear milestone in Africa’s sustainable development journey. 84 senior public officials, close to half of them female, from twenty APRM member states including eleven Least Developed Countries, engaged in vibrant discussions. The focus was how to operationalize the ECOSOC-endorsed Principles of effective governance for sustainable development on the continent.


Developed by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) to help interested countries, on a voluntary basis, the principles aim to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. They apply to all public institutions. Their promulgation in Africa, through APRM’s support in its capacity as a regional mechanism for SDG16 follow up, can be a game-changer. The principles can not only concretize SDG16, but they can also strengthen the synergies between Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the global 2030 Agenda.


Principles are not recipes but helpful guidelines. As such, they shaped the core strength of the workshop, which transpired in two of its defining attributes. First, its collective approach. English, French and Portuguese speakers joined each other in one common language of human development. Civil society, research institutes, international organisations across Africa and beyond including the European Union participated. Ecuador presented inter-regional comparative perspectives from the Latin American and Caribbean region. Second, its evidence-based core. Participants agreed on a handful of concrete decisions that can put Africa’s imprint on the sustainability map for generations to come.


One such concrete output of the workshop was a joint CEPA, UN DESA, APRM and AU SDG16 monitoring and evaluation tool for Africa. Built on the Principles of effective governance, this tool could constitute a baseline for the region, and could potentially be launched at the 2020/2021 African Union Summit.


Workshop also culminated in several mutually supportive ideas to accelerate action towards sustainable development. For instance, conducting qualitative citizen reviews of public services, separate from and in addition to quantitative citizen satisfaction surveys, were proposed. Drawing on non-official data sources related to the Aspirations of Agenda 2063 and the Goals of the 2030 was encouraged. Workshop participants urged for creating spaces around contextualizing and localizing indicators such as those by g7+ on evaluating fragility and access to informal institutions of justice.


The most exciting development of it all, however, was Africa’s resolve to tackle its challenges through African solutions. The integration of the principles of effective governance into the African governance landscape and institutional frameworks will surely strengthen regional and national SDG implementation thereby opening the way for the principles and their collaborative applications to reinvigorate global processes such as the Voluntary National Reviews of the High-level political forum.



Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, CEPA Chairperson



Friday 22 November 2019

The Focus of HLPF 2020, the How Question in Public Administration, and the ECOSOC Endorsed Principles of Effective Governance






As the High-level political forum of 2020 adopts its main theme of 'Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development', public sector reform takes the central stage in sustainable development praxis. A glaring example comes from the recent African Regional Workshop: Effective Governance for Sustainable Development: Putting Principles into Practice, organized by the UN DESA in partnership with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in Pretoria, South Africa.


In Pretoria, participating governments, UN agencies, civil society, academia and others seemed to have a decent grasp of what should be done to leave no one behind--they were rather clear on which policies and what models of sustainability to contemplate. Yet, what they seemed to crave for was a set of possible answers to the how question. How do we reform public administration and governance if we want to achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030?


This is not a straightforward question. The tremendous governance challenges we are confronting today are largely the upshots of what has gone wrong in the first place. Myriad obstacles within public administrations in many countries, and this despite the hard work of public officials and civil servants, are at the root of our developmental malaise. Einstein’s famous words are telling here: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”


Then again, how?


Promoting the SDG-related transformations in our public administration systems and processes requires readiness on many fronts in public institutions.


For starters, accepting and internalizing the fact that effective governance requires adaptation to its specific context could take us a long way. A broad definition of governance is the crux of the matter here. Governance is the way by which public administration organisations and other stakeholders develop solutions and opportunities for societal challenges, and this includes steering, incentivizing and collaboration mechanisms. Defining governance narrowly, for example as being only about stakeholder involvement while neglecting rule of law, is one cause of governance failures.


Second, contextuality is not detached from values and belief systems, including those associated with different public administration models. Are policy makers stimulated to think outside the box? Are career systems rewarding or punishing officials for innovative approaches? These questions are essential. They should be posed more often in broaching the how question.


Thirdly, speed of reform should be considered, as the latter often operates in correlation with the quality of reform. For instance, routine collaboration among levels of administration is slow and subpar. This is related to the trade-off between being reliable and predictable, but not solely. Speeding up decision making processes for implementation of the SDGs is necessary, but this should not take place at the expense of strategic foresight, back-casting or impact analysis.


Therefore, we need to ask ourselves: How can we balance soundness with completeness? How can we weigh flexibility against stability and predictability? And how can we accelerate urgent transformation through ‘real-time’ multi-level governance?


