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Future of Government: Journey

Taking an Urgent Journey Future of Government

This page sets out how governments can begin their respective journeys. Governments begin by analyzing where they are and why they are there. Governments then identify a destination and plot potential pathways, while seeking agreement on the route and destination. The Government of the Future will take steps deliberately along the route, looking, learning, and adjusting along the way.

  • Catalysts, Journey, Future of Government

    The 21st century has witnessed man-made crises, such as climate change and financial instability, and natural crises, such as COVID-19 and tsunamis. Ageing populations, growing inequality and evolving social norms are gradually affecting how societies are structured and how citizens view the social contract. In addition, there have been remarkable innovations in the public sector and great technological leaps in the private sector. With the presence of good leadership, capable teams and broad coalitions, these crises, evolutions and innovations provide opportunities to be catalysts for positive change.

    Journey, Future or Government

    The Governments of the Future might embark on a three-stage process for plotting feasible pathways to deliver developmental change that can be useful for government policymakers, regulators and providers in different spaces, and those seeking to influence them. The three stages are:

    • to identify and prioritize a limited number of critical policy problems from the plethora of demands and challenges it faces, careful to distinguish needs from wants;

    • to investigate the policy priorities, understanding the underlying sources of the related needs and the causes of the challenges and the stakeholders involved;

    • to set a destination that solves each policy problem and plotting a pathway to reach that destination.

    Conundrums and Choices

  • Setting destinations

    Although governments have registered many development and economic successes in recent decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted progress, and the gains made early in the century were slowing or halting before the pandemic itself. Demands on governments and expectations of what they can do have been growing across the world, while their ability to meet them has not always kept up.

    Furthermore, new types of demands beside the conventional ones have been emerging related to health pandemics, climate change, and conflict and security. Financial strains limit governments’ ability to address demands both new and old, creating an expectations gap that is aggravated by an inability to prioritize, communicate, organize, and coordinate their work across agencies. Instead of well-reasoned goals, national plans are often just lists of aspirational objectives.

    Plotting ways, Future of Government

    Conundrums and Choices


  • Taking steps_Journey, Future of Government

    Governments are often very productive when it comes to developing policies and plans, but their record is more mixed when it comes to implementing those plans, often behaving inflexibly and being risk averse. Politicians and bureaucrats focus on maximizing the resources and inputs available to them, tending to be hierarchical and divided into silos. They face resistance from those benefitting from the status-quo, and are not always good at learning and adapting, even in situations where they want a clean break from past practices. Although rarely progressing in a linear fashion, change is possible.

    Journey, Future or Government

    The Governments of the Future will take deliberate steps, with urgency along the route, toward the destination. This involves public sector institutions taking decisions and implementing actions in a collective and coordinated manner consistent with what they are capable of and what is feasible, given the context and environment. It requires breaking out of institutional silos and forming multi-stakeholder teams to deliver specific changes. It may involve public sector leaders encouraging such joint working by convening actors and empowering teams to deliver The Government of the Future will look and learn along the way. The journey will not go according to plan – there will be reversals, missteps, and progress in unexpected areas. When necessary – and it will be necessary – government will need to adjust the route. It will adapt, be nimble, and be flexible.

    See more on the Future of Government | our Report | watch Future of Government Debates

    Conundrums and Choices