The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge unlike any that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes.
A pandemic urgently demonstrates the importance of effective government. And accordingly, government is at the heart of the response to this crisis.
We have begun to work with our partners in national and local governments around the world to consider how governments can effectively respond to the crisis, manage their other priorities through it, and plan for recovery after it. Through this work, we’ve reached three tentative conclusions that may inform the work ahead:
The world is flat (for now): As long as social distancing lasts, for many of us, a person halfway around the world is now as “close” to us as a person who works in the same office. Anyone anywhere can help with the urgent work that needs to be done.
It will stay that way – at least in part: Even after the crisis, demand for digital and remote capabilities will be permanently higher. Governments can meet this demand with reforms that improve lives: more responsive digital services, lower commute times and congestion, and lower pollution and climate impact.
Inequitable recovery is likely, but not inevitable: This crisis will hit marginalised communities the hardest, and when a remedy arrives, it will reach them last – unless we collectively decide otherwise.
What we’re doing (and planning) with our partners to help
With this in mind, we have begun to work with our partners – from prime ministers’ offices to city governments to national and local health and education systems – to plan and implement responses to the crisis. Based on this work, we have identified a few recommendations for governments seeking to manage their response to the crisis while continuing to deliver public impact where it matters most.
Short term (right now)
Drive outcomes that matter today: Use best practices in delivery, analytics, and performance management to track COVID-19 cases and outcomes, trace contacts, deploy medical personnel and equipment, and ensure continuity of essential services.
Prioritise work that needs to continue: Beyond the response to COVID-19, use these tools to refine existing strategy and keep a small number of important priorities on track despite the crisis.
Spend recovery money effectively: An influx of money is coming from national rescue packages. Use best practices in delivery to ensure that it isn’t channeled into old ways of doing things (or worse) but is used effectively, spent equitably and drives innovation.
Organise to deliver: Radically rethink the way governments are structured to operate in this new world, from changing capacities to support digital service delivery, to rethinking the delivery chain to impact stakeholders, to streamlining decision-making processes. Organise to manage the crisis, but don’t organise only to manage the crisis.
Support remote working for those learning it: Share best practices, train staff, and facilitate virtual meetings/workshops to support tactical decision-making.
Crowdsource solutions: Share success stories and go deep on some of the most promising practices to document and share them in real time with the wider world. There are already massive amounts of data emerging about what governments are doing to respond to the crisis.
Medium term (as we settle into a new normal)
Let necessity drive digital innovation: Governments will need protocols for returning to remote working on a moment’s notice. This requires designing and deploying essential digital services, getting the right tools in place and building staff capacity.
Make the best ideas permanent: What assumptions or constraints did we live with before the crisis - on service design, policy and services delivery, decision-making, telecommuting, and travel – that turned out to be totally unnecessary? Capture these lessons to drive fundamental improvements to the way government works.
Longer term (as we emerge from the worst of it)
Rebuild better: The recovery should not take us by surprise the same way the crisis did. Plan now for the transition back, with a focus on equitable deployment of solutions and post-crisis recovery that focuses on the most medically, socially, and economically vulnerable.
Improve preparedness: The end of this crisis should not stop us from planning for the next one. Identify the crisis responses that produced the best outcomes around the world and use that to craft a playbook for the future.
COVID-19 is a once-in-a-generation challenge. It is also a moment for demonstrating the good that government can do in people’s lives. Let’s rise to meet that moment together.