COVID Act Two: Look beyond your borders to navigate what comes next

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington and Ben French

Act One of Covid is over. In places it has been frightening, in others orderly, and everywhere completely unprecedented. As we move into Act Two of this astonishing global drama, and a global recession on a scale not seen before, governments and leaders need to prepare themselves for what comes next and the big questions that will define whether countries sink or swim.

A defining feature of Act One was the seeming uniformity of the pandemic. It felt like the whole world was brought together by a shared experience – fighting a merciless enemy that swept the world and respected no language or national boundary. This feeling was also often matched by a striking uniformity of response – regardless of context, governments in almost every country pulled the lockdown lever to suffocate and slow the virus.

With the curtain coming down on Act One, we find ourselves wondering: was this uniformity of experience real or imagined? It may have been a mirage. Looking closely Act One has been a vastly different experience across countries. Whereas Europe and the US have seen massive caseloads, the predicted tsunami in Africa has yet failed to materialize, even after acknowledging the lack of data. In other places like Pakistan or Indonesia the crisis looks set to smoulder, with periodic flare ups. This divergence belies the impression of uniformity – an impression that may have had more to do with where headlines are generated than any true homogeneity of experience. The reality of Covid has been extremely heterogenous.

This brings us to Act Two. So far, the policy debate has focused on how to manage the pandemic and economic shocks. The result has been a narrow focus on managing the pandemic and its economic consequences in the present, and within countries’ own borders. As governments move into the recovery phase and start thinking about the subsequent waves, a more nuanced view of the evolving situation must take hold.

In the early stages of this crisis, it was the hyper-connected parts of the world that were impacted most. The more connected a country and its economy were to the rest of the world, the higher and faster the caseload. This is common sense – places with a huge through-traffic of travellers and visitors (like London, New York, Hong Kong), and more infrastructure, had far greater probability of transmission than Lilongwe or Lapland. In Act One, interconnectedness was a risk factor – it created vulnerability as travellers, tourists and flights became disease carriers. And to compound things, interconnected economies have suffered more initially – from loss of exports, loss of remittances, loss of investment. Meanwhile, those places with less inter-connection were sheltered from the storm, or at least suffered a slower spread. Continue reading COVID Act Two: Look beyond your borders to navigate what comes next

Listen to our sixth virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis

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On May 1st, 2020, we hosted a sixth virtual discussion with Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on his new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series.

Thank you to ALL those who attended our sixth session and for engaging with us. If you missed the session, you can listen to it here or in the player below.

 

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

Growth after the Coronavirus: Thoughts and Questions

written by Matt Andrews

A lot of  people ask me how governments should support economic growth in the period ‘After Coronavirus’. It is a vital question that I wrestle with daily in preparing  for the forthcoming Leading Economic Growth Online executive education program (which I teach with my amazing colleague, Ricardo  Hausmann). Here are some of my personal thoughts on the issue.

1.  I believe we must focus on future growth, even if it seems misplaced in the current crisis

At times in the last few weeks I  have found myself asking if I am a little tone deaf focusing on how governments should be supporting growth tomorrow when many people are dying, starving or falling into deep poverty today. Then I remember that economic growth is actually key to helping those who are suffering today have better lives in the future. As my colleague Dani Rodrik wrote in One Economics, Many Recipes,  ‘Historically nothing has worked better than economic growth in enabling societies to improve the life chances of their members, including those at the very bottom.’ Dani’s comments echo studies that find many connections between growth, jobs, prosperity and well-being. I can’t see why these connections will matter less tomorrow than they did in the past, so we need to keep focusing on growth as a key to getting lots of other stuff right. To keep motivated in this work, I recommend that everyone focused on growth scour the literature to identify how growth does connect to other improvements in their country, city, or region.

2.  We should focus on growth as a means, not an end

We who work on growth should consider growth as a means to various ends, not an end in itself. Growth matters because it helps us achieve other ends we really care about—like ensuring our people have high quality work or access to education or better health care or (building on Dani  Rodrik’s words)  ‘improved life chances for our members’. When we develop our growth strategies it should be with these ends in mind, such that we promote the kind of growth that our society needs. This is really important because governments can foster growth in ways that undermine their real objectives. For example, I worked in a country where officials told me their biggest problem was that twenty-something university graduates were emigrating because they  did not  have good quality jobs (where the implied policy ‘end’ would be ‘more jobs for recent university graduates’ so that ‘college educated twenty-somethings emigrate less’). A consulting firm encouraged the country to pursue growth in tourism and mining, which it did, and which led to growth. Very few jobs in the newly expanded tourism and mining sectors went to the target population, however. As a result, the country’s growth did not achieve the needed objective or end. To ensure we focus our growth strategies on ends we really care about, I  recommend developing an ends means growth chart that (i) lists the key problems we hope growth will help to solve; (ii) suggests a simple theory on how growth can help address each problem; and (iii) we use to guide our choice of which growth opportunities to pursue and which to pass on. Continue reading Growth after the Coronavirus: Thoughts and Questions

Listen to our fifth virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis

On April 24th, 2020, we hosted a fourth virtual discussion with Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on his new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series.

