The World Government Summit: Shaping Future Governments

Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Leonard Hessling

World Bank Consultant,

Public Sector Expert


Since 2013 government officials, thought leaders, policy-makers and private sector entrepreneurs have met at the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to discuss the best ways to develop the future of governance based on the latest developments and future trends in technology, innovation and society. The summit, a global networking platform on contemporary questions of government and public policy, has produced a series of reports on such issues as well as hosting roundtables and other meetings of thought leaders to create and share ideas and solutions that map to the needs of governments globally.  The Summit is accompanied by awards for innovation in government and a number of showcases and exhibitions, such as the Innovation Pavilion and the Museum of Future Government Services. In 2015, the Summit embarked on a new exploration of not only policy, but the future of policy and governance.


The 2015 Summit – Future Focus

Hosting over 4,000 government leaders from over 90 countries, the third annual event of the Summit on “Shaping Future Governments” took place on February 9-11, 2015.  With a firm focus on emerging trends and technologies, the Summit’s futuristic theme led to an unparalleled sharing of best practices and innovations that had the potential to impact government policies and services. The 2015 event covered a wide range of topics; including education, health, empowering women, smart cities, and government services. In the field of health for instance, discussions focused on the future of healthcare and the opportunities for data collection and improvement of services linked to the so-called “quantified self” and “the internet of things”. Further highlights of the 2015 event included the keynote address by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and speeches by practitioners and scholars such as Boo Keun Yoon of Samsung and Professor Klaus Schwab of the WEF. The UN Secretary-General highlighted the importance of using technology to engage citizens with government and said that information technology (IT) solutions can help involve citizens more in developing government services, and in linking government and business for economic growth: “This communication can actually create an environment wherein citizens are involved with their governments in co-designing solutions. On the back of innovative information technology networks and solutions, a society where the government and its businesses come together can be a showcase for sustainable growth, collaborative governance, and economic success”, he noted. The nexus between governments and the private sector was another core theme of the summit. "The future can only be solved by governments, working in close cooperation with businesses" said Klaus Schwab, founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who also noted that "it is human imagination and innovation that drives economic change. Governments have an essential role to play — though innovation has tended to come from private business, governments have to be catalysts, driving the innovation in this ecosystem". Highlighting the importance of the digital revolution and government, Dr Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) Centre for Digital Business, warned of the risks for nations of being left behind and considered uncompetitive if they do not show appetite to embrace the potential of the digital revolution to benefit national economies:


“There is no doubt that we are living in an era of rapid change. The evolution of digital technologies has never been quicker and is only continuing to accelerate. Meanwhile, globally, our skills, organizations and institutions are often lagging behind and failing to adjust to the rapid progress. This will not be solved by adopting a ‘business as usual’ approach and nations should follow the lead of Dubai in considering projects which benefit the economy and people across the full spectrum of society.”


The 2016 Summit

The upcoming fourth annual event of the World Government Summit will take place on February 8-10, 2016 in Dubai. It is expected to build on the success of previous years by attracting world leaders and further sparking debate on the future of government in the 21st century. It is conceptualized as a gateway to the future, aiming to highlight developmental and societal issues in the near term, medium term and long term future.  The 2016 World Government Summit is focused on looking ahead, to evaluating the impact of innovation and the changes wrought by the speeding growth and ubiquity of technology, particularly in the growing series of massive inflection points created by the wave of digital technologies rolling out today and in the foreseeable future. As each technological shift creates benefit, it also drives change, sometimes creating benefits for some and economic threat for others. Evaluating that inter-connected series of events triggered by innovation and human development is a core theme for the 2016 Summit. A series of ten changes to the 2016 World Government Summit cement the themes of futurism and connected policy. The Summit’s global focus has been formalized and the event has been transformed from being an annual conference and meeting to a year-round initiative which aims to tie together best practices in global government with a particular focus on planning for innovation and technologically-led disruption and meeting future challenges. The Summit will be tasked with creating a resource of research and intelligence on a year-round basis. Increased focus on smarter, more focused delivery means shorter sessions and more interaction between speakers and audience. Aiming to create shareable and accessible content, the Summit aims to build knowledge platforms to give access to sessions, findings and resources on a local, regional and global basis, opening the conversation to a global audience. Tying into the UAE’s strong movement to embrace smart city concepts, the Summit builds on mobile applications to enhance its communications and sharing goals. The ‘Edge of Governments’, together with a series of UN SDG focused round tables and a new annual World Government Summit award to honour excellence in governance by singling out government leaders who have led transformational projects and initiatives complete the changes to the event.


