How officials can do better at delivering services to citizens

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Future of Government Third Disruptive Debate Future of Government Third Disruptive Debate

The third Disruptive Debate in the Future of Government series featured four participants from East, South, and West Africa, who discussed the challenges of service delivery. The conversation focused on how governments get things done. While many governments can successfully set policy or strategy, far fewer can implement those plans successfully.

There are many motivated and effective people working in government, even in very dysfunctional systems. Yet between 2006 and 2019 many governments did not succeed in improving their prioritization and implementation of policy, systems and processes. Governments that can’t effectively reach important objectives waste public money, don’t improve quality of life and lose public support. 

Implementation attempts often fail, even in high-income countries. For example, there has been little success in meeting carbon-emission targets over the past several decades. And there are signs of dissatisfaction with declining public services in many countries as policy challenges pile up. Finally, with the COVID-19 crisis accelerating the pace of technological adoption, governments’ ability to meaningfully implement policies is more important than ever. 

Here are some key takeaways from the conversation.

George Werner, Liberia’s former Minister for Education and former Head of the Civil Service Agency, argued that governments cannot deliver alone. Some states have struggled to meet demand and give young people the tools to build the future of their countries. Governments need to be more open to developing partnerships with non-state actors to deliver traditional government services. While government shapes policy objectives, there are areas where the private sector is traditionally strong, including logistics and transport. The broader community is also required to co-produce public services, to keep governments accountable for delivering promises and to hold officials’ feet to the fire.

Given the harsh realities that African governments face, business as usual isn’t sufficient to bring about decisive change. Adopting riskier policies with the potential for transformative change, but also electoral downside, is a requirement of governing. Liberia’s education reforms are an example of this.

Eden Getachew, Centre of Government and Delivery Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, remarked that, if done right, combining best practice management principles, prioritization and political power can “get things done” and translate governments’ visions into reality. But governments cannot tackle every challenge at once. Delivery units can be catalysts for change and become “halfway houses” to whole-of-government transformations. Partnership is critical for getting the required talent and skills into government.

Delivery is not just about the center of government, but also about cascading objectives down to the middle levels and ultimately the front line. Still, functional central units helped during the COVID-19 crisis.

Government is under pressure to deliver. Globalization of information has affected expectations of government efficiency, particularly among young people. Within countries, technology has made it easier to express these demands and needs to leaders.

Clement Uwajeneza, Chair of the Rwanda Chamber of ICT, said COVID-19 has placed technology at center stage. Not every government has succeeded during the crisis, but attitudes have shifted. There are three key aspects to successful technology reforms: First, leaders need to prioritize and commit to digital integration; second, they need to value data derived from technology for its potential to improve the way they deliver; and third, they need to build effective teams to deliver digitalization.

For governments, failure is extremely costly, even unacceptable, but genuinely novel interventions often don’t succeed. Governments must find ways to absorb the potential for failure if they are to innovate. 

Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director for the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, explained that major global and local crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency, have a compounding effect. These impacts exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, weaken societies’ adaptive capacities, and make the cost of addressing pressing problems more difficult and expensive.

COVID has been a far more pressing crisis for governments and has forced climate change further down the agenda. Governments in Africa don’t have the resources to respond to simultaneous crises. It is difficult to envisage an effective climate response without much greater resource sharing between richer, polluting countries and poorer countries. But this should not be seen as a “favor to Africa”; climate change will harm us all eventually.

Summing up the conversation, Edward Olowo-Okere, the World Bank’s Global Director of the Governance Global Practice noted that it’s more important than ever for governments to engage with citizens and non-state actors to meet the changing demands and expectations for government services. Digital technology has become central to service delivery, and innovation offers great opportunity to improve the delivery of services. Climate change decisions need to be streamlined into service delivery. Decisions made now will have great consequences for years to come.


You can watch the entire conversation here.

How do you think governments can improve service delivery?  You can contribute to the conversation via Twitter @wbg_gov using the hashtag #FutureOfGovernment, via our website at, or by leaving a comment below.


Blogs in the Future of Government series


Donna Andrews

Global Lead for Public Institutions Reform in the Governance Global Practice, World Bank

Tim Williamson

Tim Williamson, World Bank’s Global Lead for Public Financial Management, Public Investment Management and Subnational Governance for the World Bank

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