THE COVID-19 IMPACT HAS FORCED EVERYONE GLOBALLY TO REIMAGINE THE FUTURE OF GOVERNMENT.
FUTURE OF GOVERNMENT
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 impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its threat to lives and livelihoods, has brought these challenges into sharper focus and everyone asking how do we build more robust public services? How do we develop economies that create fairer rewards? At the same time, the innovation, creativity and agility that some governments showed in their response to the crisis points the way to a more fundamental reimagining of how governments can better serve their citizens in the future. Governments need to turn to technology now more than evert o transform so they can be more responsive and agile to change that is here to stay.
Government should look at creating a new growth strategy. Governments will play a central role in enabling an economic recovery after the pandemic. Making the right choices now will boost future productivity and long-term economic competitiveness. Many governments have chosen to support some companies and sectors where it yields economic or social benefits during the pandemic. For example, governments in 57 countries have committed almost US$159 billion in relief measures for airlines.1 Governments will also have a critical role to play in developing competition, skills and innovation policies to equip businesses with the confidence and resources they need to invest and grow. A strong focus on job creation in hard-hit regions is important, given the very high unemployment rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also vital to provide support for R&D in key sectors that are likely to provide long-term employment and growth opportunities. Start-ups, for example, have emerged as important drivers of growth and job creation, and are often a catalyst for radical innovation; many governments have responded with measures to support them through the crisis.
Governments have a critical role to play in developing competition, skills and innovation policies to equip businesses with the confidence and resources they need to invest and grow.
Update resilience plans. Removing weaknesses that leave economies open to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed global supply chain vulnerabilities. It has demonstrated the importance of flexible and agile supply chains, and of relationships with highly trusted traders, most obviously for the supply of health and pharmaceutical products. In the aftermath of the crisis, reshoring has emerged as a strategy for building resilience. Some governments have responded by mandating onshore R&D, and manufacturing and stockpiling of pharmaceuticals, medical gear such as ventilators and test systems, and personal protective equipment (PPE), as they place greater emphasis on self-reliance. In May 2020, for example, the US Government authorized the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to issue loans and encourage the reshoring of strategic sectors, such as medical goods, digital health, life sciences, data science and advanced technology. Such measures are a sensible response to the crisis, but we also need to guard against overshoot.
The pandemic has shown us how reliant we all are on essential workers to feed and protect us in times of adversity. Paradoxically, while the status and risk involved with being a key worker have never been higher, low pay and lack of benefits continue to be hallmarks of these professions. Physical safeguarding will be a basic priority, along with new reward structures, such as minimum living wages, bonuses, priority access to services and corporate discounts. Job quality and status should be centre stage, along with stronger employment rights and policies to empower working people.
Be an active investor. How stakes in the economy can be an opportunity not a burden. Many governments will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis holding a large portfolio of loans to businesses, equity stakes and newly state-owned assets, as they step in to fill the gaps left by private financial institutions and help companies survive to the other side of the pandemic. These investments can be viewed as an opportunity, not a burden, if governments actively manage assets to serve the long-term public interest and boost economic growth, employment, and resilience. Governments can also think creatively about managing their portfolio. One suggestion is to take all the loans, convert them into equity and create special purpose vehicles through which they manage investments for the public’s benefit. In this way, all citizens would have a collective stake in the domestic economy.
RESHAPING PUBLIC SERVICES AND REVITALIZING LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Public services and social protection systems have been put under severe strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bold policies, such as a universal basic income, may need to be considered to ensure vulnerable people are protected. Governments can empower local areas, so that they can extend the community spirit shown during the crisis. The pandemic has put public services under huge pressure, and its economic legacy will place a further strain on social protection systems. This is exacerbated by the instability of employment practices, such as part-time work and zero-hours contracts; high youth unemployment; and a continuing gender employment and pay gap. We need a new social contract that reflects these twenty-first century realities. Such reforms would take account of changes in work, technology, and family structures, and involve an overhaul of employment regulations, social security protections and the pensions system. Reform social protection and care systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the urgency of social protection reform into stark relief. It has intensified many existing social problems and has disproportionately affected some of the more vulnerable segments of society. In the years ahead, governments will be called upon to support larger numbers of vulnerable people, and to do it better. But most of the world — 71% or 5.2 billion people are inadequately or not at all covered by social-protection schemes. The current crisis could serve as the catalyst for a new social contract, just as the Second World War led to a significant expansion of the welfare state in many countries. Indeed, people may now be receptive to radical reform, having felt a new sense of connection with and responsibility for their fellow citizens during the pandemic.