The how question entails contextually feasible ways to increase governmental capacity by partnering with all relevant stakeholders, including but not limited to civil society and business. It necessitates the bridging of the gap between the ‘wicked’ problems underlying our policy challenges and the preconditions for effective governance. It requires pitting competence against financing, and calibrating coordination and coherence. We will need to do so vertically and horizontally while subscribing to whole-of-society approaches.


We need to be fully cognizant that the width of the gap between the what and the how differs across countries and through time. Some countries have well-functioning and flexible public administration, but others are not yet there and work in silos. Still others have malfunctioning and/or fragile administrations. In addition, many countries may have a well-functioning public administration in, say, planning but not in other arenas, like implementation. Others that have transformed their public administration into lean and efficient operations may have caused conditions that chip away at their overall effectiveness.


All these trends were apparent in the African Regional Workshop. Its conclusions emphasized that there is no one perfect institutional schema of governing. Inter-institutional communication and collaboration, multisectoral partnerships, coherent and sound policy making are as important as are innovations and adaptability, SDG awareness raising, research and training, not to mention innovative financing for development and responsible leadership.


Clearly, there cannot be one answer to the “how” challenge. We should recognize the different starting points; distinct trajectories, multiple aspirations, and equally legitimate but significantly diverse endpoints pursued by public administrations across the world.


Nevertheless, some recommendations could apply to all public administrations: first, establishing sustainability transformation acceleration training for current public officials; second, integrating transformational capacity/capability in public administration schools’ curricula; and third, implementing the 11 Principles of effective governance for sustainable development formulated by the Committee of experts on public administration (CEPA) and endorsed by UN ECOSOC in 2018. These are golden guidelines for all countries to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.






Mr. Louis Meuleman, Rapporteur UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)


Friday 08 November 2019

Overcoming Global Digital Divides through a Five-Step Strategy





The world is entering the digital age, with half of the global population online. It is unleashing unfathomable opportunities for sustainable development.  According to a recent estimate by UNCTAD, Global Internet Protocol (IP) traffic, a proxy for data flows, grew from about 100 gigabytes (GB) per day in 1992 to more than 45,000 GB per second in 2017; by 2022 global IP traffic is projected to reach 150,700 GB per second, driven by more people coming online and by the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). The global digital economy, including its spillover impact, is already being measured in the trillions of US dollars, and it is outpacing the growth of global GDP, potentially reaching 23 trillion US dollars by 2025.


More than any previous technological transformations, the digital age is one of inter-dependence, calling for international cooperation among governments, industry, scientific and technological communities, as well as civil society groups.  Such inter-dependence is seen across the spectrum of trade and finance, communications, e-government, and cyber security, among others.


Paradoxically, despite the rapid progress in digital technologies, the Global Digital Divides seem to be getting worse. Data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) suggest that in developed countries, more than 80 out of 100 inhabitants use the internet, while in developing countries, it is 40 out of 100 inhabitants.  ITU data further suggest that in terms of regions, Africa lagged significantly behind, with only some 21 out of 100 inhabitants using internet. Not surprisingly, according to UN E-Government Survey 2018, prepared by UN DESA, most countries scoring low on the e-government development index are from Africa.


Concurrently, we have been witnessing a worrisome spike in cybercrimes and cyberattack. Malicious activities in cyberspace are undermining digital trust, including public trust in governments and between States. It is to be noted that not all governments are well equipped with the knowledge and ability to respond to the digital age - in tapping the vast opportunities or mitigating the inherent risks. The pace and evolution of digitalization are surpassing the speed with which governments can put in place appropriate regulatory and policy frameworks, particularly in developing countries. The multi-dimensional Global Digital Divides are thus getting wider for these countries, putting beyond their reach the potential benefits from digital transformations.


How to halt and reverse these trends and overcome the Global Digital Divides?  I suggest a five-step strategy moving forward.


First, we must invest in digital infrastructure. Governments, multilateral development banks, the private sector, the financing community, foundations, among others, must join hands in scaling up investments in digital infrastructure, including in rural areas and in low-income neighborhoods.  It is likewise essential that we make available affordable and robust broadband services in schools, public libraries, community service centers, etc., to facilitate online access by those who cannot afford it on their own.  It will be a basic step to level the playing field in terms of online access.


