Left: In Montenegro, a program brings social services to vulnerable populations. Middle: A mother displays a birth certificate required for her daughter's education, Cameroon. Right: A health worker explaining handwashing technique to a woman, India.
Photo:Left: UNDP Montenegro/Milos Vujovic Middle: UN Women/Ryan Brown Right: UNICEF/UNI338937/Vinay Panjwani

Innovating for a new era: Leveraging the role of technology for the future public service

The last decade brought about a digital revolution that changed the way we live, work, and govern. Technology and data driven innovations have increased the pace of our daily life, opened up information and elevated civil society voices and changed how we solve problems, design policy and deliver services. In parallel, governments find themselves under resource pressures and increasing public demands, having to do much more, with less. The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic was a force multiplier to these trends, introducing remote work in government, digital service delivery, virtual service teams, and even new portfolios.

Today, every country in the world needs to re-think the structure and operating model of its civil service as we enter the third decade of the 21st century. The next era will see fundamental changes in how public servants, are hired, trained, and retained. We will see more technology being leveraged to make better decisions, monitor performance, and deliver service, and there will be a need for the private sector, and wider society, to play a bigger role in all aspect of creating public value. The future public service needs to be more agile, tech-savvy, data-driven, and human-centric. These are core elements to build future readiness, ensure inclusive policies and responsive services, to reduce inequalities and to raise trust in government.

In this context, to celebrate the 2021 United Nations Public Service Day,  the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) , in collaboration with the government of the United Arab Emirates will host a 1.5-hour virtual event on the 23 June.


Public service

The role of public service and public servants during the COVID-19 pandemic

For the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to be achieved, effective delivery of public services is needed, including in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If not contained, the pandemic will jeopardize meeting the 2030 deadline, by diverting resources from development efforts to crisis response. The public servant sits at the heart of ensuring effective response to the crisis, whether as a frontline worker in healthcare, or in devising strategies and plans to mitigate its impact.


On 20 December 2002, the General Assembly designated 23 June as Public Service Day by adopting resolution 57/277.

UN Public Service Day celebrates the value and virtue of public service to the community; highlights the contribution of public service in the development process; recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue careers in the public sector.

To bolster recognition of the Day and the value of public service, the United Nations established the UN Public Service Awards (UNPSA) programme in 2003, which was reviewed in 2016 to align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UNPSA aims to promote and reward innovation and excellence in public services by recognizing the creative achievements and contributions of public institutions that lead to a more effective and responsive public administration in countries worldwide in support of sustainable development.

Each year UN DESA organizes the Forum with a host country, using the event to host capacity-development workshops, the UN Public Service Awards ceremony and a Ministerial Roundtable. Drawing together roughly 800 to 1,000 participants, the Forum is a space for world leaders, Ministers, and other senior decision-makers to debate emerging issues and trends, discuss good practices, strategies, accelerated actions, and innovative approaches for effective service delivery and transforming institutions.

Public institutions for the Sustainable Development Goals

Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is recognized by SDG 16 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda also recognized that governments have the primary responsibility for implementing the SDGs and ensuring follow-up and review over the coming 15 years, at the national, regional and global levels. One of the first steps governments take to implement the Agenda is often to shape the institutional arrangements for steering the implementation of the SDGs and reviewing progress.

Public administration - the cornerstone of governments' work- plays an essential and critical role in improving people’s lives. Reinventing public administration is a positive and necessary way forward. Without public administration modernization and transformation to adapt to today’s needs, realizing a better future for all will be impossible. Where capable administrations are lacking, governments are incapacitated; and where governments are incapacitated, sustainable development falls short.


The COVID-19 crisis has also brought new needs for digital government services and more demand on existing services. A review of the national portals of the 193 United Nations Member States showed that by 25 March 2020, 57% (110 countries) have put in place some kind of information on COVID-19, while around 43% (83 countries) did not provide any information; but a further analysis showed that by 8 April 2020, around 86% (167 countries) have included information and guidance about COVID-19 in their portals.

Open Budget initiative

The World Public Sector Report (WPSR) has been published by the Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government of UN DESA since 2001. The 2021 edition will focus on national institutional arrangements of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and their effectiveness, and to assess some of the strengths and weaknesses of those arrangements in relation to the performance of key functions of the policy process (for example, monitoring and evaluation). The report will focus on the time dimension of institutional changes, examining how governments have tried different institutional responses and adjusted their institutional systems to better accommodate the requirements of the 2030 Agenda since 2015. 


illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.