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The loss of life and the fear caused by the COVID-10 pandemic disrupted governments around the world at an unprecedented speed and scale
On behalf of the IBM Center, we are pleased to publish a new special report, COVID-19 and its Impact: Seven Essays on Reframing Government Management and Operations with essays from academic and government experts around the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world and the consequences of this global event will have lasting effects. The loss of life and the fear caused by the pandemic disrupted governments around the world at an unprecedented speed and scale. As result, governments today are facing very serious, seemingly intractable public management issues in the aftermath of COVID-19 that go to the core of effective governance and leadership, testing the very form, structure, and capacity required to meet these problems head-on. Government leaders, therefore, have found it necessary to go beyond established parameters and institutional strictures, working across organizational boundaries in pursuit of multilayered, networked approaches that can better respond to system and societal shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw that play out in real time—government agencies worldwide moving swiftly to deploy tools to measure and predict the spread of the virus, marshal resources to support the healthcare system, provide economic assistance, and apply new models of work.
In fall 2020, the IBM Center for The Business of Government initiated a Challenge Grant Competition soliciting essays from academics and practitioners describing how government can best transform the way it works, operates, and delivers services to the public in light of the impact of this pandemic. In re-framing government management and operations, this compendium of seven essays highlights several key themes:
THEME ONE: Changing the Nature of How Government Works – this theme focuses on government jobs best suited to shift virtually, the new “workday,” best practices, government as a model workplace, and workplace health, safety, and privacy.
- Richard Feiock, in Five Ways COVID-19 Changes How Local Government Do Business, explores the policy, technology, and management changes the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in, and assesses the likely impact of these changes on local governments and citizens. Just as the pandemic challenged municipal governments to reconsider how things are done and to accelerate or scale up the use of digital technologies, the post-pandemic era will challenge leaders in new ways.
- Sherri Greenberg, in The Future of Work in Local Governments Beyond COVID-19, acknowledges how the pandemic has accelerated many large changes in local government operations, processes, and service delivery such as remote services, online services, and curbside and delivery services. The future of local government work requires rethinking and expanding to include new modes of public engagement and service delivery. There will need to be a combination
using new technologies and remote techniques combined with in-person services.
THEME TWO: Reimagining How Government Operates and Delivers its Missions to the Public – this theme explores ways to improve operational effectiveness by addressing engagement, equity, and culture in government service delivery.
- Tad McGalliard and Laura Goddeeris, inTransforming Local Government Service Delivery in the Wake of COVID-19, point out that innovation and transformation are often born out of necessity. The challenge of the current pandemic has produced creative change in local government administration and operation. Across the spectrum of strategies, polices, programs, and service delivery, figuring out which actions are truly transformative and will stand to become prevailing practices versus those that may flame out in the post-pandemic ecosystem is the purpose of this essay.
- Maya McKenzie and Gurdeep Gill, in Community Driven Government—Reimagining Systems in a Pandemic, posit that the current public sector service delivery systems are failing, and government needs to address a real-time emergency while concurrently implementing structural change based on equitable practices and community resilience. King County’s Community Mitigation and Recovery (CMR) effort has laid the foundation for just that. CMR is changing the nature of government work to reimagine how services are delivered during COVID-19 and beyond.
THEME THREE: Managing Risk and Building Resilience focuses on building supply chain resiliency making them immune to unpredictable shocks, emphasizing the critical importance of managing risks and vulnerabilities effectively while also identifying principles that fosters trust in institutions and how they operate in times of crisis.
- Zach Huitink, in COVID-19 and the Resilience Imperative in Public Procurement: Building Back Better, underscores that this pandemic reinforced the need to harden public procurement against significant threats and disruptions. To meet what the author calls “resilience imperative,” governments must integrate comprehensive risk management into procurement systems, policies, and business practices.
- Rob Handfield, in Achieving Supply Chain Immunity: Planning, Preparation, and Coordination in National Emergency Response, identifies four key characteristics to making a national supply chain system immune to potential disruptions and shocks: flexibility, traceability, responsiveness, and global independence. These characteristics reflect lessons learned from the recent and evolving pandemic response. Building supply chain immunity will require significant changes in the way national supply chains are managed, including the creation of a new governance structure for overseeing and directing activity between the public and private sectors.
- Rodney Scott and Eleanor Merton, in Trust and Resilience: How Public Service Principles Encouraged Compliance with COVID-19 Public Health Guidelines in New Zealand, explore the role public trust has played in New Zealand’s success at combatting COVID-19. Trust drove voluntary compliance with social distancing measures that eliminated community transmission of the virus. The authors analyze how New Zealand was able to earn and cultivate this trust.
Here are some of the key takeaways from this report:
- The pandemic accelerated changes in the way government works and delivers services that were already underway. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and displaced many long-accepted practices in government management and operations and almost overnight forced a shift to online processes and digital technologies. It also changed how and where many municipal employees do their work. This change has unlocked opportunities to build a new civic future.
- Local leaders will need to address numerous policy issues raised by these changes. The pandemic surfaced many government workplace issues, such as working remotely and cross-functional job sharing, and the introduction of artificial intelligence to support service delivery. This shift may become permanent and raises a number of policy issues that have implications for employees and those they serve in the public.
- Many organizations are rethinking the nature of who work gets done based on lessons learned from productivity of telework during the pandemic. Developing flexible workspace arrangements, secure access for “work from anywhere” organizations, and a culture that focuses on the outcome of work done will contribute to a new model of success for government.
- Expectations of individuals and communities will focus on access to continued online services even after conditions merit reopening of government facilities. Building a hybrid operating model to engage with citizens that adopts consistent standards for customer experience will be necessary for successful government performance.
- Cities and counties across the country are leading the way in understanding how to deliver COVID and other services to communities in need, who suffer disproportionately during the pandemic. Governments are looking at data on impact and interventions that show how programs can be tailored to ensure equity in response, so that traditionally underserved communities are not left behind.
- Governments must anticipate risks and develop data-driven programs to mitigate risks, respond to events, and be resilient in the aftermath of inevitable threats that face agencies at all levels. Both physical and cyber risks can pose existential challenges to government interactions with the public, and government leaders can best respond by incorporating risk as a critical operational component for all programs.
- Unprecedented demand on public procurement in response to COVID-19 pandemic reveal significant vulnerabilities in government supply chains and procurement processes. The pandemic offers the opportunity to consider how governments can make contracting more resilient going forward. This pandemic reinforced the need to harden public procurement against significant threats and disruptions. To meet this “resilience imperative,” governments must integrate comprehensive risk management into procurement systems, policies, and business practices.
- Developing an effective federal supply chain system that is more resilient and immune to shocks and disruptions and better positioned to respond to future national emergencies must have the following attributes: flexibility, traceability, responsiveness, and global independence
We hope that government leaders and stakeholders across the country and around the world find the insights in this special report helpful as they adopt changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic into their longer term operations.