Second, we must help develop new, innovative devices that enable access to internet that are affordable and that can meet the needs of vulnerable groups.  This calls for visionary leadership and commitments from the scientific and technological and business communities, working in partnership with governments, and the financial community, to come up with such devices. While perhaps not as sophisticated as some other available hand-held devices, such devices will enable the full potential of these markets to be realized and thus will help to close the Global Digital Divides.


Third, we must invest in digital education and digital literacy training. Recent experience reveals that hardware alone will not close the Global Digital Divides. We must work with educational institutions, the scientific and technological community, local governments and community service organizations to improve access to digital education and promote digital literacy. This includes knowledge of coding and programming, particularly among girls and persons with disabilities. Such training will offer career development and job opportunities, opening the door to the digital world, including in areas such as cybersecurity.


Fourth, we must maintain technical support, whether through physical onsite support or online.  This is essential to troubleshooting and maintaining momentum for progress. To minimize business expenditures, I invite programmers and technicians and other qualified and skilled individuals to volunteer their services.  We need something like Software Engineers without Borders to help keep such initiatives moving.


Fifth, we also need to invest in online content, including local language content, that inspire, inform and educate. Massive open online courses (MOOC) are an inspiring initiative in this direction and is often provided with open access, without limits on participation. Some such courses also feature user forums to support community interactions as well as immediate feedback.   


In all these five areas, the United Nations system has a catalytical role to play, by making available expertise or by providing platforms for mutual learning, capacity building and online training. 


In this regard, I welcome the upcoming expert group meeting (EGM) convened by DESA at UN Headquarters in New York on 16-17 December.   The EGM aims to bring together a number of experts and decision-makers in relevant digital fields, including digital government, digital economy, cybersecurity, science and technology and innovation (STI), and Internet governance.  They will be requested to share their knowledge and perspectives on the evolving digital trends and make recommendations on how to meet capacity development needs of developing countries. It is time that we all step up our efforts.




Mr. Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist




Thursday 24 October 2019

Public Institutions and Poverty Reduction




This October has seen encouraging developments in global efforts to combat the scourge of poverty,  On 14 October, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced its decision to award the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019 to Abhijit Banerjee of  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Esther Duflo, also of  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael Kremer of  Harvard University, “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. The Academy noted that “The Laureates’ research findings – and those of the researchers following in their footsteps – have dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice."


Three days later, on 17 October, the United Nations marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which focused on “acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty."  In his message, the Secretary-General stressed that ending extreme poverty is at the heart of the world’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build a sustainable future for all.  But success in leaving no one behind will remain elusive if we do not target the people who are farthest behind first.


This global setting offered a timely backdrop for spotlighting the contributions of public institutions in fighting poverty, whose role has somehow faded into the background in recent years. This trend should be reversed, if we are to achieve SDG 1 - ending poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.  Indeed, according to the Special Edition of the Secretary-General’s Report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, while the decline of global extreme poverty continues, progress has slowed, and the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than 3 per cent of the world living in extreme poverty by 2030. People who continue to live in extreme poverty face deep, entrenched deprivation often exacerbated by violent conflicts and vulnerability to disasters. Strong social protection systems and government spending on key services often help those left behind get back on their feet and escape poverty, but these services need to be brought to scale.


This is where public institutions should step up to the challenge and scale up services to the poor and vulnerable groups.  Among other steps that could be taken and adapted to country specific situations, I would recommend the following actions:


First, strengthen national legislative and regulatory frameworks for fighting poverty.


This is already happening on the ground. Recent voluntary national reports (VNRs) indicate that more and more countries are integrating the visions and principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into national legislations, with specific mandates to national and local governments to accelerate the progress toward the SDGs.


Second, strengthen inter-ministerial coordination to ensure a holistic, coordinated and coherent strategy for flighting poverty and achieving the SDGs.


Encouragingly, many national leaders have realized the critical significance of this step. With 17 goals, 169 targets, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for changing the conventional silo mindsets, and adopting a holistic, coordinated and coherent strategic approach toward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Many leaders took the forward-thinking decision of leading the national SDG endeavour in person, supported by an inter-ministerial senior coordination group. Interestingly, some countries have also entrusted the coordination role to the Treasury or Finance Ministry to coordinate funding for this endeavour.


Third, equipping public servants with the knowledge, mindset and skillsets to fight poverty and advance the progress toward the SDGs.


