How Digital Frontrunners is shaping policy design for the digital age

How can governments foster societies in which everyone can benefit from digitalisation?

Questions like this drive Digital Frontrunners, a programme launched by Nesta in 2018 to help governments to make policies for skills that are smarter, more inclusive and fit for the future.

Over the last seven months, the initiative has brought together more than 80 international participants from governments, unions, universities and social enterprises to discuss the impact of digitalisation and learn new methods for policy design.

The process has not only enabled participants to make discoveries and connections that will help them in their work; it has also revealed common priorities, problems and successes that can inform the development of more prosperous and inclusive digital economies globally.

What did we do?

Digital Frontrunners was set up in the belief that closer international collaboration will help policymakers address the complex issues that arise from digital transformation. In 2018, the programme has revolved around three interactive workshops in Stockholm, The Hague and Helsinki, and involved stakeholders from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

We have followed the ‘triple diamond’ approach for policy design to open up dialogue and enable participants to learn about practical new initiatives for skills, many of which have later been presented in our Spotlights series. We designed each workshop to create opportunities for collaboration between international participants, and used practical exercises to teach new skills for public problem solving.

All of this is covered in more detail in our recent report, Digital Frontrunners: Designing inclusive skills policy for the digital age.

The Digital Frontrunners countries

The Digital Frontrunners countries

What have we found out?

We’ve discovered (at least) three valuable things by collaborating with the Digital Frontrunners countries in 2018.

First, our research shows that the Digital Frontrunners countries have shared principles that create a strong foundation for the development of inclusive digital economies. Crucially, the digital strategies of each country emphasise the need for all citizens to learn new skills that will enable them to adapt to the future of work. Union membership is high in all the countries but Estonia, and governments, businesses and social partners negotiate shifts in society and the economy together. The OECD argues that the ‘Nordic model’ (exemplified in Sweden) is ‘well-equipped to facilitate a smooth transition for workers affected by the digital transformation'. We want to understand how elements of this collaborative approach can be emulated by other countries.

Second, these countries are actively testing new policymaking approaches that will allow them to respond to the 'uncertain impacts' of AI on the labour market. We present eight case studies in Digital Frontrunners: Designing inclusive skills policy for the digital age that demonstrate how innovative methods for policy design are being applied in practice.

From the JobTech programme in Sweden, which aims to foster a new market for job and skills matching through open data, to Denmark’s Disruption Council, these initiatives provide an early indication of the types of collaborative, experimental and data-driven policy design practices that will become increasingly necessary in the governments of the future. By providing a platform for policymakers to share their experiences, we hope to inform approaches to skills policy in the Digital Frontrunners countries and elsewhere, such as the UK.

Third, we found that the Digital Frontrunners countries share four interlocking challenges that must be prioritised to enable all citizens to benefit from digital transformation, and ensure that there are enough skilled workers for a changing labour market. By working with representatives from across governments and other organisations, we have found that it is necessary to:

  • Anticipate the skills that will be in demand
  • Serve the diverse needs of workers across contexts
  • Discover and promote services that drive people’s intrinsic motivation to learn
  • Build a resilient labour market system that can adapt to changes in skills demand
Four interlocking challenges to be prioritised to enable all citizens to benefit from digital transformation

Four priorities for inclusive digital transformation

What next?

Over 2019, Digital Frontrunners will work to progress our understanding of these priorities through research, network building and four workshops to explore and develop appropriate policy design methods (drawing from fields such as behavioural insights). Through collaboration, we will produce practical outputs that policymakers and other senior stakeholders from around the world can learn from to foster more inclusive and responsive labour markets.

If you’ve identified similar priorities - or have questions - let us know via email: [email protected].


Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Programme Manager - Open Jobs, Data Analytics Practice

Jack was a Programme Manager for Open Jobs.

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