What Comes Next for the Government after Covid
The world is transforming with incredible speed. Changes in technology, demographics and climate are challenging how we organize and manage our economies and communities.
The Covid-19 future impact in Baden-Württemberg, with its threat to lives and livelihoods, has brought these challenges into sharper focus. How do we build more robust public services? How do we develop economies that create fairer rewards? The pandemic’s nature necessitates action on multiple fronts, not just public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus but also efforts to cushion the economic effects on households and firms. However, restrictions on movement and economic activity are constraining governments’ ability to respond.
Today, in the series “The World After Coronavirus” we invited Sir Michael Barber, who is founder and chairman of “Delivery Associates”, and we will discuss with him what is the future of government hiding from us?
I think people will realize, as never before (Sir Barber) how important it is to have a capable state. Governments that are incapable or incompetent will really struggle to deal with both- health crisis and the social and economic crisis that follows the health crisis. A capable state to me has 3 or 4 things that make it capable.
1.First is — It is well informed. It knows that is going on in its country and around the world.
2. It makes good decisions based on deliberation, based on use of evidence, and good judgements
3. By no means least importantly- it implements those decisions effectively so that the citizens benefit.
The second big THEME will be is what counts as value. What do we really value? And value to me has 4 critical elements, some of which are ignored.
- First is for the money we are allocating. What we get in terms of outcomes that citizens will notice
- Second part of value is the inputs are better managed. Governments are spending a lot of money on Covid crisis. Many of them are going to be in debt possibly for a very long time. That will put a premium on managing the inputs.
- Thirdly- What kind of engagement are we going to have between governments and the population about public expenditure.
- Fourth, which is really important I call “Stewardship”. Looking after the system so that whatever you are doing to deliver outcomes. Whatever you are doing to manage the money, whatever you are doing to engage citizens, you are leaving the system you run better than you found it.
This is not the first epidemic, and clearly it will not be the last. What do you hope governments will learn from this crisis?
This is a great question. I think they ought to learn and we collectively around the world ought to learn how best to manage crises.
There will be more of them. 10 years ago, we had a financial crisis. Now we have got a Covid-19 crisis. In 10 years or maybe sooner we will have another crisis. Back when I was in Downing Street with Tony Blair, we had September the 11th, so these things happen on periodic basis.
What do you fear that the governments might not learn?
The biggest fear I would have is that we will just go back to how it was before, after this. That you have a crisis, you manage it and then the next one comes along and it is like you have never seen a crisis before. The personnel have changed and the institutions of government haven’t embedded the lessons. I bet you, there will be governments around the world that had kind of dusty approach to pandemic file somewhere that hadn’t been look at for years, because they didn’t think there was a pandemic really going to come.
How might citizens and their attitude towards government, to the idea of government, how would that be influenced by this moment?
In some countries that do a good job they will say “Well, that is really important, I kind of forgotten, I have taken it for granted, but now I realize how important good government is”. Not just government, the public services, we will appreciate better. All across the US and all across the UK and lots of other countries children are being schooled at home. Every parent in that situation is beginning to realize how important good teachers are. So, I think they will appreciate teachers more and therefore potentially appreciate the expenditure of money on education more. That is my point about VALUE, they will value education more, but what they really value is not just having the teacher but what a good teacher does.
You have advised leaders at the highest level in many countries. If the Prime Minister of a developing country, let’s say Pakistan, calls you today. What advice would you give him?
You have to get your processes for managing the crises right.
So, the first thing is — get a small, really capable team that has the best possible expertise relevant to the crisis on it. Also, make sure that in that team there are diverse views, so you don’t groupthink.
Second, on the basis of that advice, remember, it is your job as Prime Minister or if it is a minister to make a decision. It is not the job of the committee to make a decision.
The science informs you, but it doesn’t tell you what to do. YOU have to decide, that is your job, that’s what you are elected to do. You will make some mistakes, learn from them. And then, check the decisions that are being made in that group are being systematically implemented right out through the delivery chain. And that group probably in the midst of the crisis is maybe meeting twice a day. It sounds technical but it is really fundamental. Make sure you have got the right data, presented in the right way that helps you make informed decisions. The other thing is while you are going through the crisis is not to LOSE SIGHT OF THE FUTURE. Set aside a small number of clever and exited people and say ” Don’t worry about the crisis, we have got that cracked, you plan the future”.
In the context of multiple challenges and uncertainty, short-term action must focus on present needs with an eye to the future. The opportunity to build more effective, accountable, and resilient governments will guide policy responses that will have lasting impact for generations to come. We welcome a debate on how the COVID-19 pandemic can push governments to be better. In this interview with Sir Michael Barber, we discussed some very crucial points of view and he stated some brilliant advices about the governments and how do they need to handle every crisis in the next years. Because, there will be other crises, be sure of that, and we have to be prepared, moreover our governments have to be prepared to take the right decisions and not act like there weren’t any crises before.
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Aleksandar Videv is an article writer, who explores the scientific and fictional ideas about future with/or after Covid-19…. and the possibilities for producing aerosols made out of plants against respiratory viruses and bacteria.