What are the digital competencies for civil servants in Africa?

The public sector leverages on digital technologies to design and implement public policies, engage with citizens and improve the delivery of public services. However, to build an enabling environment for digital transformation and face the challenges of digital era governance, civil servants require a new set of skills and competencies for the future.
Civil Servants in Africa

The UN Broadband Commission’s Working Group on AI Capacity Building is developing a Digital Competency Framework for Civil Servants through a series of global and multi-stakeholder consultations.

On 24 May 2022, UNESCO, Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) and Polylat Association organized a workshop with experts from Africa to discuss AI and Digital Transformation Competencies needed by Civil Servants in the region.

When a technology is failing in countries such as Kenya, it’s usually not about the technology itself, but rather due to the soft human factors, such as cultural.
Nanjira Sambuli Fellow, Technology and International Affairs Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Digital Transformation in Africa

In her opening presentation, Nanjira raised the example of digital transformation in Kenya to highlight the importance of political will to institutionalize digital systems that work for the people. Crucially, she reminded the participants that implementing change on the African continent requires to navigate the cultural nuances within different local contexts. On this note, a varied set of narratives on digital transformation is key to developing an understanding of how things work differently in many different parts of the world.

Aiming to improve policymakers’ understanding of AI, an expert based in Senegal works with research teams from several countries in Africa on responsible and inclusive AI. She said:

“We need to use AI responsibly and sensitize the notions of inclusive AI and human rights.”

Another expert from a social enterprise based in Nigeria urged all stakeholders to work together on removing bureaucratic hurdles to digital transformation. She advocated for the public sector to decrease red tape and increase accountability in order to achieve better procurement processes for digital transformation projects.

What competencies will the civil servants of the future need?

Most participants agreed that public sector red tape is a major challenge. During an informal poll at the consultation, three quarters of the participants chose “government bureaucratic process” as the main inhibitor for governments to develop and implement digital transformation projects and policies.

Looking ahead, participants identified the following three digital competencies as most important for public officials to acquire:

  1. Data driven policy/data use: Capacity to mine, analyse and use data in the decision-making process
  2. Privacy and security: Capacity to understand the importance of these issues when using big data
  3. Open government/data: Capacity to integrate the transparency principle when dealing with big data

This workshop is part of a series of global and multi-stakeholder consultations to design the Digital Transformation and AI Competency Framework for Civil Servants. As an open resource, the Competency Framework will be context-sensitive and adaptable for use to support capacity building for civil services across ICT Ministries and Digital Units in governments.