Moving Towards a
21st Century Government:
From Reimagination to Transformation

A Collaboration Between Enap and Demos Helsinki

What is this all about?

This is a dare – a call to action for governments, civil servants, leaders, changemakers, and public entrepreneurs everywhere to come together in defining a bold direction in governance. The synthesis below describes the focus of Innovation Week 2021.

Let's take a step back. From Innovation Week 2020, Latin America’s largest public innovation event, we derived four key recommendations for governments to reflect and act on.

  1. Governments should seek to bring back public trust through democratic innovations
  2. Governments need to be adaptive AND proactive
  3. Governments need to perceive cooperation as the key way to manage complexity
  4. Governments must create tools for creative problem solving

From these recommendations, we recognize that public sector innovation is taking place. There is a need for governments to change.

This is why for Innovation Week 2021 we want to focus this transformation to where it matters most: the heart of government.

This is where domains within it are highly resistant to change — the messy, nitty, gritty details of government — yet that is where they matter the most.

We focus on four key government functions to analyze the key principles of public governance and how it has shifted from the industrial era, towards the 21st century to cope with the demands of operating in an increasingly interconnected, global world.

  • Policymaking
  • Public services
  • Public finance 
  • Human resources 
Rigid Anticipatory
Risk-averse Collaborative
Controlling Humble
Structured People-centric

The future of government beckons before us. The time is now for us to take on these challenges and transform to the heart of government, and there is no better place to reflect on this than at Innovation Week 2021.

Quo vadis, governments and civil servants?

Governments of the past were governed by different leaders with varying ideologies, but often with similar-looking bureaucracies.

These bureaucracies reflected how society was molded and how information was gathered: through top-down hierarchies, centralized sources of news, data and ideologies, and organized around thematic areas with few interlinkages.

Crises of the past did not necessarily affect everyone equally, and developed more linearly with fewer decision-makers and stakeholders to engage and appease.

Today, the world looks different.

Governments have to deal with policy issues that are complex, systemic and uncertain in their nature. Challenges like the climate crisis cannot be solved in one ministry or government alone - they must be streamlined across departments and diverse stakeholders.

Top-down, command-and-control management may seem like an efficient way to implement solutions, but in practice it is ineffective. Governments cannot steer complex systems through rigid hierarchies.

Information about what works and what does not is scattered across many actors — it requires new capacities and ways of working to access and make sense of the data that is available for societal problem solving.

Ngaire Woods

“It’s very important for us to look back and ask ourselves: why were they wrong? Why were these such obvious indicators that, at the time, people thought these indices were quite sensible?”

Ngaire Woods,
Founding Dean, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

It is in this cross pressure between old structures and complex challenges that Innovation Week was established. Governments around the world are experimenting with new ways of working.

  • New Zealand is pioneering a new institutional model to break down silos
  • The State of New Jersey is collaborating with scientists and technologists to respond digitally to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Brazil is leveraging big data analytics and digital technology for continuous improvement of the largest COVID-19 emergency financial relief program in the world

Innovation Week functions as a platform for the convergence of these kinds of innovations to be reflected upon, and reiterated into new contexts. It is centered around reimagination – a virtue needed to enable new futures.

Jared Diamond

“The world has to get on a sustainable course. The world is now on an unsustainable course.”

Jared Diamond,
Professor of Geography at the University of California

Reimagining and Building Futures

What does it mean to imagine new futures?

”Imagination is the faculty that allows us to think of ourselves differently than we are and therefore propose a purpose beyond the present situation. Without imagination there can be calculation but no project. The project is nothing more than the predisposition of operational means to put into practice the imagined progress.”

Giulio Argan, Art historian

Imagination is the ability to create new ideas. To imagine the future is to permit ourselves to ponder future possibilities.

One might feel that we have lacked creativity to solve problems in government. Hence, we are stuck in a rut, still using our current conventional ways.

