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Written on 31 Jul 2020

Teaching Public Service in a Digital Age

Experts from ten institutions - including Cambridge and Harvard Universities – have launched a new international project to bring digital era skills to public servants.

Man sat at lapt top

Teaching Public Service in the Digital Age’ is a new, international community of professors, teachers and practitioners who are worried about the modern skills shortfall inside of too many governments. The community, originated by Tom Steinberg and David Eaves, has come together with a shared goal: to increase the supply of digital era public service skills into governments and the broader policy community.

The primary mechanism for doing this is to give professors, lecturers and educators inside both universities and in-house government academies free, open access teaching materials on the digital era skills that all public service leaders now need to have. This community is also developing a friendly support network to help educators to improve the teaching of digital era skills to current and future public servants. 

One of the founding members of the project is Digital specialist, Dr. Tanya Filer, University of Cambridge. Dr. Filer leads the Bennett Institute for Public Policy’s Digital State project, and has spearheaded and taught curricula on digital era public service across several postgraduate programmes at the University, including the MPhil in Public Policy.

For Filer, the project perfectly embodies the ambitions of the Bennett Institute at the University to rethink public policy in and for the 21st Century. She explains: “Digital government has emerged as a powerful force for change in some contexts, but has not, as yet, transformed the operation, accountability, and efficacy of many other public institutions.

"It is increasingly important for emerging policymakers to navigate the complex set of opportunities and challenges that digital and emerging technologies present for government, and to do so with contextual awareness of local political and administrative cultures.” The project launch is particularly timely, as the Covid-19 crisis highlights the criticality of ensuring digital literacy among policymakers.

Underpinning this new programme of work is a set of eight Digital Era Competencies which were developed collaboratively over a period of six months.  These competencies are designed to help educators gain a high level overview of critical digital skills in the education of public administrators in the 21st century. As Filer describes, they are intended to spark conversations rather than to be wholly prescriptive.

‘Teaching Public Service in the Digital Age’ is a project being incubated within the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. It has been generously funded by the Public Interest Technology University Network, and has relied on a large amount of volunteer time from its core group of founding members.