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Nine trends transforming government in 2021

Digitization, adaptive workplaces, and more are dramatically changing public services

Nine trends transforming government in 2021

The year 2020 was tumultuous, and government stood front and center not only in confronting the biggest public health challenge in a century, but also in dealing with major economic and social disruptions. New programs were rolled out seemingly overnight, and at a massive scale. Government is usually associated with incremental change, but 2020 was a year of discontinuity. The shifts we saw in government operations reflect the dramatic changes happening in the world at large.

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The Deloitte Center for Government Insights’ 2021 Government Trends captures nine of the most transformative trends in government today. The report distills years of research on government operations, coupled with on-the-ground coverage of what is happening in the trenches right now.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated—in some cases, by years—trends such as the digitization of government. As the pandemic swept the globe, citizens looked to their governments to provide economic relief, contain the virus’ spread, and provide a steady flow of information. As citizens “rallied around the flag,” government became the most trusted institution globally for the first time in two decades. Governments with the most success addressing the pandemic saw this reflected in high trust ratings.

1. Accelerated digital government: COVID-19 brings the next generation of digitization to government

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The global pandemic changed digital from “nice to have” to “must have” for governments. To meet the surge in service demand while operating virtually, governments have accelerated their digital journey along three major dimensions: scaling digital infrastructure, creating a more digitally savvy workforce, and investing in citizen connectivity.

2. Seamless government service delivery: personalized, frictionless, and anticipatory

Government agencies are increasingly providing personalized, frictionless, and proactive services to citizens. There are several avenues that governments are taking to achieve this vision of seamless service delivery: committing to fully digital services, designing proactive services around life events, and building infrastructure to support such seamless services. The goal: to make government services approach the ease of the best online experiences.

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3. Location liberation: adaptive workplaces in government

The COVID-19 pandemic caused organizations to fundamentally change how they accomplished their respective missions. From remote work to telemedicine and online schools, the pandemic brought the future of government work into the present. This trend follows the emergence of adaptive workplaces, including approaches for managing a distributed workforce and delivering high-quality citizen services virtually.

4. Fluid data dynamics: generating greater public value from data

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Data is assuming an elevated level of importance within and outside government. Public agencies are developing novel approaches to maximize the value of the data they hold, including appropriately sharing that data. Across the globe, the trend toward fluid, dynamic data is changing how data is being used and shared by government and its partners in academia, nonprofits, and the private sector.

5. Government as a cognitive system: using hindsight, real-time data, and foresight to drive policy and decision-making

The best governments are constantly learning, evolving, and making decisions—just as people do. When government understands itself as a “cognitive system,” it can take steps to increase how quickly it learns. This entails using data in new ways to gain insights from the past and present, and to make reliable projections about the future. This augmented learning and decision-making capability can create immense public value. Governments can design programs with an intelligence architecture in mind. The hindsight of past performance, coupled with real-time data in the present, can lead to optimal decisions for the future.

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6. Agile government: building greater flexibility and adaptability in the public sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for fast, flexible, and mission-centric government—and many governments around the world shown they are up for the challenge. Governments had to make timely decisions; they needed to move fast. This agile imperative can be seen in many areas, including policymaking, regulation, procurement, and the workforce.

7. Networked cybersecure government: a holistic, ecosystem approach to cybersecurity

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A cyber hack that would once damage a single organization can now spread to threaten an organization’s partners and clients—even an entire industry or a sector. Governments want to tap into a growing information ecosystem, but what about the risks? Reliable cybersecurity requires breaking down internal silos, recrafting external relationships, and making sure the public workforce comprises the best cyber talent.

8. Inclusive and equity-centered government: embedding greater inclusion, diversity and equity into the public sector

As inclusion and equity issues come to the forefront, governments are focusing more on the underlying causes of systemic imbalances and questioning the fundamentals of how policies are developed, implemented, and assessed. Some of the global approaches being embraced include inclusive and equity-centered design, equitable access to public goods, data sovereignty and equity, and cocreation and citizen engagement.

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9. Sustaining public trust in government: strengthening trust in government institutions, systems, and processes

In many parts of the world, trust in government skyrocketed in 2020. In some countries, however, trust in government was close to an all-time low. Such trust—and increasingly, social trust or social capital—is crucial to managing challenging economic and public-health issues. Governments are working toward making trust a core component, tackling information manipulation, weaving in greater transparency, and building trust in government’s digital systems, services, and data initiatives.

Understanding these trends is the first step in navigating the journey ahead.

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William D. Eggers is the Executive Director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights. The Center’s most recent publication is “2021 Government Trends.” If you would like to learn more about Deloitte’s Government & Public Services (GPS) practice, please visit our career opportunities page.

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