Therefore, at Innovation Week 2020, imagination focused on creating a space to build a new agenda for doing things differently. It encouraged us to free ourselves from old assumptions and give ourselves the space to test new ideas and change the way we live and govern for the better.

Beth Noveck

“We’ve seen huge amounts of innovation over the last decade, scores of examples coming out, especially of cities all around the world.”

Beth Noveck,
Director of GovLab

Since its inception in 2015, Innovation Week has grown in size and stature. Organized and coordinated by Escola Nacional de Administração Pública (Enap) and other public institutions in Brazil, it has turned into Latin America’s largest public innovation event

Innovation Week 2020 was held from 16-20 November 2020 on a digital venue that delivered more than 500 hours of programs and brought together more than 485 speakers, 300 program partners, and 18,000 participants from over 10 countries while reaching out to 8.6 million people on social media. 

Innovation Week 2020

18,000 +


8.6 million

people reached on social media

1.6 million

visits to the event's website and virtual platform


hours of programming


thematic activities


publication launches


cases of innovation presented at the Spotlight Stage

Participants from over




speakers on the main stage


speakers on thematic tracks


institutions directly involved in the organization, including organizers, sponsors and supporters

More than


institutions involved in the program

Innovation Week gathered best practices and benchmarks from all over the world — 48 innovation cases were presented at its Spotlight stage — showing how government officials and public entrepreneurs have imagined and built new possible futures in public policy and management.

From Innovation Week 2020, we have analyzed and found four key recommendations for governments. These recommendations outlined below seek in different ways to help governments to reimagine and build futures.

Carlos Santiso

“This is a really great space to think about how the crisis is affecting us, affecting our countries, our societies, our individuals.”

Carlos Santiso,
Director of Governance Practice, Development Bank of Latin America (CAF)

Key recommendations for governments
from Innovation Week 2020
– click on a title to read more

1 .

Governments should seek to bring back public trust through democratic innovations


Governments need to be adaptive AND proactive


Governments need to perceive cooperation as the key way to manage complexity


Governments must create tools for creative problem solving

Governments should seek to bring back public trust through democratic innovations

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to extreme centralization of decision-making, which may accelerate certain government processes but it is not sustainable for democracies in the long run. Governments do not possess a monopoly on information and cannot pretend to know everything.

As voters and taxpayers, citizens ought to have a say and contribute ideas in how they envision their governments to act. We need to re-harness the potential of deliberative democracy to ensure that decisions are legitimately made and restore public trust towards governments and institutions.

This involves democratic innovations to increase the active participation of citizens not just at the ballot box, but also between elections.

David Friedman

“People seem to think that there’s a simple solution: give governments power, have them do the right thing. Problem solved.”

David Friedman,
writer and economist

One such democratic innovation was illustrated on the panel “Solving public problems”, whereby the Mayor’s Office of Helsinki created a climate watch process and website that enabled citizens and leaders to co-create the city’s climate change plan. They also hold public officials accountable by tracking their performance and the implementation of 147 target goals for the city.

In Lakewood, Colorado, where the city’s population numbers around 150,000, urban planners were able to use technology to coordinate 20,000 citizens to volunteer in 500 sustainability projects.

Tanja Aitamurto

“Especially now during the pandemic, I would use a lot of different rapid feedback mechanisms so that the governments could reach out to citizens to understand their needs better and also to gather ideas and wisdom from the crowds.”

Tanja Aitamurto,
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago

What is important here is the need to go back to the source of power — the people — to promote accountability and restore trust between governments and their citizens when making decisions in their best interests. This means finding creative ways to give voice to the people.

The next challenge is to put these democratic innovations to the test by using them in new and different contexts.

Governments need to be adaptive AND proactive

Adaptivity is the ability to adjust to change. Proactivity is characterized by acting to make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen.

Sometimes, we are presented with a false dichotomy between these two characteristics, which can give the impression that either an actor proactively seeks change, or passively adapts to changes once they have become apparent.

That does not have to be the case for governments.

