In an era of rapid changes, civil services around the world have much to learn from one another in order to fulfill their purpose while successfully navigating the challenges of ever-increasing amounts of data and constant advances in technology. Hence the theme of the 2019 Global Public Human Resource Conference: “Working through Networks in the Age of Complexity”. To open the conference, we heard from Park Chun-ran, the president of NHI, Jin Jong-jun, the vice president of the Korean Society for Public Personnel Administration, and Hwang Seo-chong, Minister of Personnel Management, who each in turn emphasised the message that collaboration and cooperation are critical to the development of innovative and sustainable public HR strategies. This message guided the conference participants as they exchanged experiences and created networks amongst their public HR colleagues, and served as a common thread for the renowned speakers and panels that followed.
Doctor Geert Bouckaert, chair of the OECD Network of Schools of Government, gave the first keynote address, which emphasised the common challenges faces public sector workforces around the world. On this basis, he advocated for genuinely global opportunities- like this conference- to share approaches to addressing these challenges. In particular, he cited three “moving targets” in the public sector’s work in the age of complexity- delivering ‘routine’ services, solving unexpected crises, and re-inventing and innovating possible futures- and stressed the need for engaging networks in each. In order to hit these targets, Bouckaert asserted that public services and schools of government required fundamentally changes: changes in decision-making, changes in the content of policies, and changing from a ‘hierarchy’ to ‘hierarchy, market, and networks’. Guiding efforts toward successful changes is an organisational culture of ‘co- co- co-’; Bouckaert’s abbreviation for a mindset in which connections between stakeholders and connections between global and local problems are acknowledged and harnessed through co-production, co-design, cooperation. In essence, shifting from siloed hierarchies alone, toward effective, accountable, and inclusive partnerships within and beyond civil services.
The emphasis on partnerships and creative initiatives was advanced in a new direction by Dr. Michael Woodcock, Lead Social Scientist from the World Bank, in his presentation: ‘Building implementation capability for effective governance’. Implementation capability- ‘can designated public organisations actually do what is asked of them?’- varies widely between low-income countries, particularly in health and education. Noting these differences, only thirteen of the so-called ‘historically developing countries’ were arguged to be on a plausible path towards strong state capability by the end of the 21st century. Despite this concerning finding, Dr. Woodcock outlined persistent limitations in typical policy responses of upgrading technology, further training, and importing both foreign ‘experts’ and ‘best practices’. While acknowledging their place, Dr. Woodcock challenged the conventional wisdom, asking: ‘what is the alternative for action in enhancing effective governance?’. In response, he emphasised the need to expand on local successes, take into account local differences in implementation problems, and learning to solve those problems through continuous practice- what he called ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’. Partnerships are essential to building team’s implementation capacity, scaling up innovative practices through local networks, and using evidence to promote team learning.
The Dean of KDI School, Dr. You Jong Il, then led and moderated discussion between conference participants and the keynotes: Dr. Geert Bouckaert, and Dr. Michael Woolcock. Discussion points ranged from cultural influences- both national and team cultures- on implementing public HR strategies, to the trade-offs in encouraging innovation and dealing with the inevitable failures amongst new ideas, and the challenges inherent to building inclusive public workforces that reflect the diversity of the society’s they serve. Of the insights that arose from the dialogue, again the need to collaborate was encouraged, alongside development of team cultures that valued innovation, learning from failures, and a focus on problem-solving capability as a path towards high functioning. It was also acknowledged that new technologies should always be regarded as complements to, not substitutes for, the human qualities and reasoning of teams.
These notes set the scene for the following three sessions under the respective themes of: ‘Enhancing collaborative governance in the age of hyper-connectivity’, ‘Shared accountability and sustainable development’, and ‘Best cases and practices in the private sector’. In the first session, moderated by Professor Park Sung-min of Sungkyunkwan University, esteemed professionals from Korea Hong Kong and the OECD presented their work on governance, covering it from diverse angles such as change management in the context of ever-evolving digital landscapes, the potential for international collaboration to transform human resource development curricula, taking lessons from the success of ‘platform’ businesses (e.g Google, Facebook etc) and applying it to governance, and the insights offered by the OECD’s South East Asian ‘Government at a Glance’ project for using HR management to enhance collaborative governance.
KDI School’s Professor Kim Tae-jong chaired the second session alongside a number of KDIS colleagues and Fletcher Honemond, Director of the US Federal Executive Institute. Accountability and crises of public trust in government was under strong focus in this session, with presentations on ‘repowerment’ as a countervailing dimension to empowerment under the aim of establishing collaborative accountability, the potential for social impact bonds to play a role in encouraging public investment in projects and incentivising performance by public servants, Korea’s lead in ‘open government’ and its effectiveness not only as a means of communication but also in policy making and building public trust, and lastly, the effects on shared accountability from implementation of Merit System Principles in US Civil Service HR policy.
The concluding session expanded the perspectives to private sector cases and practices presented by representatives from IBM Korea, LG Electronics and Samsung Multicampus. Mr. KIM Duck-jung, Associate Partner of IBM Korea, began by outlining an innovative new approach to service design and delivery, using the case of a collective, online debate surrounding how best to use the company’s AI solution: Watson. This talk was followed by Mr. Sa Young-jin, CTO HR Director/Vice President from LG Electronics, who discussed how LG Electronics’ product and service transformations in the face of the 4th industrial revolution has been accompanied by equally significant changes to its HR system and corporate culture. Concluding the first day, Ms. Kim Mi-jeong, Vice President of Samsung Multicampus, presented three cases of collaboration that have allowed it’s corporate education system to adapt to industrial and societal changes such as the emergent needs of the Millennial generation and the introduction of the 52-hour work week.