A global shortage of around 13.6 million long-term care workers, combined with the lack of universal health care coverage, means that close to half of the population aged 65 and above has unmet care needs
Embed digital public service delivery models. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen more governments turn to new technologies and delivery models to help them tackle multiple dimensions of the crisis. The greater adoption of digital channels across social services, health, education, justice and taxation during the pandemic offers the potential for many long-term benefits in terms of quality and accessibility of services, as well as efficiency gains. For example, new digital platforms have helped citizens better understand and navigate social services entitlements, check their eligibility, and submit and track applications. And, we have seen an upsurge in digital health solutions such as remote consultations, telehealth platforms and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered assessment apps, which many users have found convenient. Some services will return to a “face-to-face” model once it is safe to do so. However, in many cases, a hybrid model is likely to emerge, blending new digital delivery mechanisms with the best of traditional, in-person services. For example, in the early days of the pandemic, students in many countries moved to the remote learning model within days. The temporary shift gave education providers a chance to think about the opportunities for ongoing student-centric and digital learning that can offer real benefits in terms of outcomes. To ensure digital services are accessible to all, many governments are considering investing in (or regulating for) the creation of supporting infrastructure such as 5G and broadband. 5G will provide the connectivity that will transform the lives of billions of citizens, enabling working from home, improved mobility, telehealth and online education. In India, the Kerala Government has announced that it will provide extra 5G bandwidth across the state as more people work and study online due to COVID-19. Re-empower local communities. A new settlement between central and local government. Whether through greater support for neighbours in need or simply through spending more time using local shops, parks and services, communities have come together strongly during the COVID-19 crisis. Many countries have created avenues to take food to those in need in the community. It is this kind of community spirit that will help citizens rebuild their communities and social infrastructure, delivering grassroots solutions that fuel positive changes. This spirit can be captured and sustained by encouraging more participative governance and re-empowering local communities to take leading roles in social care, town planning and service provision. Tackle inequality. Planning for a fairer economy and society. The crisis has exposed long standing, structural inequalities in society, such as life-expectancy gaps, poverty, food insecurity, unequal access to health and social services, racist and identity-based violence, and employment in low-wages and less secure jobs. Meanwhile, a statistic revealed the world’s billionaires have a combined wealth that is more than 60% of the global population. Evidence suggests that the recession will have a more prolonged impact on low-income workers. One option is for governments to put a greater emphasis on active labour market policies (ALMPs) that can help unemployed and low-income workers find jobs or retrain. These ALMPs could include targeted tax incentives that encourage job creation and skills development in hardest-hit and future-oriented sectors. In the short term, ALMPs could also target stimulus relief linked to guarantees of job security and training.
RETAINING AND EXTENDING INNOVATIVE WAYS OF WORKING
The future of government means looking inward to more agile and imaginative working, and outward to partners in innovation. Many governments proved to be agile and innovative when the COVID-19 crisis hit. This spirit of creativity and imagination should extend beyond crisis management into everyday working. Governments and individuals can benefit if data is managed and used responsibly. As governments act to save lives and livelihoods in the COVID-19 crisis, it is clear the pandemic is reshaping our societies permanently. It is also forcing governments to transform quicker than they have done before. Embed innovative and agile practices. Building a more agile public sector workforce. Governments have demonstrated extraordinary levels of innovation and agility compared to normal times, solving problems swiftly, taking risks, and repurposing teams and assets at speed to address fast moving challenges. This welcome development could be fostered by identifying and replicating the processes that underpinned the new decision-making and resource-allocation processes. Governments can also secure the new agility of public sector workforces by formalizing agile working practices, for example, through flexible or remote working and the rapid adjustments of roles to meet changing needs. Since very few governments were working in this way prior to the crisis, many technological, cultural and process changes were required in a very short period of time, and these may need to be evaluated and formalized. The Indian Government, for example, has developed a draft framework for working from home and a new set of standard operating procedures to ensure the continued smooth and seamless functioning of the Government. Promote the importance of science and data. Using science and data comprehensively, but responsibly. Scientific expertise and good data have been huge assets in this crisis, and evidence-based policymaking has made a welcome return to the centre stage. The pandemic has led to the largest exchange of scientific data in history. The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), for example, is harnessing the collective efforts of the global scientific community by creating a one-stop shop for data, knowledge and intellectual property relating to diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and any other tools that may work against COVID-19. Many countries, states and local government agencies are also using data and analytics to identify those individuals and entities who need the most assistance and target their support effectively. In future, the public will want to see governments demonstrate, and even insist on, strong scientific and evidential support for policies, not only within the medical sphere, but also with other pressing problems, such as long-term unemployment and the climate crisis. But it is also vital that governments guard against the misuse of data by strengthening regulations around use of people’s personal data. This can be achieved by giving citizens more control over how their data is used and by developing rules to manage ethical concerns over the use of new tools such as AI. Greater transparency and the willing cooperation of a well-informed public will be vital to build trust and help people make more informed personal choices. Encryption and other leading cybersecurity practices for data security and privacy will be crucial to prevent data misuse.
The crisis has underlined the importance of collective leadership in tackling global challenges.
Forge a new partnership with individuals. Responsive government and active citizens. In many countries, there is a growing sense that the altruistic spirit shown by citizens during COVID-19 could be nurtured and continued after the crisis. In the US, more than 5,500 technology-specialist volunteers stepped up to join the non-profit US Digital Reserve (USDR), which is supporting government agencies with the rapid switch to digital working. It has since been announced that USDR intends to continue its efforts and expand its remit.
This new community spirit has been accompanied by significant innovation in the type and extent of communication between governments and individuals. Many governments have used digital information portals, AI chatbots, mobile apps and social media platforms to connect with people and ensure that they are well informed about the virus, and can protect their own health and wellbeing. New digital e-participation tools have allowed governments to collect input from citizens on a large scale thereby increasing trust, while at the same time providing insights to enrich their own decision-making processes. This transparent sharing of data and evidence has also helped build trust within communities and ensured public acceptance of radical measures such as lockdowns. The next few years could see nations and cities testing different models for participatory engagement to identify, debate and decide on a wide range of topics. Cities, for example, are emerging as creative centres of digital democracy.
REPAIRING PUBLIC FINANCES
Structural deficits and austerity both threaten economic health. Here’s how governments can steer a safer path. In brief: – The COVID-19 crisis has seen sharp rises in public spending, leading to public debt levels that could cause serious economic damage, the crisis has exposed the dangers of under-resourced public services and programs, so there is little appetite for austerity and Governments can use data and technology to reduce the cost of administering public finances and improve how they collect taxes.