Here are some of the questions he answered:

    • Since the pandemic requires quick decision making at the national level, this might pose a threat for democracies and citizen inclusiveness, how can countries (especially Developing ones) improve the inclusive decision making process especially when we see more digitalization in many areas of our lives.. perhaps big investments will be required on digital government.
    • Interesting point about more junior people being hired at this point. As the economy is slated to open up in stages (those with immunity first), my suspicion is that the younger, less risk population (likely fewer pre-existing conditions…age is one of them) will be allowed out first. What will this do for economic equality for middle-aged, older people whose retirement savings are likely decimated at this point?

Thank you to ALL those who attended our third session and for engaging with us. If you missed the session, you can listen to it here. We are now holding these virtual sessions every Friday morning at 9am EST. Follow our blog to get registration information!

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

COVID-19: Planning for Tomorrow’s Problems Today

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

When he started his blog series on crisis leadership on these pages, Matt Andrews asked: can public leaders navigate high winds and big waves in little boats? We could add to that question: how do you build the boat when you are already at sea and the storm is raging?

For most governments, the mechanisms to deal with this crisis did not exist, and existing ones were not designed for it. As a result, much of the response is being improvised in the middle of a hurricane, and more recent blog posts on  Liberia and Bahrain have explored this.

This challenge gives rise to a very common pattern: crisis responders will focus on the problems that have to be solved right now. It is a natural way to go about the job; prioritise what is urgent and solve the problem, then move on to the next. But anyone will familiar with the so-called Eisenhower matrix (‘Urgent versus Important’ 2×2 shown below) will know that we ignore ‘important but not urgent’ issues at our peril.

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Source: Vinita Bansal’s excellent Techtello article on ‘How to  Prioritise and  Master Productivity’

The current crisis is no different, and this post is dedicated to the problems which will become critical in the next few weeks and months as the crisis evolves, and which must be planned for (those in quadrant 2 of the matrix and need to be scheduled for action through strategic thinking  NOW). Leaders need to make sure they put in place resources to tackle these ‘tomorrow problems’.

COVID-19 is impacting every sector. But for simplicity’s sake, I am going to focus on the two main, broad dimensions of the crisis: the medical (or public health) side in this blog post, and the economic side in the next post. These two dimensions are intimately connected – what happens in one, including the policies implemented, profoundly affects the other. It’s vital to consider how these interdependencies will play out as the crisis evolves, and some countries are doing that already. But forward planning will be especially important in developing and transitional countries which have yet to bear the full brunt of the pandemic. Continue reading COVID-19: Planning for Tomorrow’s Problems Today

Public Leadership Through Crisis 19: How do political leaders commonly structure their roles?

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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This is the second of four blogs addressing questions about political engagement in crisis response organization. The questions are: Who are political  leaders and what roles do they play in crises?  How do political leaders commonly structure their roles? How can political leaders structure their roles more effectively? I will offer some thoughts on the second of these questions here and, as usual, ask questions for you to reflect on.

How do political leaders commonly structure their roles in crisis?

Let’s start with recognizing that political leaders differ in a myriad of ways, and  political  leaders organize themselves quite differently in response to crises as well (as shown in studies like this one from Christensen et al). Different structures often  reflect different personalities, political cultures, available tools, and more.

Even with the differences, some fairly commonly observed ways politicians respond to crises. One of these ‘common responses’ pertains to how they organize their response: Many politicians centralize and try to move towards a command and control deciding and operating mode.

This is the core observation of Paul ‘t Hart, Uriel Rosenthal and Alexander Kouzmin in their 1993 classic: “One of the more enduring ideas about governmental response to crisis is the expectation that government decision making becomes highly centralized.” Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 19: How do political leaders commonly structure their roles?

Public Leadership Through Crisis 18: Who are Political Leaders and What is their Role?

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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I have used a few blogs to discuss the need for governments to reorganize when facing crisis, adopting flat, fast and flexible structures. There are various versions of such structures but I propose a snowflake mechanism that allows one to have a central coordinating team (like a snowflake nucleus) that interact with organically emergent set of relating teams, all acting, learning and sharing with the full system.

I see this kind of mechanism operating in crisis responses like the 2014 Ebola experience in Liberia and the 2020 Covid-19 experience in Bahrain. These mechanisms allow for what Mark Moore calls the ‘decentralized mobilization of  energy’ where the entire governmental system works together to solve the crisis. Some might think this sounds like chaos, but it is the kind of mechanism needed when you face huge tasks fraught with unknowns and need rapid work and learning at scale.

A key question can be raised in designing such mechanism: “Where do political  leaders fit in?”

I will address four issues related to this question in the next set of blog posts:

  1. Who are political  leaders and what roles do they play in crises? 
  2. How do political leaders commonly structure their roles?
  3. How can political leaders structure their roles more effectively? And
  4. Is it ever appropriate to criticize political leaders during times of crisis?

In this blog I offer some thoughts on the first question and, as usual, ask questions for you to reflect on—thinking about the political leaders in your crisis situation and the roles they play.