This is where implementation challenges emerge on multiple fronts. For some years, investing in public services has been a low priority for many governments.  Public servants who are on the frontline of ensuring access to basic social services, such as education, basic health care, job training, access to water, sanitation and energy, environmental protection, public safety, access to justice, public transportation, public spaces, essential community social services, etc, are often not given the social and economic recognition they deserve. In addition, many national and local governments have failed to take advantage of digital technology to improve public services to the most vulnerable groups.  Empowering public servants with the public recognition and remunerations and skillsets for the 21st century is an imperative that should be given high priority by all governments.


Equally important, putting in place the accountability framework to ensure anti-corruption and transparency in public services, including funding of public services, must go hand in hand with measures to improve public services.


Fourth, strengthening international cooperation on institution-building.


Indeed, this is where the United Nations system can play a catalytic role. To the extent that public institutions often are part of the decision-making process and service providers, there is significant space for mutual learning and exchange of national and local experiences.  The United Nations can provide a useful platform for such exchanges.  For example, the UN system can catalyse mutual learning and training by identifying and offering capacity development opportunities, in partnership with academic, scientific and technological communities, businesses and civil society groups.


In this regard, there also exist specific guidelines and strategies for implementation. For example,  the United Nations Economic and Social Council, during its 2018 session, endorsed a set of 11 principles and 62 related strategies prepared by the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). These principles and strategies apply to all public institutions, including the administration of executive and legislative organs, the security and justice sectors, independent constitutional bodies and State corporations.


Joint UN-African Union workshop


I am delighted to share an upcoming event that aims to strengthen public institutions – a joint workshop co-organized by UN DESA and African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism, which is taking place on 30 October to 1 November 2019, in Pretoria, South Africa. The workshop aims to enhance capacity of public servants in Africa to develop reform policies that strengthen institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels.  You are welcome to follow the discussion at this website: (



Ms. Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs




Monday 7 October 2019

Effective governance for sustainable development



The full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on a common understanding of the basic principles of effective governance for sustainable development. Adherence to these tenets of governance underpins progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


In this context, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, during its 2018 session, endorsed a set of 11 principles prepared by the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA). The 11 basic principles are intended to clarify the governance agenda, taking into account different governance structures, national realities, capacities and levels of development, while respecting national policies and priorities. They have been developed to help interested countries, on a voluntary basis, build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, with a view to achieving the shared vision for the people and the planet embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


As basic principles, they apply to all public institutions, including the administration of executive and legislative organs, the security and justice sectors, independent constitutional bodies and State corporations.


The basic principles comprise: (a) competence, sound policymaking and cooperation under the rubric of effectiveness; (b) integrity, transparency and independent oversight under accountability; and (c) leaving no one behind, non-discrimination, participation, subsidiarity and intergenerational equity under inclusiveness.


In the spirit of SDG 16, we need to focus especially on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, on women and children, and to heal and protect our planet for the future of humanity. This calls for major changes in governance in all countries and in resource allocation towards development goals. There can be little doubt that resources are currently channelled disproportionately to the top ten percent of the world's population and to purposes contributing to the perpetuation of war. The net result is growing instability, fragility and fragmentation in vast swaths of the world which, in turn, generate continuing waves of refugees and migrants desperately attempting a perilous journey to distant lands because they see no future closer to home. It is no accident that endless wars contribute to massive corruption in government.


Operationalizing the principles and undertaking related strategic actions that are known to be effective in particular contexts is essential to taking the work on principles to the next level. To be helpful, associated practices will need to be clearly relevant, feasible to implement, and based on sufficient empirical evidence of their impact on the achievement of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. To that end, ECOSOC has encouraged CEPA to identify and review related technical guidelines and assess the evidence of their impact on SDG-related outcomes, including from sectoral perspectives. The elaboration of such guidance is the next challenge for CEPA and the relevant United Nations organizations, regional organizations and professional and academic communities engaged in this evolving work.


Importantly, CEPA has already identified 62 strategies, each associated with one of the 11 principles of effective governance (to access full text of the principles and strategies, click here). The CEPA Secretariat is now in the process of coordinating the preparation of the technical guidance covering each of these strategies based on global expert advice.


Concurrently, CEPA members and the CEPA Secretariat have been working with Governments and regional organizations and UN system entities to provide capacity building support for the operationalization of the principles.  In this regard, I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to initiate a joint UN-African Union workshop specifically designed to support countries in assessment of gaps in the institutional application of each of the 11 principles of effective governance with a view to strengthening institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels.