We need not treat them as opposites, but instead as complementary. This is a need that governments are beginning to understand, leading to changes in the functions of the state.

By striving to be adaptive and proactive, governments are simultaneously bringing about more tailored solutions and the ability to predict the consequences of their actions and future challenges.

Tim O'Reilly

“Scenario planning – planning for the future in an uncertain world – an imaginative leap into the future.”

Tim O’Reilly,
CEO and Founder of O’Reilly Media

Even long before the pandemic, governments around the world had been testing out ways of using foresight, which was the core focus of Apolitical’s Chief Operations Officer Nitika Agarwal presentation in the panel “Foresight: thinking about the future to act in the present” during Innovation Week 2020.

Several governments have integrated futures planning at the highest levels, with Canada, Finland, France and the United Arab Emirates creating foresight-related functions at the center of their governments.

Nitika Agarwal

“Futures units are also growing around the world...different levers and demands for strategic foresight coming from the highest institutions in government.”

Nitika Agarwal,
Chief Operations Officer, Apolitical

More specifically, New Zealand pioneered a new structural model which aims to improve their civil servants’ ability to take the future into account. Enabled by the Public Service Act 2020, the government created boards of different agency heads that meet and discuss government priorities across administrative silos, with each of them being accountable to a single minister.

They receive budget allocations for cross-governmental challenges, such as mental health, child poverty, and climate change. This foresight-based model enables civil servants to mobilize swiftly against cross-cutting phenomena instead of having to go through different horizontal and vertical layers of bureaucracy.

Perceiving accountabilities as cross administrative phenomena helps to forecast and build future scenarios. It enables governments and their institutions to not only react better, but also to preempt the challenges to come.

Governments need to perceive cooperation as the key way to manage complexity

Wicked problems cannot be solved with single solutions or by one government alone. When dealing with complex challenges, it is impossible to find solutions through centralized knowledge production.

They demand new forms of cooperation across the board – between and within countries, sectors and actors – to ensure that the knowledge-base of problem solving is as comprehensive as possible.

Never before has cooperation become more important than when dealing with COVID-19, an “acknowledged global crisis that affects everyone and demands a global solution”, as per Professor Jared Diamond in his keynote address “Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis”. He contended that governments and people will and must cooperate as there is no other alternative — “the big problems of the world need worldwide collaboration to solve them”.

Jared Diamond

“...the big problems of the world need worldwide collaboration to solve them.”

Jared Diamond,
Professor of Geography at the University of California

The Founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government Professor Ngaire Woods in the panel “(Re)imagining the Government for the Challenges of the Contemporary World” elaborated that a government can have all the resources and infrastructure but not succeed at solving a crisis when it does not have cooperation between different levels of government – be it with different national governments, subnational governments, cities and towns.

There is a need for genuine partnerships to bring partners to the table and share information with one another to learn from each other.

The founder and Director of GovLab, Beth Noveck showcased what cooperation can do when she discussed “Solving public problems” at Innovation Week 2020.

In the State of New Jersey, policymakers collaborated with engineers, designers, scientists and technologists to create platforms such as and Ask A Scientist to provide real-time data on COVID-19 and direct public access to scientists to ask questions and receive rapid responses about the virus.

They also produced the United States’ first job site that listed employment in essential businesses and streamline the application process for food and unemployment benefits.

Paul Collier

“What’s the alternative to that polarization and individualism? It’s building a sense of common purpose across the society.”

Paul Collier,
Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government

Cooperation became a recurring idea at Innovation Week 2020 because the pandemic has shown that we cannot live alone and prosper. We must work together to pool information and resources to defeat a common, complex enemy like COVID-19.

The main question now is how to institutionalize new forms of cooperation to move from promising ideas to concrete action.

Governments must create tools for creative problem solving

Governments of today can no longer afford to rely on conventional methods to solve the complex challenges of today and tomorrow. We need innovative new ways in how we gather and apply information to the solutions we create.

