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This website was created by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), part of the OECD Public Governance Directorate (GOV).

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Teaching Public Service in the Digital Age


Governments need staff equipped with key digital capabilities alongside traditional skills of policy, economics and ethics. The majority of post-secondary programs producing future public servants lack training on digital era skills and competencies. To solve this problem, we lead a train-the-trainer model to share open educational materials, including a syllabus on digital era public administration skills. We are nurturing a global community of faculty wh teach these materials.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Our community of collaborators has a vision of a world in which governments are staffed by people equipped with key digital capabilities. Crucially, new digital skills need to be integrated with and made inseparable from the traditional skills of policy, economics, and ethics. The problem is that the vast majority of post-secondary programs producing future public servants lack any training on digital era skills and competencies. To solve this problem, our leadership team - composed of Tom Steinberg, Amanda Clarke, Ines Mergel, and David Eaves - has led a novel “train the trainer” model alongside dozens of faculty around the world on two objectives. First, we created a set of open-access educational materials, including a syllabus on digital-era public administration skills. Presently we are nurturing a global community of faculty to teach these materials in public affairs and civil service colleges. Our goal is to train and support 250 professors and educators to use this syllabus, who will then go on to train at least 10,000 learners across the US and around the world over the next two years.


As part of the “Teaching Public Service in the Digital Age” project, we will develop innovative agile teaching methods to modernize public affairs programs, so that future civil servants have the mindset and tools at their disposal to tackle the necessary modernization of bureaucratic practices that hinder citizens from getting access to digital public services.


In addition, we are running a monthly research workshop series in which we invite digital government researchers from around the world to present their innovative research findings. This also provides the opportunity to identify additional opportunities for joint research and to focus on open topics that were not covered in the syllabus so far.


We are especially keen to build out teaching and case studies in underrepresented regions where locale-specific teaching and case studies are rare. We have built a community of international e-government researchers and practitioners who volunteered to translate the existing materials into German, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Each of the groups is also working on localizing and contextualizing the teaching materials so that they are relevant to remain relevant to their regions.


The beneficiaries of our innovation are public affairs faculty and professionals around the world. So far, we have confirmed that at a minimum 18 Universities have adopted the curriculum and we suspect that many more public affairs lecturers are making use of the materials.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Our train-the-trainer model is the first of its kind to tackle a root cause of digital incapacity in today’s governments: those responsible for teaching current and future public servants are often ill-equipped to provide relevant digital-era public sector competencies to their students. By upskilling these educators and providing them with novel open educational resources they can use in their classrooms, we greatly scale our ability to modernize the competencies of today’s governments.


Our innovation follows the principles of the open educational resource approach that fits squarely within the open government movement: We volunteer to make otherwise localized materials publicly available and explain step-by-step how to use them.

What is the current status of your innovation?

We started in 2019 to define the digital-era competencies that every public service leader needs to have to succeed today, ran focus groups to expand them, built the open access syllabus and tested it in several countries (Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the US, University of Konstanz in Germany, Tallinn Tech University in Estonia). Based on our experiences in the classroom, we developed teaching scripts that others can easily reuse in their classrooms. As a next step, we designed several train-the-trainer modules for academic faculty at universities and practitioners at government academies. We ran three of these Masterclasses, one in 2021, and another in 2022 with international participation. In parallel, we set up a research workshop series for which we invite researchers who conduct research projects that focus directly on one or several of the competencies: at these workshops we learn about the latest research in the field of digital government.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

We collaborate with faculty from around the world and have started to build ties with foundations that are aiming to add educational elements to their funding schemes. In addition, we are collaborating with standardization organizations, such as Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, deans of public affairs schools, and government academies.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Our focus is the train-the-trainer model: We are aiming to train 250 faculty in the next 2-3 years who are teaching in public affairs schools training current and future civil servants. Ultimately, our goal is to empower civil servants to provide better services to citizens.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

We have run three train-the-trainer sessions so far with international participants. We asked each of them whether their schools have officially adopted their courses into the standard curriculums of their public affairs programs and ran review sessions with selected faculty. We have successfully enabled professors in eighteen universities in over a dozen countries to teach new, critical digital era skills to public servants, and to students who are progressing to careers in public service. We are expecting to train a total of 250 faculty in the next two years and reach around 10,000 learners during that time. We have developed a community of translator volunteers who have translated our free teaching materials into Spanish, German, Portuguese, and French. We are planning to conduct more in-depth evaluations of user satisfaction, necessary changes, and feedback from learners and government officials. We have persuaded a set of large institutional funders to support our work.

Challenges and Failures

As a primarily volunteer organization, we have encountered the following challenges:
- Lack of a systematic overview of current programs and curricula
- Changes in faculty teaching digital government courses as electives
- Pre-pandemic also a lack of understanding that digital is a way to make services available to citizens
- Reaching faculty in the Southern hemisphere, China, Russia, and the African continent


Responses to challenges
- We heavily rely on our volunteer network to spread the word in regions where we don’t have direct contacts.
- We use social media to spread the word about events and are aiming for maximum diversity at our events.

Conditions for Success

Committed faculty and high-level digital government researchers who are willing to invest time to transfer research findings into teaching practices.


Based on the research findings, we also need to explicate the teaching process and pedagogical approaches for digital competencies, that go beyond a mere syllabus listing reading material. Especially new faculty need help to model their course design based on what has proven successful in other public affairs classrooms.


Public affairs curricula are highly localized and have to be approved by standardization committees so that there is oftentimes little flexibility to integrate new skills and competencies. Revisions take years of planning, development, and approval processes.


Build out the platform as a reliable product, continue to co-develop the materials, share the materials, train faculty in public affairs programs at universities and government academies, and continue to provide assistance for translation.


We have confirmed that at least 18 universities have officially adopted the course and we continuously reach out to deans and interested faculty members to discuss possibilities with them on how to integrate the materials into the existing curriculum.


We observe that many faculty re-use our material and then adapt it to their cultural, political, and societal local needs so that students can absorb it in a language that is attainable to them.

Lessons Learned

There is a huge need for existing faculty, part-time lecturers, and government practitioners to better understand what kind of digital-era competencies are necessary and find a simple way to adopt teaching material instead of developing it from scratch.


We also see that there is a need to showcase how this is done at other universities to convince leadership to support the development of new courses and provide the freedom to adopt digital-era skills into the existing governance and program structures.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2019
Level of Government: Other


  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

16 November 2022

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