Who are ‘political leaders’ and what roles do  they play  in crises?

There are many sets of political leaders in government. Perhaps the most obvious are the formal politicians who have been elected to run the executive operation of government (the President or Prime Minister, Governor or Mayor) and the formal politicians who have been elected to run the legislative branch of government (the Congress or Parliament or Town Council). Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 18: Who are Political Leaders and What is their Role?

Public Leadership Through crisis 17: ‘Keep an eye’ on how your crisis response impacts Public Value

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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This post captures the second part of my interview with Mark Moore (you can find the first part here). It asks how governments should think about public value in times of crisis—and especially about the potential public value tensions implied in choosing different courses of action in response to crises. For instance,

  • ‘Stay-at-home’ orders might promote public health (a public  value) but is this at  the expense of economic well-being (another public value)?
  • Rigorous contact tracing might promote public health (a public value) and even be key to helping countries break out of isolation and promote economic well-being (another public value) but is this at the expense of rights to privacy for  individuals (another public value)?

These tensions matter a lot, because the organized action of government always impacts on public value(s); creating and promoting some types of value and (potentially) undermining other types of value. Given that actions in times of crises are rapid and experimental, these impacts on value(s) can be particularly unexpected and unplanned. How does one manage such impacts?

As with prior blogs, I provide Mark’s video, then offer thoughts and questions for your reflection.

Mark begins answering my questions with some basic concepts from his work on public value, to help show how complicated the topic is—and how hard a challenge it is for governments to think clearly about the public value implications of their work (especially in times of crisis).

Continue reading Public Leadership Through crisis 17: ‘Keep an eye’ on how your crisis response impacts Public Value

Listen to our fourth virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis

On April 17th, 2020, we hosted a fourth virtual discussion with Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on his new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series.

Here are some of the questions he answered:

  • I am curious to explore the impact of the COVID-19 on the global value chain. For sure it impacted in a way the supply chain, but what will the global value chain post covid-19 be?
  • I would like to have your thoughts about the impact on the travel industry and possible evolving requirements for global travel going forward.
  • What will the role of public investment and public infrastructure? Do you expect a Keynes’ come back?
  • If we think about the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, how do we should change and improve a new narrative?

Thank you to ALL those who attended our third session and for engaging with us. If you missed the session, you can listen to it here. We are now holding these virtual sessions every Friday morning at 9am EST. Follow our blog to get registration information!

 

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

Public Leadership Through Crisis 16: Empowering work and learning, even if things seem chaotic

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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The last few blog posts have offered various lessons from practice – in Liberia’s 2014 Ebola crisis and Bahrain’s current Covid-19 crisis. I offered these lessons at this point partly because they provide excellent applied narratives on the importance of adopting fast, flat and flexible organizing structures when faced with crises. Regular readers will know that I like the ‘snowflake version’ of such structures (where many satellite teams locate themselves organically around a central coordinating  nuclear  team). I  will offer more detail on various aspects of these in-practice structures in posts to come – including how political leadership relates to the snowflake, what ‘nuclear’ teams could look like, what information flow through structures might be useful, how satellite teams can be identified, how work could be organized, etc.

In this post and the one that follows, however, I want to share the broader idea on why fast, flat and flexible structures are vital in the face of crisis, and offer thoughts on how leaders (or authorized supervisors) might see their role in such a system, and how leaders might navigate the public value concerns organizations face in crisis situations. 

To  offer these thoughts, I’d like to introduce readers (and viewers) to Mark Moore, a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School whose work on public management is legendary. His work on Public Value has had a significant impact on public policy education and thinking across the globe. He participated in a Zoom interview with me, and I am breaking it into two parts (one in this post and the other in the next post).

This part of the post reflects on Mark’s comments about the importance of leaders mobilizing work and learning through the crisis, even if it seems chaotic. Here is the video; my thoughts follow, with (as usual) a set of questions at the end for your reflection.

 

I began this discussion by asking Mark for thoughts on how to organize in chaos (often what crises pose for us), and particularly about the challenge of getting bureaucratic leaders to let go of controls and allow flexible coordination.  Mark responded by reflecting on the difficulties encountered during crisis: resources are overwhelmed and not in the right places, gaps persist, [my addition] people face a direct threat, and lack knowledge on exactly what to do.

Given this perspective, Mark notes, “the idea that we can manage our way out of crisis using plan and control is misplaced.” Existing organizing structures—and  the controls they provide—were not created for the crisis, are over-stressed by the  crisis, and do not allow the learning you need to deal with the crisis.

Mark opines, however, that you have an unusual asset in crises: “the urgency to do tasks”. He notes that, “During crises you can’t forget about the task [as organizations sometimes do]” … “The tasks are staring you in the face all the time.”

Mark suggests that the goal of leadership in times of crisis should be to leverage this urgency and promote learning through the creative action of ‘your people’. “Can  you depend on your people to just start acting, [and] report on what they do, so that information can be recorded and you as an organization can learn?

Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 16: Empowering work and learning, even if things seem chaotic