Lisa Witter

“When you have a problem or want a new approach, you don’t need to always create it yourself. Look around the world, look around other places, shortcuts, save time and money. Call it whatever you want… Let’s get to solutions faster.”

Lisa Witter,
CEO, Apolitical

There is a dire need to develop a common toolkit of creative problem-solving approaches that borrow from a variety of disciplines such as design, engineering and technology.

Governments must then learn to apply new technology, data and innovation to yield creative solutions to societal problems.

Darío Gil

“What is very important is, it needs to be of people that have expertise both in the world of AI, a subset of the board, and the other ones who have these ethics and governance backgrounds.”

Darío Gil,
Director of IBM Research

In his keynote address entitled ”Welcome to the 21st Century: How to prepare for the post-COVID-19 future?”, the CEO and Founder of O’Reilly Media, Tim O’Reilly emphasized on governments needing to be more robust when considering how data is being used. He also called for thinking of governments as platforms and developing real-time digital regulatory systems as part of “governance in the age of algorithms”.

One concrete example was how the Brazilian federal government hastened and invested heavily in digital infrastructure and innovation. In the panel on ”The Role of Technology in Times of Crisis”, Carlos Santiso set the scene on how technology has revolutionized governments and redefined the relationship between the government and its people.

Gustavo Canuto showed how DATAPREV (Social Security Technology and Information Company) leveraged big data analytics to create a government data ecosystem.

This led to the largest COVID-19 emergency financial relief program in the world and the launch of a Digital Work and Social Security Card to give millions of Brazilian workers and citizens access to a strong safety net against the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.

Technological developments open new opportunities. But it must be remembered, these cannot be brought into good use unless civil servants have capacities to utilize these new tools.

Today’s civil service must learn how to utilize the collective intelligence garnered by technology, to make decisions and to refine implementation processes that put citizens at the heart of any policy action.

Tim O'Reilly

“The great opportunity of the 21st century is to use our newfound cognitive tools to build sustainable businesses and economies.”

Tim O’Reilly,
CEO and Founder of O’Reilly Media

Cooperation became a recurring idea at Innovation Week 2020 because the pandemic has shown that we cannot live alone and prosper. We must work together to pool information and resources to defeat a common, complex enemy like COVID-19.

The main question now is how to institutionalize new forms of cooperation to move from promising ideas to concrete action.

Bringing transformation to the heart of government

There is no scintilla of doubt: governments need to change. The question is: where?

Nowadays, public sector innovation is criticized for not being relevant enough. Too many innovations happen on the fringes of government.

Public sector innovations seldom touch upon the core elements of public governance: how policymaking, government organization, procurement and other crucial domains of governance should be renewed. These domains are highly resistant to change because they matter the most.

And yet, they are the domains that define governments’ ability to steer societies towards desirable outcomes.

Innovation Week 2020 illustrated how different actors in the public and private sectors can and must come together to imagine new futures and work towards them. Having seen what public sector innovation can do, it is natural to look forward to the next step — to bring this public sector innovation to the heart of the government.

In Innovation Week 2021, we will focus on moving from imagination towards transformation. Here, we argue that transformation must be brought to where it matters most:

the heart of government.

This year, Innovation Week will be a dance floor to create pathways to transformation.

Why the heart of government?

The heart of government is where the messy, nitty, gritty details of governance take place. It involves the government’s abilities to develop and coordinate policies, make decisions and translate them to action on the ground.

Overall, the heart of government consists of functions and processes that people may not necessarily see but are crucial and integral to the administration of a government. In other words, the heart of government is where the most influential part of governance resides.

Bringing transformation to the heart of government will strengthen the capacity and competence of governments to respond and act towards immediate and emerging challenges of our time.

How can we bring transformation to the heart of government?

Public governance should be relevant to the needs of its time. Thus, it is useful to compare the principles of each era, and see what implications they have had on governance. This is the Innovation Week’s approach to start bringing transformation to the heart of government.

