The world is in the midst of an unprecedented explosion of data providing a unique opportunity to revolutionise both analysis and outcomes across a range of government responsibilities.

The 2024 Public Economics Conference runs from 3 – 5 September 2024 under the theme “Harnessing the power of technology and data for government service delivery.” This event will explore how governments can leverage technology and data analytics to enhance their operations and improve public services.

Excellence in governance is crucial for growth, reducing inequality, and strengthening social stability. However, even with the best policies, governments can falter due to shortfalls in state capacity or corruption, which undermines confidence in the state’s management of resources. Poor service delivery can breed frustration across all aspects of citizens’ daily lives.

Governments worldwide generate, receive, and connect data on a vast scale. Using government analytics, or the ‘repurposing’ of administrative and survey data, these insights can pinpoint how well government functions or where it fails. Government analytics offers a transformative shift towards evidence-based and continuous improvement in government administration. Coupled with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), these tools can significantly enhance public sector efficiency and transparency.

The potential gains from combining technology and data analytics are substantial – they can enhance government accountability to the public. By making analytics public, citizens, civil society, and the media can hold the government accountable for its management of public administration. Technologies like AI can automate routine tasks, optimise resource allocation, and provide predictive insights to better anticipate and meet citizen needs.

One reason for the slow adoption of technology and data in governments is the lack of knowledge on how to perform government analytics, coupled with skill shortages—both in conducting analytics and in using them to improve management. Implementing government analytics requires more than just technical expertise; it involves building a culture of data-driven decision-making, collaborating across government agencies, and addressing ethical and privacy concerns regarding data collection and use. The integration of these technologies into government operations can streamline service delivery, reduce costs, and improve response times.

For example, the use of AI in healthcare can help manage patient data more effectively, and in the finance sector, AI-driven tools can enhance tax collection efficiency and detect fraudulent activities, thereby increasing revenue and reducing corruption.

These challenges and opportunities will be addressed during our three-day conference.

Programme Outline

Winter School

Day 1: Digital transformation in the public sector

National Treasury has created a ‘secure data facility’ to ensure access to administrative data to improve evidence-based economic policy, planning, and investment. Similarly, the South African Revenue Service and the Department of Health are at the forefront of using technology and data analytics to enhance service delivery. We will explore the economic rationale driving the adoption of these digital public services, the intricacies of smart governance, and the optimal use of data analytics. Attendees will gain insights into initiatives already underway, such as those from SA Spatial Data Infrastructure and SARS. The programme also features a conversation with representatives from Estonia, a leader in government digitisation and analytics.

    Day 2 & 3: Digital inclusion in the public sector

    This theme will focus on ensuring technology is accessible to all. Digital inclusion involves establishing regulatory frameworks essential for a ‘digital government,’ considering factors like data privacy and cybersecurity. It also includes reviewing policies designed to incentivise technology adoption and foster inclusivity and accessibility within communities. We will hear from the Department of Science and Innovation about their Innovation Fund, and several provinces will share their e-learning initiatives.

    Furthermore, the impact of digitisation on labour markets and employment is multifaceted, with automation and digital platforms reshaping demand for labour and necessitating workers to acquire new skills to adapt to evolving job requirements. We will feature case studies and examples from around the world to illustrate the diverse ways digital transformation influences economies, industries, and the workforce.

    Day 3: Digital dividends for the public sector

    This theme examines the potential benefits from investments in digital technologies, such as economic growth, job creation, and enhanced service delivery. Technology and government analytics can lower transaction costs, foster innovation and competition, and lead to new products, services, and business models. Digitisation has already transformed market structures by reducing barriers to entry and facilitating the rise of new market players, including digital platforms and online marketplaces. We will discuss what major technology companies are doing to ensure inclusivity and accommodate emerging trends like remote work and the gig economy.

      Apply to attend

      Winter School

      When is the conference?

      The conference is a hybrid event that will run from 3 – 5 September 2024.

      What will I gain from attending the 2024 Public Economics Conference?

      The conference provides an opportunity for postgraduate students, young professionals, and government employees at the national, provincial, and local levels to access information, expertise, and insights on issues not well represented in current curriculums or typically part of officials’ exposure.

      The event also serves as a platform for officials and students to engage with practitioners in the larger policy-making environment and businesses tackling real-life challenges. By participating in this event, you will gain a deeper understanding of the practical application of public economics to real-world issues to make meaningful contributions towards effective policies and implementation.

      Who can attend?

      The Public Economics Conference is open to post-graduate students in economics, data science, statistics, public administration, management, political science, computer science and similar disciplines as well as students who are currently considering different research topics and career opportunities (both national and international).

      In addition participants will be drawn from academic staff at universities, with many new programmes now catering for technology and data analytics. Researchers from research institutions such as the CSIR, HSRC and Stats SA, as well as participants from different government departments, including analytics units, data and policy units are welcome to attend. We also include speakers and participants from the ‘finance family” – National Treasury, SARS and the South African Reserve Bank. Finally we expect participants from the private sector and businesses, including international players such as Google, and Microsoft. Also of course bankers, and those industries leading in AI and technology transformation.

      Attendance is completely free. Space is limited for in-person attendance, but we especially welcome post-graduate students and government officials to register early to secure their spot.

      If you are a student and want to be considered for in-person attendance (with travel and accommodation costs covered for those outside Gauteng), we require a copy of your last exam results. If the number of in-person applications exceeds the available spots, your results will be used to select the top applicants. Online attendance is also available.

      We also require a copy of your marks from your last degree:

      • Honours students: final undergraduate results.
      • Masters students: Honours or 4th-year results.
      • PhD students: Masters results.

      Please review this document for information on how to apply for in-person attendance. You can submit your application by email here.

      Student applications close on 31 July 2024

      To book your space for the event

      Programme

      Winter School

      The full programme will be published in due course.

      Resources

      Winter School

      In the build-up to the event, we will share recommended reading. Please check back regularly for updates.

      Day 1 Recommended Reading

      General Reading

      Presentations

      Winter School

      Presentations will be uploaded on the website during the Public Economics Conference.

      Contact

      If you have any questions, please email GTAC Public Economics Conference

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