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Issue Overview

The need to rethink the role of government has been brought home to us forcibly by a series of cataclysmic events in the 21st century. In the worst financial crisis since 1930, governments were asked to intervene in failing markets in the most fundamental ways.

From all directions, governments are being hit by challenges that are largely global yet are experienced locally: decelerating global growth and rising uncertainty, high unemployment, potential resort to inward-looking policies, global warming and climate change, global poverty and scarcity and global terrorism, to name but a few.

The relationship between governments and the public has also been transformed by a revolution in communications. Digital television and the social media have brought vast numbers of people into contact with each other and with politics and politicians. This process has become more interactive than ever before, reducing the ability of politicians to dominate the agenda, increasing the pressure on them to disclose information, to react to events and to hold themselves instantly accountable.

Ironically, this greater exposure of politics has gone hand in hand with rising dissatisfaction with institutional politics and politicians. People are expecting and demanding more from their governments, whether in the form of greater access and accountability, income transfers and public services, more secure employment or workplace rights. Citizens have greater power than ever to press these demands.

Yet the capacity and ability of governments to react is limited and in some cases failing to keep pace with rising expectations and/or managing or reacting to these challenges. Many question marks hang over the future of governments and how they govern in the interests of, and for, their citizens, rather than govern over people: how governments work together internationally, how they get closer to their citizens and how they organize themselves internally.

It is a fact that governments of the future will have to learn how to adapt and continuously evolve to create value. In 2011, the Future of Government Council produced a report, The Future of Government: Lessons Learned from Around the World, in which we address the need to stay relevant by being responsive to rapidly changing conditions and citizens’ expectations, and build capacity to operate effectively in complex, interdependent national and global networks across the public, private and non-profit spheres.

Council Focus

1) Creating FASTer Governments for the 21st century

The Council has worked to highlight the key attributes that governments and their civil services need to respond to these challenges and create greater public value. To measure and track the progress that is made by governments in producing public value, our Council has introduced a new model of government capturing four central drivers that governments should embrace to meet ever-increasing pressures: Flatter; Agile; Streamlined; and Technology-enabled (FAST).

The characteristics of a flatter government are (a) citizen engagement, (b) administrative efficiency, (c) decision-making process, (d) intergovernment and cross-sector collaboration. An agile government organizes itself to marshal public and private resources quickly to address challenges. A streamlined government carefully plans workforce reductions coupled with significant organizational, technological and workforce advances. Finally, a tech-enabled government is successful in redesigning its policy, legal and regulatory frameworks and processes to align with the dynamics of a networked world. The FAST concept was introduced at the World Economic Forum Europe and Central Asia Summit in Vienna, in June 2011.

Each area of FAST is focused on discovering new ways to create public goods by:

  • creating public goods through harnessing new technologies;
  • directing scarce resources more effectively in new, innovative ways;
  • enhancing collaboration between the private and public sector;
  • helping civil servants to work more effectively within and across their own government ministries and, indeed, across national borders.

The Council focused on developing a matrix to benchmark the changes governments make against this framework. Benchmarking captured best practices and lessons learned that can be adapted for governments at differing stages of development, drawing on expertise from academia, government, the public and private sector in a unique collaboration. The tool will enable governments to develop approaches that allow them to act with greater resilience, accountability and transparency; and greater effectiveness.

2) Open but secure – government and information

The first areas that the Council focused on in the 2011-2012 term was how governments can become a stronger part of the social ecosystem that binds together individuals, communities, and businesses – not by absorbing new responsibilities or building additional layers of bureaucracy, but through its willingness to open up formerly closed processes and data to broader input and innovation. Governments can become a platform for the creation of services and for social innovation. In the new model they provide resources, set rules and mediate disputes, but allow citizens, non-profits and the private sector to share the heavy lifting. This is leading to a change in the division of labour in society and a rethink about how public value is created.

