Role of the State in a shifting, technological landscape

Government for a New Age – the Transformation Agenda. Rabih Abouchakra and Michel Khoury. Thinkers 50. €45

Mon, Mar 16, 2015, 01:00


Book Title:
Government for a new age – the transformation agenda


Rabih Abouchakra , Michel Khoury

Thinkers 50

Guideline Price:

The business of government is changing radically. Against the backdrop of constrained resources, a revolution in technology, citizens with changed expectations and global problems including terrorism and pandemics, running government is not what it used to be.

This thoughtful book distils some of the latest thinking and examples of best practice in this area that will be of interest to a wide range of policymakers.

As Lord Butler, private secretary to five British prime ministers, notes in his introduction here, the end result of effective government cannot be measured simply in economic terms. It needs to be measured in terms of the wellbeing of citizens, as well as gross domestic product.

Moreover, as the book explores, the dynamic of change at play now is not merely reactive. Past changes tended to be influenced by negative events– economic crises being the most obvious. Change is now under way for a variety of reasons, many of them positive.

At the heart of government, new answers are emerging to a number of questions.

How can governments truly add value? How can they be more resilient? How should they approach the relationship between the public, private and third sectors?

What resources and capacities do government need to anticipate, cope and thrive in the face of rapid change?

These questions are addressed systematically throughout the book, which moves from the visioning aspects of policy through to implementation and action. Best practices from around the world are also highlighted.

Machinery of state

Lean innovation is a key part of this, especially in the many countries that now have high national debt levels. Good leadership and a capable, skilled and motivated workforce are key parts of this.

A recurring theme is that good government is not top-down only. There is a sustained attempt by many governments to get real engagement with citizens, and the authors also delve into the way governments are trying to reach into people’s lives, addressing issues as diverse as sustainability, equality and diversity.

Information technology is a huge enabler, big data being one key aspect of this.

In the UK, for example, the National Health Service holds vast amounts of clinical data, including details of every prescription item issued by every doctor.

This information is now being analysed to provide insights into the way that the service operates and how it could be improved.

Among the tangible benefits of this is the discovery of inconsistencies in the prescription of proprietary statins over generics, a variation with a potential saving of £200 million to the NHS.

Indeed, that’s merely one isolated example. A study by McKinsey suggested that the effective use of big data could reduce administrative costs in the EU by somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent, with savings of up to €300 billion at the upper end of that scale.

That’s some estimate and the authors helpfully throw more light on that staggering figure by explaining that the gain is derived from both increased efficiency and closing the gap between the actual and potential amounts of tax created.

The book ranges over government in the developing as well as the developed world and notes, for example, the pervasive influence of mobile or m-government in the former.

Mobile telephony has vast reach in the developing world (almost five billion users) with a vast range of SMS-based sharing initiatives, with applications ranging from healthcare to provision of commodity prices to help farmers and fishermen.


nformation sharing


One clear impression the book leaves is that, notwithstanding its own talents, the public sector serves itself best, it appears, when it reaches out to others for help, most notably the private sector, to co-create solutions to problems, a phenomenon that’s on the rise globally.

That spells good news for big consulting firms and large IT corporations of course, but with huge potential efficiencies and savings to be found, the attraction is a mutual one, it seems.