Achieving safety and security in an age of disruption and distrust

Why collaboration between the public and private sectors is a prerequisite for a safe, secure and prosperous society

Safety and security lie at the heart of the prosperity of any nation. Citizens want to feel safe (protected from risk or injury) and secure (free from danger or threat). But today security is challenged in all aspects of our daily lives and trust in the institutions that should keep us safe is low. As a result, even in stable countries, many citizens say they feel or perceive themselves to be unsafe.

In this new reality, national, regional and local governments need to view citizen safety (and security) in a holistic light and work across borders to achieve it. Our new report proposes an approach to security that is purposefully broad and inclusive, with collaboration deeply embedded across four interrelated domains: physical, digital, economic and social.

We use case studies to show how collaboration across these domains and among institutions and organisations in both the public and private sectors can help increase citizen security.

We challenge leaders to assess what they are doing now and propose actions they can take to strengthen their ability to deliver a more secure future for their citizens.

The security domains in which individual organisations are present may differ based on their scope and area of operations, and the examples below are only indicative.

A systemic approach to security, with trust and collaboration at its heart

The interconnectivity of the domains adds to the complexity of delivering security and the need to think holistically across all domains. Across the world PwC has encountered areas where successful collaborations between governments and their private and not-for-profit partners have been forged. It is not only possible but imperative for institutions to collaborate, as this will help build and maintain citizens’ trust.

We have developed a systemic approach to security across four intersecting domains that illustrates potential areas of collaboration.


The strength of a nation’s defence force is traditionally seen as a key source and indicator of physical security. Defence is increasingly shifting into the digital domain to provide protection against cyber warfare. Protecting citizens and property (intellectual and physical) means that defence forces will also need to collaborate with the private sector, including technology organisations, and local government to maintain and build citizens’ trust.


Education underpins social security by giving citizens the ability to both exercise their rights as citizens and acquire the skills they need to ensure their economic security. Educational establishments have a dual responsibility to their students: to keep them secure, which requires working with policing institutions (physical security), and to prepare them to work in a changing world, which means enhancing digital security on the platforms they use and also working closely with the private sector to match training to job requirements.

Financial services

The interconnected global economy is at the heart of delivering economic prosperity and social progress. This requires collaboration across the public and private sectors, particularly in financial services, where digital security needs to be robust to ensure societal trust. This includes the protection of financial assets, no matter where they are held and how they are transferred around the globe, as well as personal data.

Food and agriculture

Security applies to anything we would want to protect from a perceived risk or threat. This includes food and water — the basic needs of life (social, physical and economic). It would require, for example, government working with the private sector to secure food and water supply chains across borders. By 2050, the global population will increase by one-third, to almost 10bn people. Global food production will therefore need to increase proportionally.


People rely on healthcare organisations for their social security to keep them well and able to contribute to the economy. The increased use of technology in healthcare management and service delivery through digital health records and e-consultations is raising issues of personal data security. This underscores the importance of digital security in this sector and the need for organisations to ensure their trustworthiness.


Housing is an essential element of a nation’s infrastructure and is the foundation of people’s physical and social security. Suitable accommodation ensures that people are well enough to live, work and contribute economically to society. Government must work with the private sector to ensure, either through specific policies or incentives, that citizens have shelter. Widespread homelessness exacerbates civil unrest.

Police and intelligence services

We rely on the traditional security agencies to keep our neighbourhoods safe (for physical and social security). The disruption to communities caused by migration, which is likely to continue, is putting more strain on these services. The increasing complexity of criminal networks and the rise of cybercrime (digital) is also putting pressure on resources.


The retail sector not only provides employment (economic security) for a large number of people but, more broadly, also supplies the basics people need to survive. Retailers and governments should work together to ensure the security of the supply chains (physical) for these goods across and within borders. With the growth of online shopping, retailers also need to safeguard customers’ personal data from digital threats.


Technology touches most aspects of people’s lives (social and digital). Whether it’s surveillance tech used to monitor borders and potential hot spots or blockchain ledgers used to verify financial transactions, there’s little in today’s world that isn’t digitised and connected. People need to trust the agencies in charge of their data, and earning that trust requires the private and public sector to work together on digital privacy and cybersecurity (economic) regulations and the technology needed to keep our data safe.


Transportation is part of a nation’s critical infrastructure, which is bound up with physical security. A resilient transport and logistics system is essential to economic prosperity. Threats to transport from, for example, climate change, terrorism and cyberattacks (digital) need to be addressed through collaboration across institutions, both public and private.

Other critical infrastructure

Infrastructure (including power, telecoms, transport and the like) is critical to people’s physical security and requires digital security. Whether operated in the public or private sectors, critical infrastructure promotes economic growth and helps safeguard social cohesion. That’s why it is important that operators of these services work together to mitigate and cope with threats, including cyber, climate and terrorist risks.

