Upskilling Civil Servants to lead digital transformation for better public services

In our previous blog we argued that digital transformation is not just about technology but also about culture and people. Putting digital transformation into practice is not an easy job and one important aspect of truly transformational change is the skills and capabilities of people and organizations. In the private and public sector digital transformation can often be technology led, which can sometimes mean the people responsible for ongoing use of the technology, such as civil servants, can be left behind if there isn’t a concentrated effort on skilling and upskilling.

Skilling for digital transformation.

Although digital transformation strategies and initiatives are tailored to each country`s needs, it requires governments to incorporate technology into operations, workflows, and generate new approaches to provide services to citizens and businesses. Investing merely in technology won’t be sufficient, if civil servants and government officials lack the abilities to understand, adopt and build on the new ways of thinking and maximize benefits of the new technologies.

The pandemic has accelerated digitalization efforts across governments, during this time UNDP delivered capacity building projects to reinforce resiliency and promote the use of digital technologies for business continuity and service delivery during COVID-19 restrictions including Digital Transformation Catalytic Fund use in Afghanistan, and Improving social protection in Cambodia. The UNDP supported MSMEs with capacity building training on digital and financial literacy bringing especially more women to work and their integration into e-commerce platforms improving community resilience to ensure local producers sales are not affected during the crisis. At a citizen level skill building programmes focused on providing digital wallets and financial literacy programs for vulnerable citizens during the lockdown like the ADEPT programme in the Philippines or on strengthening digital capacities of teachers and students.

Supporting civil servants to lead — UNDP Digital Leadership Learning Modules

The Regional Innovation Centre of Asia and the Pacific, together with UK digital consultancy Public Digital and UNDP Sri Lanka (through Citra Social Innovation lab) and Cambodia Country Offices have released a package of capacity development — in form of replicable training modules — equipping civil servants for “digital first” governments (both on central and local level) and supporting them to understand the power of digital transformation to radically improve the lives of citizens and improve public services.

Although these have been designed with and for the UNDP, these modules are freely available for anyone to use.

Excerpt from Module 1: Introduction to digital government, presentation.

The modules cover the following:

  1. fundamental concepts related to digital transformation, digital governments and services;
  2. human-centred design aiming for inclusiveness
  3. agile learning cycles and open ways of working from concepts to practical application;
  4. importance of trust along security and privacy, common barriers and enablers, as well as global legal framework
  5. questions around how to create value through data, what is needed for data usage;
  6. management of digital technological risks, with key risk management approaches to minimize negative effects and consequences;
  7. offer practical tools for assessing and overcoming main barriers to ensure a successful digital transformation journey;
  8. spotlight the key role of supportive leadership providing a clear understanding of challenges, best case scenarios and examples to create mental models in the area of digital transformation.
Excerpt from the trainers’ guide of Module 5: Data: uses, opportunities and risks.

Naturally, before UNDP`s Digital Strategy, there have been many efforts around digital capability building, on which the new learning modules are based on. Here are some of the key positive aspects of these modules:

  • Easily customizable — The modules are built in a way to be customized for local examples and context. We highly encourage all practitioners to customize the modules to the target audience. Modules can be delivered as a whole series or focusing on specific areas and delivering only several modules. Due to this approach, the content is effective for a wide array of public officials.
  • Use of case studies and examples –The modules contain a lot of examples to showcase the best practices and learning from past mistakes which we believe make it very relatable.
  • Easy to follow script — Each module contains an easy to follow along script, which acts as a great cheat sheet if you do miss out on anything important, and overall, it just makes facilitation that much easier. The modules also contain clear and concise slide decks.
  • Content — And of course, the content itself! It covers important topics such as data security, and trust in digital governments including how to collect data and even to go into as much detail as analyzing what kind of data should be collected by governments is quite useful and relevant.
  • Emphasis on people — Usually, digital skills programmes are quite technical and only focus on the technological aspects, but that is not the case in these modules. There is an emphasis on people are not only limited to human centred design and Digital module but is a strong element that runs throughout.

Sharing Sri Lanka`s experience

Understanding the vital role of human capacities in driving a holistic digital transformation journey, the Citra Lab team has been prioritizing skill building initiatives of public sector officials in relation to digital transformation for the past two years. In addition to the work on the overarching national digital strategies, and providing policy level support, Citra Lab and UNDP Sri Lanka also worked on ministry and department focused efforts, as well as individual skill building programmes.

At the national level, the team have worked to conduct a digital maturity assessment for the country, supported the development of the National Digital Transformation Strategy, and worked to strengthen officers who are tasked with spear-heading the activities under this. Citra Lab has supported the Department of Motor Traffic to become more innovative and digitally equipped and have supported business continuity efforts at the Ministry of Justice by having remote court hearings and other such initiatives.

Since co-creation with the end-users has been fundamental in the process of developing the learning modules, Citra Lab continuously consulted with colleagues from relevant government bodies that design and facilitate trainings related to digital skills for government officials. Moreover, these conversations were crucial to develop training content that is effective and relevant even against the backdrop of existing skill building programmes.

What’s next?

As a next step, Citra Lab is working to incorporate these modules into its flagship NextGenGov Fellowship programme which is a five-day residential learning experience, while discussion with ministries and government agencies shows heavy government buy-in for more tailor-made modules.

The UNDP Cambodia CO is also taking all the necessary steps to deliver the learning modules to various government official group.

The digital leadership learning modules current focus is on civil servants, but we are open to collaboration for extending and tailoring the modules to any specific sub-groups of the population such as youth, women in rural areas or people with disabilities, etc. If you are interested in launching such a collaboration you can reach us at .

This blog has been written by Agnes Huller and Deshani Senanayake. Thank you to the many people involved in helping get this work to you, especially to Kate Sutton and Debashis Nag. Thank you to the team at Public Digital. We will keep you posted on our findings and in the meantime, should you be interested you can share your thoughts with us on Twitter @ricap_undp



Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.