Building Public Sector Capabilities through Training

Kenneth Sim, Dean, Chandler Academy of Governance

As Dean, Kenneth sets the strategic direction for the Chandler Academy and oversees the design and delivery of its training programmes. Kenneth is an experienced practitioner with more than 15 years of experience in the Singapore Public Service, where he was formerly Special Assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Public sector capabilities matter to good governance. As the findings from the CGGI show, strong government capabilities and good outcomes, such as in healthcare and education, go hand in hand. Unlike conversations on political systems and ideologies, which can be slippery and divisive, capabilities provide a politically neutral and practical platform upon which to advance action on improving governance.

Developing Public Sector Capability

If capabilities matter, what can governments do about them?

First, the capability development journey begins with an articulation of the specific capabilities that individual public servants need, usually in the form of a competency framework. This provides a common yardstick to measure the performance of individual public servants. Competency frameworks reflect a public service’s values, ethos, and role in society, and how that service interacts vis-à-vis the political system. This is also why competency frameworks, especially those for public sector leaders, will vary across different countries and regions.

Second, governments need an effective system to appoint and reward the “right” people in public service. This includes a meritocratic system for appointments to public service roles, as well as a robust performance appraisal system that fairly and objectively measures individual performance and the desired public service values. It also means having a system that rewards those who do well, that appropriately supports those who do not yet meet the required standards, and that firmly addresses those who do not endeavour to do so.

Third, governments need to nurture and empower institutions that support learning and development, such as the national schools of government. Beyond being important repositories of knowledge and capabilities, these institutions deliver practitioner-oriented training, and help reinforce public sector culture and ethos.

These components must be implemented in tandem, mutually reinforcing and complementing one another. For example, performance appraisal and training must be tied to the required competencies. Doing this well requires the different parties involved to coordinate closely, and establish systems and policies to ensure coherence in public sector capability development.

Training Matters

Training forms a key component of learning and development, and therefore more broadly supports the overall capability development framework.

Training codifies knowledge, competencies, and values that are essential to public sector work, much of which is often implicit and cannot be easily learnt by observation alone. Through this codification, training reinforces the importance of desired competencies and behaviours in public service.

Additionally, training provides a framework for individuals to contextualise knowledge and competencies, allowing them to make connections with what they practise and observe in their daily work and the competencies they need to develop. In doing so, training sets the stage for continual learning.

What Does Good Training Look Like?

Globally, we have come very far from the days where public sector training was only about an outmoded and theory-based curriculum, delivered through didactic one-way informational lectures. Yet, there is scope for those of us in the space of public sector training to improve.

There are four key elements that, if combined and implemented systematically, can improve the quality and effectiveness of training.

First, the curriculum, while incorporating good practices internationally, must be locally contextualised. Policy challenges are often not unique, and this offers governments the opportunity to learn from one another across the world. But each country or region also has its unique situation, and policy solutions can only work if they are informed by and tailored to an administration’s specific political, economic, and social context.

Second, training must be practitioner-oriented. Policy implementation and service delivery happens in the real world, the success of which is influenced by myriad factors such as political feasibility, salience to individuals and communities, and the resilience of the execution systems embedded within government, to name just a few. It is important that training programmes codify practitioner wisdom and tradecraft in terms of what can work, as opposed to what should work. Good training programmes must therefore focus on the “how”, beyond the “what” and the “why”.

Third, the nature of training must systematically consider the skills and knowledge that public servants require at different stages in their careers. For example, training programmes for young public servants need to provide grounding in core skills in policy design and implementation, as well as in the ethos and values of public service. Programmes targeted at more senior leaders may need to focus on collective leadership and culture-building. Training should therefore be systematically curated for and aligned to different career milestones.

Finally, training that leverages technology can reap dividends in terms of scale without sacrificing learner understanding and engagement. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink how to conduct training, opening up opportunities to harness innovative delivery approaches, such as through blended or asynchronous learning.

The Chandler Academy of Governance supports government partners in different countries with training programmes designed for local contexts.

The Chandler Academy of Governance

At the Chandler Academy of Governance (CAG), which is part of the Chandler Institute of Governance, these considerations underpin the design and delivery of our training programmes.

Although we are based in Singapore, we ensure that our training programmes draw on international good practices that are locally contextualised. For example, we collaborated with local partners to design the curriculum for the Public Service Emerging Leaders Fellowship Programme in Kenya. This 12-month programme supports young Kenyan public sector leaders in acquiring foundational skills in policy design and implementation, developing the ethos of public sector leadership, and applying concepts and practices associated with citizencentric service delivery. For further contextualisation, we have worked with our Kenyan partners to identify local trainers and facilitators.

We also ensure that our programmes are highly practitioner-oriented. CAG’s faculty and experts are typically practitioners or have significant experience in working with governments. For example, we have worked with the Punjab Bureau of Investment Promotion to deliver a 4-day training programme on planning, developing, and managing successful industrial parks. Delivered by seasoned practitioners, the programme focused on the “how”, such as the core processes involved in industrial park development and cluster planning, and analysed elements of effective industrial park management. As with many other training organisations, CAG has accelerated our move towards online learning following the COVID-19 pandemic. A large proportion of our programmes are now conducted remotely, facilitated by online technologies and pedagogies. We are also actively developing our capabilities and technological infrastructure to deliver blended and asynchronous learning more effectively. These innovations have great potential to scale CAG’s reach and offerings to more of our government partners globally, while maintaining high levels of learner engagement.

Building Public Sector Capabilities Through Training

Through training programmes such as these, the CAG hopes to support governments in building their capabilities. While training is not the only factor in advancing good governance, thoughtfully designed training programmes can exert an outsized influence in developing and sustaining an effective and professional cadre of public servants—enabling them to truly make a difference to their countries and the billions of people they serve.

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