Physical, digital, economic and social security in today’s world

The physical and institutional security of the state’s territory and its administrative apparatus is the classical dimension of national security. It includes the defence forces and the intelligence and policing organisations. The focus is safeguarding borders, retaining orderly migration, defending against military threats (including espionage) and, where necessary, projecting military power. It also means ensuring the physical security of critical infrastructure, which is often managed on a regional or municipal level. In recent years, it has extended to managing crises such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters, and protecting critical infrastructure such as the power grid, transportation networks and other utilities.

Government’s role is to build risk-resilient infrastructure and prepare a whole community response to disasters. This requires public–private collaboration because it is the private sector that delivers many of the services that might be at risk.

Download the report


Emerging as a vital building block of societal trust in recent years, digital security covers issues related to the protection of digital or networked assets, including personal data owned by government corporations or not-for-profit organisations. Those seeking to acquire digital assets illegitimately or disrupting critical digital infrastructure target both the private and public sectors, as well as individuals.

Organised crime groups have become more sophisticated with cyberattacks, and today an attack on private cyber infrastructure may turn into a national security threat — for example, when passengers’ passport data is stolen from airlines. The lack of a unified approach and the blurred line of responsibility between the government and private sector, especially in the area of cybercrime, reflects a need for more collaboration.

The interconnected global economy is at the heart of delivering economic security and basic living standards, and its maintenance requires collaboration among an ever changing cast of players. This presents great challenges today, as the benefits of globalisation and freer trade are disputed, and some governments are resorting to protectionism. Stakeholders need to safeguard not only the financial stability and integrity of the nation-state across borders but also the wider global financial system and intellectual property. This is achieved through cooperation locally, nationally and multilaterally among policing and intelligence agencies. A broadly stable macroeconomic environment creates a level playing field and encourages enterprise, growth and prosperity.

Governments need to work with the private sector to design, build, finance and operate basic infrastructure, as well as ensure the security of supply chains across borders.

For citizens to feel safe, the society in which they live needs to protect their rights and civil liberties as they have traditionally and contextually been defined in that society. A meaningful social contract that ‘makes sense’ of the individual as part of a collective promises that the state will provide basic rights and more — for example, a welfare system, access to education and skills development, and basic civil liberties. These liberties might include freedom of information, data protection, protection from foreign interference in nation-states, and stable government (e.g., defense, the rule of law and the protection of asset ownership). Such a contract depends on trust in institutions and confidence that people’s taxes will be used appropriately.

The depth and breadth of what is included in the social contract and the need for diverse parties to work together highlights the importance of well-thought-out collaboration across security domains.

Building a safer society

Governments, their agencies and other stakeholders need to be constantly vigilant to the risks that endanger the safety of their citizens. This means assessing the threat levels across the four intersecting domains of physical, digital, economic and social security. It is helpful to view these domains within the context of PwC’s ADAPT framework, which identifies five global issues facing the world today and their implications:

Against this backdrop, we advocate a collaborative approach that focusses on where the key elements of security overlap and places a particular emphasis on trust.

An agenda for action for government and business

Based on our experience, we have identified six key actions that government leaders at all levels need to prioritise now:

1. Develop systemic approaches to security. Assess how your existing approach can adapt to address the interplay of the different physical, digital, economic and social security domains and identify weak links across sectors.

2. Identify the stakeholders needed to collaborate to develop a joint agenda and a national safety and security policy that can cascade to the local level, adopting an inclusive approach to stakeholder engagement.

3. Identify key deliverables and assess the interconnectedness of those involved across sectors in their delivery.

4. Develop the capacity and capability to deliver security, in particular by identifying whether the required distributed leadership is in place across sectors.

5. Invest in leadership to understand better how to engage the public and instil a sense of trust in those who serve them.

6. Manage carefully the trade-off of security with citizens’ rights. This means agreeing to a new relationship between citizens and the state with regard to how people’s data will be safeguarded.

Private-sector firms (from multinationals to small and medium-sized enterprises) and the not-for-profit sector (including civil society) need to address their own set of overlapping challenges:

  1. Work more closely with trusted governments, reviewing how the organisation engages with government on different aspects of security: physical, digital, economic and social.
  2. Contribute to building trust by aligning relevant parts of the organisation’s purpose to the broader societal safety and security agenda. 
  3. As in government, develop the capacity and capability to improve safety and security for all stakeholders based on a collaborative, cross-sector approach that encourages distributive leadership.



Contact us

Egon de Haas

Egon de Haas

Global Government & Public Services, Industry Executive, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 88 792 65 13

George  Alders

George Alders

Global Government Security Leader, Senior Director, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 88 792 32 85

Steven Kershaw

Global Government Defence Sector, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

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