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Lessons for the 21st Century from 4,500 Years of Public Service Reform

Max Everest-phillips

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Sozialwissenschaften, Recht, Wirtschaft / Staatslehre und politische Verwaltung


Effective and impartial public administration is the foundation of state legitimacy. This was understood 4,500 years ago when Urukagina, the ruler of a small country in Mesopotamia, proclaimed the first known reform of public service. The quality of public administration will be even more important in the 21st century. Successful states will be those that recognise public service as a key determinant of national competitive advantage. That realisation will generate a radical change in the image of the civil servant — from dull, uninspired public official to passionate advocate of the common good.This transformation will be the product of the complex challenges arising from the interweaving of globalisation with the '4th Industrial Revolution.' These and related developments are forcing governments around the world to search for public service that can respond to the unprecedented range of opportunities and threats emerging from a rapidly evolving international context. In an increasingly frenetic world ruled by 'Wicked Ostriches' and 'Black Elephants', governments require a civil service capable of achieving five outcomes: i) unlocking the creativity and collaborative spirit needed to solve complex problems; ii) overcoming the fallacy that the private sector is inherently more innovative and efficient than the public service; iii) developing societies that are perceived by their citizens as fair; iv) fostering the trust of citizens in their governments; and v) bolstering the legitimacy of the state.The author, who is Director of the United Nations Development Programme's Global Centre for Public Service Excellence in Singapore, suggests that these interconnected aims will result in a new phenomenon: the public recognition by political leaders and citizens that future prosperity, political stability, environmental sustainability and social cohesion are dependent on committed and creative civil servants passionate about promoting the long-term national interest.'I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.'

Mahatma Gandhi

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