Content and concepts

The three key pillars of the upcoming World Government summit are: (i) future governments, (ii) government innovation, and (iii) the development of government services. Specifically, it will explore innovative concepts for reinventing governments and enhancing quality and efficiency through the presentation of innovative global practices in government service delivery. As such, it will help shape the future of governments and provide a unique opportunity for governments, national authorities, academic institutions and leading international organizations from around the world to share experiences and practices. In addition, it will promote and enable public-private partnerships and collaboration with the private sector. The Summit’s partners reflect that mix, including telco Du, Dubai Municipality, global logistics management company DP World and DEWA, the Dubai Water and Electricity Authority as well as the United Nations, Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, World Bank, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and World Economic Forum. Kicking off with the $1mn ‘Drones for Good’ and its sister award, the $1mn ‘AI and Robotics for Good’ taking just prior the Summit, the event will once again play host to government leaders from around the world. The participation of government officials from 100 countries is to be headed up by a special delegation from the US, while a number of round table events targeting the UN-defined Sustainable Development Goals will take place on the Summit’s sidelines. With a wide-ranging cast of speakers assessing and sharing innovations and key elements of change in education, technology, transport, commerce and social behaviours. Adding to established events such as the popular ‘Museum of the Future’, a World Government Summit event which has led to the establishment of a fully-fledged Museum of the Future in Dubai, the new ‘Edge of Government’ exhibition aims to enable some 15 governments to share their experiences and knowledge on applied disruptive innovations.


Results and Successes of the 2015 Summit Event

Hosting over 4,000 government leaders from over 90 countries, the third annual event of the World Government Summit on “Shaping Future Governments” took place on February 9-11, 2015.  Its objective was to explore how technology and innovation will shape future governments and best meet citizens' needs.  It focused on shaping governments of the future and enhancing their performance of delivering services through innovation in government. The summit also strengthened cooperation and coordination between governments, and promoted the exchange of knowledge and experience about the best innovative global practices in the public sector. The success of previous summit events is largely due to its nature as a high-level event with the ability to convene senior government officials, decision- and policy-makers, thought leaders and researchers, as well as private sector leaders.  In addition, the event’s location in Dubai showcases a leading country that has successfully harnessed the digital revolution by investing in high-tech infrastructure. Among the over 100 speakers of the previous events were leaders such as: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai), Queen Rania Al Abdullah (Queen of Jordan), Ban Ki-moon (United Nations Secretary-General), Ibrahim Mahlab (Prime Minister of Egypt), Gordon Brown (former United Kingdom Prime Minister), William C. Danvers (Deputy Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), Chris Vein (World Bank Chief Innovation Officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development), Boo Keun Yoon (President and CEO of Samsung), Steve Wozniak (Co-Founder of Apple), Sir Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group), Professor Jeffrey Sachs (Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University), and Professor Klaus Schwab (Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum [WEF]). The summit also included the presentation of three international awards: First, the “Best M-Government Service Award”, which is designed to encourage government entities to develop creative and innovative solutions and applications for smart phones in order to provide high quality services to citizens in a simple, efficient and transparent way. Second, the “UAE Drones for Good Award” emphasizes the key role of the government in promoting innovation.  It encourages the creation of partnerships between the government and leading technology universities and research and development (R&D) centers in order to develop new products and services that enhance people’s lives in various fields including medicine, public service, social activities, and others. Third, the “UAE Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Robotics Award for Good” honors the best application of robotics and artificial intelligence for the service of humanity, mainly in the fields of education, health and social services. The summit also included two special exhibitions: “The Museum of Future Government Services” focused on exploring future trends and innovations in government services. It exposed real prototypes of innovative services which can be adopted by governments of the future in the fields of travel, healthcare, education and smart services. It also shed the light on ideas for developing these services in the coming years through the collaboration of the best designers, technicians and thinkers from around the world. “The Innovation Pavilion” took its visitors on a futuristic journey to a world of innovation and experiences through the Innovation Exhibition, Ibtikar Talks and Rapid Government Innovation Labs. “The Innovation Exhibition” offered visitors the opportunity to discover the latest innovations in six different categories: Services, Governance, Public Policy, Science, Systems and Community. “The Ibtikar Talks” served as a platform through which visitors interacted and communicated with innovation experts who presented examples of innovation and different applications around the world. “The Rapid Government Innovation Labs” provided an opportunity for participants to develop innovative and tangible solutions to key challenges faced in different sectors.


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