The 2013 United Nations Committee of Experts on Public Administration (UN-CEPA) brought academic observers together for participatory discussions on the “Post-2015” Millennium Development Goal (MDG) agenda. Delegates included the CEPA Chair, Dr. Zarrouk (Morocco), Ms. Saner (United Kingdom), Mr. Hao (China), Ms. Armstrong (Canada/UN-DESA), Mr. Oquist (Nicaragua), and several other practitioners and academics. The diversity in representation reflects the importance of the UN as a space where member states have an equal voice, and resulted in a range of opinions and expertise regarding the future of public administration.
Good governance was highlighted as a solution to complex development problems, as “good public administration is the ‘missing link’ that furthers and supports development goals in the post 2015 world,” (T. Stelzer, ECOSOC). It includes enhanced competence at all levels of government in accountability, citizen engagement, transparency, efficiency and democratic principles. While the United Nations plays a key role in supporting these processes, many delegates emphasized the importance of locally driven solutions.
Achieving locally driven solutions requires meaningful citizen engagement, a process which can be challenging given the multi-layered systems of power and relationships that underpin many societies. Indeed, “without good citizen engagement, problems cannot be understood nor solved holistically,” (Prof. Khan, School of Oriental and African Studies). Therefore governments must continually explore new methods of engagement in order to develop innovative, flexible and relevant solutions to increasingly complex matters of public policy.
One strategy discussed was the use of ICT (information and communications technology) and e-governance to enable access to a broad spectrum of citizens. Several discussions were held around ways of furthering open government as a method of sharing best practices across member states and supporting the use of relevant data to assess outcomes. However, “e-Government is not only about computers and ICTs, but about a holistic vision to support positive transformation in public administration frameworks,” (W. Fust, Switzerland).
Reflecting afterwards, it was clear that while there can be no singular solution for good governance, building common strategies that can be locally adapted is important in achieving development outcomes. There will be challenges, as issues of gender, power structures and “the tension between calls for innovation and the risk adverse culture in public service” remain (M. Edwards). However, public servants must face these challenges with a commitment to building strong, accountable systems of public administration on a global scale through forums like UN-CEPA.