The Commonwealth Secretariat convened the first Commonwealth forum of ministers responsible for public service in 2006. The aim of the forum was to advance public sector development in the Commonwealth. The outcome exceeded expectations.
In service to the Commonwealth, public sector leaders came together to mark progress, to exchange experiences, and to chart the way forward. They capitalized on the special bond of trust, respect, tolerance, and understanding that is shared among the Commonwealth’s 53 member countries and with the international community.
In travels around the Commonwealth, one is struck by the innovation that abounds in the public sector. The environment is diverse, fast-paced, and ever-changing. There are mounting pressures on governments to reform their structures and processes and to achieve excellence, responsiveness, and integrity in public service.
We’ve learned that, first and foremost, public sector development (or renewal) is everyone’s responsibility. There are “local heroes” throughout the Commonwealth. Politicians and public servants alike are the champions of change.
Governments innovate to improve citizen-focused service, to reduce cost, to increase efficiency, and to stimulate economic development. Change depends on individual country circumstances. More and more, reforms must connect with and support the Millennium Development Goals.
In many Commonwealth countries, the metaphor of the village is a powerful cultural symbol and motivator of national development. It recognizes diversity of people and of nations as strength. We need to “think globally and act locally” for sustainable development.
“Networked government” has succeeded the “new public management.” The view elaborated at the 2004 Commonwealth Conference in Singapore was of many agencies but one government, of citizen engagement, and of networking beyond borders. We in the Commonwealth are being challenged to think collectively “outside the box” to find new ways to be inclusive and collaborate.
Public sector development and renewal is a process of continuous learning and improvement. Naturally, member countries are impatient to see quick results. They have imperatives to improve service delivery and to help the neediest in society. Poverty alleviation and sustainable development depend on placing the people most affected at the centre of decision making and service delivery.
A capable public sector is grounded in the principles of good governance. Governments need a professional and apolitical public service, guided by shared values and ethical standards. The value system of progressive public organizations today is about service, not bureaucracy. Accountable leaders have the self-confidence to model the desired behaviours. They also know instinctively that it is good politics.
Issues of public sector transformation have been on the Commonwealth radar for more than a decade. The Secretariat must consult with its primary stakeholders to advance public sector development. The Governance and Institutional Development Division convened this groundbreaking forum and asked ministers to set the forward agenda.
More than 100 delegates representing 30 member countries and five stakeholder organizations attended. The level of response was testimony to the desire of political leadership in the Commonwealth to lead from the front to create more transparent and accountable governance with improved service delivery to citizens. Highlights of the communiqué from the forum are summarized in the sidebar.
The next Commonwealth Ministers Forum on Public Sector Development will be held in Barbados in October 2008. Meanwhile, the Secretariat has responded to ministers’ priorities for action by featuring three major initiatives:
- Development of a governance framework to guide improved service delivery by member governments
- Strengthening public service training institutes, to close public sector skill gaps, in partnership with other Commonwealth associations
- Acceleration of Commonwealth Connects using national information and communication technology strategies, e-governance, and knowledge management to bridge the digital divide.
We live in interesting times in the public sector. Growing complexity, not just rapid change, is causing us to rethink and redouble efforts in public sector development. This gathering of ministers was a historical nexus from which a new order of things can unfold. The Commonwealth and its people are counting on it.
John Wilkins became Head of Section and Adviser (Public Sector Management) with the Governance and Institutional Development Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat in October 2005. He served 32 years in the Canadian public service, the last four in Ottawa advising Treasury Board on governance and service delivery innovations. Previously, he managed in Manitoba’s health, government services, culture, and finance portfolios and taught public management at the University of Manitoba (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Commonwealth Secretariat convened the first forum of Ministers responsible for public service, with support from the Government of Australia and the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM).
The aim of the Forum was to advance public sector development in the Commonwealth. The Forum focused on public management issues and developments, on the implications and challenges for governments and on experiences and lessons learned from the delivery of public services. Ministers were asked to set the forward agenda for public sector development.
Ministers discussed the trends and challenges of public sector development and agreed upon the following priorities for action relative to the three themes of the Forum.
Modernizing governance for integrated service delivery:
- Lead and sustain the momentum of public sector reform
- Monitor, evaluate, and report publicly on the outcomes of service improvement initiatives
- Benchmark Commonwealth good practices
- Develop a better practice guide on integrated service delivery
- Undertake comparative research on alternative service delivery.
Renewing human resources for leadership development:
- Support a global dialogue on building human resource capacity and managing global skills distribution
- Strengthen and enhance the relationship between the political and executive leadership through learning from good practice around the Commonwealth
- Invest in executive leadership capability in the delivery of public services, including through Commonwealth attachments and leadership programs
- Ensure that there are human resource plans in place to recruit, retain and develop public service human capital.
Bridging the digital divide for networked government:
- Develop a strategy to en