The objective of this joint workshop (30 October to 1 November 2019, Pretoria, South Africa) is to enhance capacity of public servants in Africa to develop reform policies that strengthen institutions for implementation of the SDGs at all levels. In particular, the workshop is expected to lead to:


- A common understanding among senior public officials of African countries of principles of effective governance for sustainable development and methods of analyzing gaps in their institutional application;


- Enhanced collaboration between the United Nations and African Union in building strong institutions for achievement of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063; and


- Sharing of knowledge among senior public officials in Africa on approaches to building strong institutions for achievement of the SDGs at all levels in different development contexts.


Government-led assessments featured at the workshop may serve as a precursor to more specific in-depth reviews, as appropriate, and/or lead directly to formulation of Government/public sector-led reform policies in priority institution-building areas. The workshop is also expected to foster policy coherence by encouraging alignment of institution-building efforts related to the 2030 Agenda with the Agenda 2063 objectives of the African Union.


I invite all interested partners and practitioners to follow the discussion of the workshop and to work with CEPA members and the CEPA Secretariat in advancing the operationalization of the principles of effective governance.


Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, CEPA Chairperson





Friday 4 October 2019

We need more focus on institutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals


Whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will ultimately depend on the fitness of our institutions to deliver the necessary public services and functions. The 2030 Agenda prominently features institutions, both as a cross-cutting issue and as a standalone goal, Goal 16, which aims to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” 



Goal 16 highlights several institutional principles, including: effectiveness, access to information, transparency, accountability, anti-corruption, inclusiveness of decision-making processes, and non discrimination. These principles can help all stakeholders in different sectors assess how institutions are delivering for sustainable development. 


In our 2019 edition of the World Public Sector Report, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) reveals many positive trends at the national level that give reasons for optimism.
A majority of countries now legally guarantee the right to information. As of 2018, 139 countries had implemented open government data initiatives that make data available to the public through central portals, as compared with only 46 in 2014. 


Over the past decade, we have witnessed rapid developments of anti-corruption institutions, both at the international and national levels. Since 2015, at least 21 countries have passed national anti-corruption laws, 39 have adopted national anti-corruption strategies, and 14 have created new anti-corruption agencies.

Participatory mechanisms have been developing rapidly from the local to the national level. The Internet is dramatically changing the ways citizens can participate in government. A growing number of countries are using e-consultations and other channels for electronic participation. 


National initiatives in all these areas have been supported by a growing body of international instruments, both binding and voluntary. 


At the same time, barriers to institutional effectiveness remain, with few signs of progress in recent years. Effective oversight of governments by parliaments and supreme audit institutions often remains elusive.
Efforts to align national budget systems with the SDGs have so far been limited, both in developed and developing countries. 


Discrimination is still rampant across the globe, even though international norms in this area have been steadily growing and have been increasingly reflected in national legislation, judicial systems and administrative practice. Women remain underrepresented at all levels of public decision-making. Some measures to increase women’s representation in politics have been effective but progress is slow. 


Crucially, the UN DESA report also found that we do not know nearly enough about the effectiveness of our institutions. For example, little is known about the effectiveness of national anti-corruption reforms. The same could be said about the effect on performance and accountability in public service reforms that have emphasized the use of performance frameworks, performance-based pay and reporting. 


Initiatives to improve transparency, accountability and participation yield widely differing results. Their effectiveness largely depends on a country’s wider accountability system. In many cases, the presumed links between institutional reforms and their broader benefits to society do not materialize. For instance, transparency reforms can fail to increase citizens’ trust in government. 

Country context is crucial and institutional instruments proven successful in one country may not be replicable elsewhere. 


Going forward, we need to become better at measuring institutional effectiveness. Beyond the complexity of the topic itself, the measurement frameworks put more emphasis on processes than on outcomes and broader impacts for citizens. 


This is starting to change. For example, the Open Government Partnership or the Global Financial Transparency Initiative are starting to look at public institution reforms through the lens of their final beneficiaries – the public. 


At the national level, we could make better use of the information already produced by institutional processes such as reforms of the justice system, reporting under international treaties, internal monitoring by government agencies, and reports of oversight bodies. Goal 16 and its institutional targets can provide a unifying platform to support such efforts. 


As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the 2030 Agenda has recognized the fundamental role of institutions in the quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As we kick off the final decade of action to achieve these ambitious objectives, we should pay closer attention to the institutions that we are trusting with its delivery.


Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.


Monday 6 January 2020

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations



There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2



The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at:



1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.


Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member




Monday 6 January 2020

Public administration, state-building and peacebuilding in post-conflict situations



There is a large and growing gap in levels of development between countries that have experienced conflict and those that have not. Conflicts reduce GDP by an average of 2 per cent per year and affected populations are less likely to be educated, have access to basic services and enjoy sustainable livelihoods. The 10 countries with lowest scores for maternal mortality and gender-based exclusion and violence are all conflict-affected2



The importance of effective public administration in post-conflict environments cannot be overestimated. Weak states drive conflicts through a mixture of alienation, perceived unfairness, corruption, failure to deliver services, exclusion and, frequently, prejudice. States may also be a direct source of conflict through predatory behaviour, control or appropriation of natural resources for illicit gain, and the use of state institutions such as nationalised industries to turn public goods into private benefits.

A fully functioning public administration is necessary for co-ordination of competing priorities and the development of a long-term vision beyond the immediate stabilization of the country and improving the effectiveness of institutions. Building a long-term vision, however, is a political process that can impinge on existing power structures. Considerable power often rests with those who control state institutions and the reconstruction of existing structures may renew the original drivers of conflict and reduce trust in public institutions. Coalition building and inclusion are therefore critical to building institutions ready to pursue long-term strategies to achieve the SDGs.

Without political development, state-building may essentially amount to implanting models of state-building from developed country experiences in developing conflict-affected countries. This approach risks building empty institutions that exist on paper but not in reality. The security sector is a key example where maintenance of institutions can be expensive and vulnerable to retrenchment once international support is withdrawn. The response was to establish small, locally-based police services in communities prone to conflict, which were much less costly, more accessible and enjoyed greater popular legitimacy than a national force, while encouraging ongoing dialogue among affected parties at the community level.

While peacebuilding and state-building are often linked, reconstruction processes and the role of a multitude of actors at different stages of development are often contested. Specifically, the sequencing and prioritization of reforms are recognized as important, but there is no accepted order. In addition, development trajectories are complex and non-linear, and the post-conflict environment adds to these complexities.  Conflicts are also different, and so are post-conflict environments. As a result, post-conflict reconstruction is heavily contextual, which is one reason why cookie-cutter solutions do not work well.

Eternal actors from the international community may further complicate efforts. External actors rarely speak with one voice, may have contrasting aims and objectives, and may adopt different approaches to institutional development and support. When a state lacks legitimacy and support, then there is a limit to the effectiveness of external advisers. Most donors lack the financial resources or the political will to implement state-building fully and any donor is usually one among many. This has led to some observers arguing that donors should limit their interventions even though there may be constant pressure on donors to ‘do something’.

A fundamental distinction can be made between bottom-up peacebuilding approaches and top-down institutional approaches to state-building. Peacebuilding approaches focus on conflict prevention, multi-track diplomacy, civil society and community involvement and the creation of local capacities for dialogue. An issue that has been downplayed in these approaches, however, is the need for functioning governance institutions in the transition from conflict to peace.

State-building approaches, by contrast, have focused on the institutions of the central state and on stabilization and security. These approaches have been criticized for being too state-centric and ignoring inclusivity, community and, frequently, areas and population groups outside urban centres, particularly the capital city.

At the same time, there appears to be convergence between the two approaches with state-building recognizing that transformation requires a far more responsive approach to local community needs and a more representative approach to public administration in order to contribute to a society where no one is left behind that, in turn, will contribute to peacebuilding. Peace-building meanwhile recognizes that governance and government are both critical in maintaining peaceful societies in the long-term. Both approaches also recognize that changes in their own activities directly affect the relationships between state and society.

Despite a trend towards a convergence, tensions between peacebuilding and state-building remain. For example, where state-building reproduces the kinds of inequalities and issues that contributed to conflict, a further cycle of conflict may result. Peacebuilding efforts can also create tensions that undermine state-building. For example, peace settlements can contribute to social divisions or fragmentation as a result of power-sharing arrangements. While there may be evident short-term gains in keeping the peace, long-term challenges can arise when social divisions are enshrined in a country’s constitution. 

These are some of the issues to be discussed in depth at the upcoming meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA).  Follow the CEPA work at:



1.  This blog is based on Chapter II of a paper submitted by the author to the 19th session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

2.  World Public Sector Report, 2018, Chapter 7, Realizing the SDGs in post-conflict situations: Challenges for the State, p. 140.


Mr. Paul Jackson, Programme Director, British Academy and Professor, School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham | CEPA Member




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