Dealing with the mismatch between growing public expectations and the capacity of governments to meet demands is not going to be achieved simply by communicating better with citizens. Social media networks and digital technology do offer the potential for building more informed, functional and participative democracies and more active citizenship.

Digital government presents opportunities for new ways of interacting with public services, holding governments accountable and interacting with fellow citizens. But the aggregation of the data that is an inevitable part of governing carries risks for privacy. There are trade-offs between transparency and confidentiality. No less important, many critical government functions – from education and unemployment assistance to healthcare – are based around important human personal relationships and private consultation which cannot simply be moved online.

The Council looked at this issue recognizing that these debates need to bring together public and private sectors embracing a wide cross-section of government and non-government experts, as well as social and more conventional media networks.



  1. At the World Economic Forum on Europe, Middle East and Central Asia (Istanbul, Turkey, June 2012) our Council organized a private event on the future of government bringing together heads of state and government, senior ministers, business leaders and leading academic experts. Leaders from the government, business and civil society engaged in a productive debate and expressed ideas on how governments can evolve to better manage the increasing pressures of global and national macroeconomic imbalances and transnational political challenges in the context of an inter-connected world.
  2. Council member Juri Hohlov led a workshop on “Future Government: A Global Perspective in connection to Open Government Data and Citizen Engagement” organized by UNDESA/ITU:
  3. Council Member Gregory Curtin presented “Open Data for FAST Government” at the Bahrain E-Government Forum ( on open data/open government.
  4. Council Member Guido Bertucci presented “Using Open Data: policy modelling, citizen empowerment, data journalism”, 19-20 June 2012, European Commission Headquarters, Brussels:

 Advocacy/Awareness Raising

  1. Op-ed in Arab Media on the FAST model and its implications for the Jordanian Government:
  2. The Future of Government report was translated into Arabic and Russian, and widely disseminated including at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East (Dead Sea, Jordan, October 2011), the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (Davos, Switzerland, January 2012) and World Economic Forum on Europe, Middle East and Central Asia (Istanbul, Turkey, June 2012). The Arabic version was also circulated to 200 government officials and influencers throughout the Middle East.
  3. A short video was created on the Future of Government: The Great Transformation, using footage and interviews from the World Economic Forum on Europe, Middle East and Central Asia (Istanbul, Turkey, June 2012).
  4. The Council embarked on a project with the Young Global Leaders on the Future of Leadership in Government to look at its current state, its future potential, and the actual crisis that the world is facing with regard to talent migration away from the public sector.
  5. Council Member Bruno Lanvin has developed an INSEAD course on Social Media and Government (for which the Council’s Future of Government report is a required reading).
  6. The Council defined the parameters needed to develop a matrix for the 2012-2013 term to benchmark the changes governments make against this framework. Benchmarking will capture best practices and lessons learned that can be adapted for governments at differing stages of development, drawing on expertise from academia, government, the public and private sector in a unique collaboration.


  1. The Council produced a report entitled The Future of Government: The Great Transformation that outlines how governments can develop approaches that allow them to act with greater resilience, accountability and transparency; and greater effectiveness in the 21st century.
  2. Council Member Yassar Jarrar in cooperation with the Qatar Leadership Centre Think Tank produced a report on the Future of Government (the FAST Government model) and its implications for Qatar. The report was shared with the office of the Head of Civil Service in Australia (via PwC Sydney office) with a view to elaborate on the implications on future competencies needed in Government.

 Going Forward

Some of the main priorities for our Council in 2012-2013 will be to generate a toolbox for government decision-makers drawing from lessons-learned and best practices. Moreover, the Council will create scorecards measuring government performance according to the FAST (Flat, Agile, Streamlined, Tech-Enabled) model developed by the Future of Government Council in 2011.


  1. Measuring government performance according to FAST.
  2. Sharing best practices and lessons learned.
  3. Developing a toolbox for government decision-makers.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.