How competency frameworks can aid reform

Contact tracing, swift diagnosis and crisis communication - the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it unprecedented governance challenges, necessitating the development of new skills and knowledge to handle the pandemic efficiently. As digital learning became the new norm, the Indian government adapted to these challenges. They launched a range of courses on the iGOT Karmayogi platform, to build the capacity of frontline workers during the pandemic. These courses spanned from management of Covid-19 cases to basics of quarantine and isolation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven how government organisations, when faced with sudden challenges of delivering robust policies and public schemes, need innovative, efficient, and technology-enabled civil servants.  And for efficient public service delivery, these civil servants need to possess the right combination of attitude, skills and knowledge, i.e. competencies.

How can governments build up these competencies? This is where competency frameworks come in.

To ensure improvement in personnel capabilities whilst also improving public service delivery,  competency frameworks have certain core characteristics. These include:

  • Establishing standards to improve performance, recruitment and address competency gaps: This is done through the identification of behaviours, attitudes and skills necessary for successful performance and growth in line with the organisation's objectives.
  • Emphasising human resources as essential to the organisation’s goals: By clearly setting expectations for each role, the competency frameworks allows civil servants the opportunity to improve their skills. This process puts the ability of building competencies directly into the hands of officials, leading to improved efficiency, productivity and ability to do things better.
  • Empowering a department to grow, diversify and adapt to future challenges: Competency frameworks enable the development of a range of  capabilities and skills, covering both specific domain knowledge as well as functional abilities.
  • Creating public value through the development of future-ready civil servants who are equipped to fulfill their duties.

The early days

The introduction of the competency-based approach to public institutions started in the early ’80s, with the United Kingdom civil service wanting to produce a more effective service. The 2012 Civil Service Competency Frameworkwas incorporated into the Civil Service Reform Plan to transform the functioning of the British civil service and improve overall public service delivery. The Civil Service Reform Plan aimed to develop better skills to equip officials for the digital age and encourage a citizen-centred attitude. The competency framework also set standards for how people in the civil service should work and was used for recruitment, performance management and other personnel decisions to ensure the smooth functioning of the civil service.

Having competency frameworks is now a practice seen across the world. Since 2018, Singapore’s civil service College -- Public Service Division -- has collaborated with various online learning providers like Udemy and Coursera on courses for civil servants. The primary goal of this programme, LEARN, has been to equip officials with tools to interact effectively with citizens, implement policy, innovate and learn continuously. Many of the courses are focused on building future-ready competencies.In 2020, head of Singapore’s civil service Leo Yip gave a speech on the need to find newer ways of working based on skills and competencies. The idea was to build a government system that “places greater emphasis on lifelong that values performance, skills and competencies, beyond just years in service”.  Earlier this year, the Government Technology Agency of Singapore introduced a new platform designed to up the digital competencies of all public service leaders and officers. Known as the Digital Academy, it will provide instructor-led workshops, tech talks, exchanges with communities of practice, hackathons, and on-the-job training.

Capacity building in India

In India, the  National Training Policy,  2012 mandates that all civil servants are to be provided with training to equip them with the competencies needed for their current and future roles. Based on this, in 2014,  the e-Governance Competency Framework was developed by the National e-Governance Division, to transform India into a digitally empowered society, and for the government service to grow and adapt to future challenges. Emphasising the role of human resources as essential to the organisation’s goals, the framework helped bridge the gap between role and competencies through the identification of training needs. The IT Department, Government of Haryana used this framework to develop guidelines for engaging IT professionals. 

The launch of Mission Karmayogi, in 2020,  by the Government of India has been another step in this direction. This capacity building initiative for civil servants has competency frameworks at its core -- to both establish standards for recruitment as well as address competency gaps.

Competency frameworks encourage public officials to develop a wider range of skills, as their performance is directly linked with creating public value. It’s why governments across the world have increasingly turned to competency management as a strategic tool, to ensure more efficient delivery as well as a more responsive civil service.

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