Some of the key principles of industrial era public governance were efforts to gain control over processes, the national state perceived as the primary actor, the enforcement of authority, as well as an aspiration to have clarity in processes.

These principles live their life in practically all government functions, which constitute the heart of government. This again, influences how governments operate.

Changing the zeitgeist in governance

Industrial era
21st Century

Based on learnings from Innovation Week, we focus on four government functions which are some of the key areas of public governance. These areas are policymaking, public services, public finance and human resources

Through these areas, we seek to start building a stronger understanding of what could be the principles for the future of government. From the innovation cases and key takeaways that were presented and emerged in Innovation Week 2020, we synthesize what new principles could look like in practice.

Industrial era
21st century

Now, we are seeing some of the key principles shifting.

Instead of primarily national objectives, governments are operating in an increasingly interconnected, global world.

Many of the challenges and opportunities that governments face, require long-term attention and cannot be solved within one or even two government terms.

While the world has become more and more interdependent and power has devolved to a variety of actors, trust between governments and people has become a relevant question.

This is where we aim to explore further and learn based on the cases presented here through Innovation Week 2021.

This analysis of governance demonstrates the shifts in principles that we have seen in the industrial era, to the 21st century where society demands that a government is capable of being anticipatory, collaborative, humble and people-centric.

In 2020, we began to imagine what the future of governments would look like. In 2021, we set out on a journey to transform governments to be fit-for-purpose for the post-industrial era.

The future of government is now

Principles of humility, collaboration, anticipation and people-centricity demonstrate the directions that Innovation Week envisions for governments to be moving towards.

The question here is, who can bring these changes to the government? Who can come up with practical applications to start turning these desirable outcomes into life, especially in government functions that are as important as public finance, policymaking, public services and human resources?

Every now and then, we need pioneers who bring the spirit of entrepreneurship to help move governments forward. Before they are transformed, we often do not think of them as institutions that can be transformed. 

With complex challenges like COVID-19, the climate crisis and systemic inequality, there is now an opportunity – even an imperative – for these pioneers to take the charge in leading the transformation in governments.

Beth Noveck

“The time for public entrepreneurs has come.”

Beth Noveck,
Director of GovLab

Call to action:
dare to transform

At the end of the day, the heart of government consists of civil servants - of people. We need everything to come together, including the people in the civil service to believe that change matters, and to be willing to work towards it.

Beyond the recognition of knowing, observing and exchanging ideas, we need people – bold and empowered – who are willing to make the change happen.

June Arunga

“I think in terms of even leadership, being able to lead your team and sell the vision to them, it’s always a story of telling, because it’s something that hasn’t happened and you have to convince people to come along with you.”

June Arunga,
CEO and Founder of Open Quest Media LLC

Innovation Week 2021

The theme of Innovation Week 2021 is Dare to Transform. Here, we must emphasize the word dare

The 21st century calls for the 21st-century civil servant. Governments need a new zeitgeist that defines its new generation of civil servants — ones that dare to transform. 

This is already taking shape as per the different examples illustrated, there are civil servants willing to push boundaries and pioneer pathways for societal change.

Innovation Week 2021 initiates a global effort to build a bridge between current societal needs and public administrative capacity. 

It concentrates its focus here in the knowledge that this is the direction to take. Now, we need leaders and changemakers to take us there.

Dare to transform” is a call to action to every civil servant who wants to take part in shaping the 21st century. From the individual perspective, this means:

  • A 21st-century civil servant who is not afraid to move fast and act decisively to steer societal transformation
  • An agent of change who is able to be adaptive and proactive in dynamic situations
  • A leader who believes in cooperation to pool information and resources to solve the toughest problems
  • A public entrepreneur who is equipped with a repository of problem-solving capabilities yet humble enough to engage and learn from others

It is our hope that by building on Innovation Week 2020, the 2021 edition will play a role in catalyzing the formation of a new ethos for the 21st-century civil servant, who is emboldened by daring to transform.