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International Conference - Disruptive Technologies and the Public Service Article

Gloria Sun Yan Shang, English Literature and Art History

28 - 29 Sept 2017



The International Conference – Disruptive Technologies and the Public Service was organised by the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE), the Nanyang Technopreneurship Centre (NTC), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Centre for Economics and Public Administration (CEPA) that was held at NTU Alumni House on 28-29 September 2017. The aims of the event were to share pioneering experiences, identify alternative policy frameworks and develop technologies to achieve social and development goals through a series of panel discussions and presentations done by the invited speakers. It was geared towards professionals in both the public and private sectors whose industries are related to either civil service or technology. Also, it provided opportunities for the public service sectors to gain exposure to technological disruption, opened up discussions about the relationship between government legitimacy and inclusive development, and created networking opportunities for technology providers and experts who share an interest in emerging economy markets.

 

The event commenced with the opening ceremony done by the heads of the organising intuitions, Max Everest-Phillips, the Director of UNDP GCPSE, Professor Yonggang Wen, an Assistant Professor and the Director of NTC at NTU, and Christine Leitner, the Senior Advisor and Co-Founder of CEPA. In their opening speeches, the three speakers thanked the sponsors and wished the event would be a fruitful and inspiring one. Each speaker focused on the different aspects of the event such as hearing the different perspectives on the day’s topic, disruptive technology in the public service, how technology can transform governments to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and exchanging good practices and other experiences with one another.

 

Among the event guests was His Excellency Susil Premajayantha, the Minister of Science, Technology and Research for Sri Lanka, who was a guest-of-honor and also the opening speaker for the Panel Discussion: Government in 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. In his opening speech, the minister talked about the benefits of technological advancement in Sri Lanka and how Disruptive Technology could help accelerate the efficiency levels of public service, hence helping more people than before. This framed the event through talking about the future of technology and what that entails.

 

The panel began with Noah Raford (Chief Operating Officer and Futurist-in-Chief, Dubai Future Foundation), though not physically present at the event, he gave a video presentation discussing about navigating through a disruptive future where technology would help enrich the public service sector if policies and policy makers are open to experimentation and innovation as well as engaging with the general public in policy making. On that vein, a question is posed by the moderator, Pedro Conceicao (Director (Strategic Policy), Bureau for Programme and Policy Support, UNDP) about whether governments or policy makers should be cautious or take risks when it comes to handling issues that fall into the grey areas in regulation. In response, Vera Kobalia (‎Advisor, Australia Indonesia Partnership for Economic Governance (AIPEG) and former Minister of Finance and Sustainable Development, Georgia) spoke about how Georgia as a country has reformed its public service sectors since its independence in order to gain trust from its citizens, and also improved efficiency in their process of procuring legal documents such as passports for the people. One of their methods include digitalising their systems so that they are able to serve more people at a faster rate. King Wang Poon (Director, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, Singapore University of Technology and Design - SUTD) continued the discussion with the effects of disruptive technology where the old rules are not applicable yet the new rules are still unknown to the world. With an anecdote about how a Singaporean chess player was able to get coaching from a chess coach from India through the Internet, elaborating how disruption is able to turn limitations to opportunities to innovate, branch out from the specifics to the general, and how technology has enabled the world to be more globalised.

 

The event continued to explore the different ways of leveraging technological disruptions through two countries featured as case studies, Indonesia and Estonia. The moderator, Jane Thomason (CEO, Abt Associates-Australia) introduced the panel by addressing that technology helps propel society towards equality through it creates easier accessibility to those in need.

 

Danang Rizky Ginanjar (Special Adviser to the Minister for National Development Planning, Indonesia) spoke about how disruptive technology leads to change where it improves effectiveness, efficiency and transparency in the public service sector. Also, he talked about how governments need to adapt with the shifting social landscape of a nation to meet the changing needs of the people. He also pointed how technology advancement differs from country to country where a basic piece of technology from one country can be seen as advance in another. With Estonia’s perspective, Ivar Tallo (Founder & Board Member, e-Governance Academy, Estonia) shared how technology has to be implemented in the public sector such as placing computers in schools which enabled students to gain computer literacy. With the new computer skills acquired, it would create better opportunities for the students and it builds the citizens’ trust in the government as the change is tangible.

 

The discussion opened with the question of how does one engage politicians to integrate technology in the public sector. Tallo responded with a suggestion to engage those who are already interested in technology integration in the public sector and start building from there while Ginanjar pointed out that though the politicians are interested in technology integration, the country’s infrastructure plays a big role whether the entire nation are on the same technological level. If the country is as big and widely spread as Indonesia, it would take a while for the entire nation to be on the same technological pane.

 

Christine Leitner addressed the guests once again  in the next half of the day’s programme on Disruptive Technologies and its implications for the public service. She highlighted the importance of using technology as a foresight to weigh the risks and opportunities — whether to be a pioneer in adopting new technological innovations or wait till that technology becomes mainstream. Also, she carried to say that nations have to consider framework conditions — whether add new rules or change existing ones and when to implement such changes.  Lastly, she mentioned that a balance the different interests in the public sectors has to be struck, so that it ensures that the different institutions of the public sector would be equally developed.

 

The Hype Cycle Survey would be later introduced by Danny Buerkli (Programme Director, Centre for Public Impact (CPI))  where he briefly explained the five stages Gartner Hype Cycle: Stage One: Innovation Trigger, Stage Two: Peak of Inflated Expectations, Stage Three: Trough of Disillusionment, Stage Four: Slope of Enlightenment and Stage Five: Plateau of Productivity. He explained that the Hype Cycle can be used as a tool to allow thinking to be in a more structured manner when it comes to considering new technology. This segued to an interactive poll where the audience is asked to place the technological innovations introduced in the event on the Hype Cycle scale where the results would be discussed in the following day.

 

The following segment was the 4 Breakout Sessions which consisted of  Electronic identity; trust, security & data management (incl. Distributed Ledger Technologies and Cyber Security) led by Jane Thomason (CEO, Abt Associates-Australia), Connectivity and Infrastructure (incl. Cloud Computing) led by Peter Lovelock (Director and Founder, Technology Research Project Corporate - TRPC), Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence led by Victor Alexiev (Founder and Co-Managing Director InnovatorSG), and Internet of Things and Smart Platforms (incl. Smart Cities) led by Walter Lee (Evangelist and Government

Relations Leader, Global Safety Division, NEC). The breakout sessions would be repeated as participants switch to the different sessions based on the previous session that they have attended.

 

During the last segment of the day, a discussion session was held where Deputy Secretary of Smart Nation and Digital Government in the Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore, Kok Yam Tan shared about Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative. It is Singapore’s response to the disruptive virtual cycle of digital data where the Smart Nation Initiative uses technology to enable citizens to live more meaningful and fruitful lives. Following, a reflection was done by participating members of the session to conclude the day’s programme.