Civil servants ‘increasingly curious’ about global policy

Founder of international policy-sharing website backed by the Cabinet Office hails “unstoppable” trend on evidence-based policy


By Richard Johnstone

29 Mar 2018

Civil servants are increasingly curious about policy developments across the globe as governments face challenges that apply across borders, a leading public sector entrepreneur has told Civil Service World.

Robyn Scott, the co-founder and chief executive of Apolitical, a global network for government policymakers, highlighted that challenges – from technological disruption and the need for inclusive growth to woman’s empowerment, clean energy and migration – apply across borders.


Scott told CSW that the website, which was launched in 2017 has been backed by governments including the UK Cabinet Office, was intended to encourage sharing of what is working across the world.

She said the site’s growth showed civil that servants are increasingly curious about policy developments and ideas across the world.

This trend of evidence-based policymaking, which Scott described as “broadly unstoppable”, also includes UK initiatives like the What Works centres for public policy as well as some post-implementation Whitehall reviews of major policy schemes.

“I do think overall there is a growing interest in evidence-based policymaking. Partly this is because the problems are so in our face now. Issues like artificial intelligence, migration and urbanisation tower over us to such an extent – both as opportunities and as risks – that they are definitely prompting more interest in finding the best solutions.

“It’s helped by the increasing availability of data, which makes it harder to hide things that don’t work. Data sharing and openness, where the UK has been a pioneer, has helped create a culture in which it is also a leader in evidence-based policymaking.”

In the private sector, Scott highlights, a company would never launch a new product without knowing what their competitors are doing. “But this happens often in the public sector, at enormous cost. This norm is starting to change – a recent study in Denmark showed that 60% of new public sector innovations are inspired by others solutions and 13% are directly copied.”

Apolitical has been named one of Fast Company's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Social Good, which Scott says “speaks to the power of technology and an optimistic view of government and civil servants to accelerate the sharing and adoption of what’s working”.

"We’re immensely grateful to our partners in the Cabinet Office who supported us early on, and to all the UK civil servants using the platform,” she added. “A key reason we’ve been able to grow as fast as we have is the openness of UK civil servants to what can be learned from other countries, as well as the interest from civil servants in other countries in the UK’s public sector leadership.”

Scott (left) also highlighted that thoughtful approaches to making policy are popping up all over the world.

“Interestingly, they are often in emerging countries too. I’m fascinated by the idea of leapfrogs in policy. We talk about leapfrog innovation in technology – mobile, solar and so on where companies are able to leapfrog because the ‘old’ infrastructure isn’t there. To some extent we are seeing that in policy too, where a policy doesn’t exist in emerging nations, creating space to do something different very quickly.”

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