Last week I had the privilege to represent CitizenLab at an exclusive gathering between some of Europe’s most influential decision-makers and a small group of GovTech startups who were handpicked by the organisation of Pioneers Festival. Here are some of my key take-aways from our discussion on the future of governments. 

The setting of this GovTech couldn’t be any better; we gathered in the magnificent Habsburg Palace in the center of Vienna at the Pioneers Festival. Pioneers brought together top influencers, political leaders and forward thinkers to discuss new technologies and solutions that will shape the future of governments and the public sector.

Ansip CitizenLab GovTech
Speech of Andrus Ansip (VP of EU) in the Habsburg Palace.

Amongst them, Andrus Ansip (VP of EU Commission), Ulrike Huemer (CIO of Vienna), Rosen Plevneliev (ex-President of Bulgaria), Daniel Korski (Former Special Advisor to David Cameron), and H.E Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr (Head of Smart Dubai) were present.

What ‘GovTech’ is about

Easily put, GovTech bundles all technologies that help solve public sector problems. To give you an indication, governments spend the tremendous amount of $30 billion on software each year. Cloud software in particular gets rapidly adopted by local governments and the expenses on it grow at a 20% rate yearly.

Instead of thinking of the technologies that can enable this governments transformation, it makes more sense to focus on the problems to launch a meaningful discussion. Daniel Korski shared an insightful taxonomy on this:

  • participation (collaborative platforms, e-petitions, e-ID, etc.)
  • regulation (due diligence software, AMI, checks, etc.)
  • delivery (healthcare, education, law enforcement, etc.)
  • infrastructure (digital controls, sensors, grid, etc.)
  • administration (licenses, cloud management, software, security, etc.).

The challenges for governments

The public sector has to rapidly transform itself in order to respond to the new societal pressures. Here are some of the most significant trends:

Hyper-transparency. Citizens become more and more demanding when it comes down to transparency. Transparency on how decisions are made, how budgets are allocated, how their citizen feedback is treated, etc. The next step is to go from transparent to traceable processes. By creating strong traceability — ie. transparency over time — citizens can go explore the archives and compare decision-makers’ promises to the actual implementations.

Budget pressure. Nothing new here, but it is the reality that public administrations face. Governments often don’t have the internal resources to do in-house developments to catch up on the use of technology. As a consequence, more and more public institutions rely on (cloud) software vendors to help them find cheaper solutions without having to reinvent the wheel.

Workforce demographics. The government workforce is ageing rapidly. As droves of Baby Boomers reach retirement age, public administrations are having a hard time finding fresh faces to take their place. When providing a digital product to governments, staff trainings need to be provided to teach them how to use it.

The Future of Civic Participation

With these societal trends in mind, we started discussing the future of citizen participation, under the lead of Ulrike Huemer (CIO of Vienna). For citizen collaboration in particular, one of the challenges the agencies are facing is the redesign of public services. Citizens don’t care about the departmental silos a government is operating in; all they want is a fast, simple, and centralised place of interaction with their government.

Today, using natural language processing (NLP) techniques it is possible though to automate workflows for the government and make sure that the right citizen feedback gets to the right department inside the public organisation. In addition, chat bots are also more and more often thought of a simple AI-enabled interface to get the dialogue with the citizens going and help them find the public service they’re looking for.

The Big GovTech Opportunity

After this intensive workshop, one could only conclude that the future of GovTech looks very bright. The main ingredients for such a future are governments and decision-makers who are increasingly looking into the opportunities technology offers to drive rapid innovation, and startups and companies who are willing to design products and services for the public administration. Both were clearly present that day. Governments are ripe for radical innovation.