Public Service Planning for a Post-COVID-19 Environment

8 minute read

Preparing for the Future while Navigating the Present

Summary

Coming out of COVID-19, we know that governments will face a changed environment that will include paradigm shifts in citizen expectations, the nature of work, the role of government, the use of technology, the delivery of health care, and government internal policies and procedures, to name a few.

Governments have responded to the crisis in two ways: by ramping up (e.g. healthcare, economic support) or shutting down. Neither is sustainable. In preparation for the new normal, now is the time for governments and their organizations to assess, understand and address the impact of the COVID-19 experience on their mandates, roles, priorities, relationships with stakeholders and how they do business.

This is fast-moving environment. The focus, quite properly, is on the present situation.

Just as important is the future, the extent to which government is prepared and able to provide leadership with realigned policies, regulation, and sectoral interventions when emerging on other side of the crisis.

Preparing the Public Service for the Future

There is a need for government organizations to review two key areas to determine their implications for a post-COVID19 environment:

  • Policy, program and service delivery mandates and roles;
  • Procedures and processes that have been adopted in response to the crisis.

They must identify the lessons learned and long-term impact of changes, including innovations and streamlined actions, that your organization is undergoing as a result of COVID-19.

What needs to happen

Government organisations need to:

  • Launch a structured, ongoing assessment of the changes the organization is undergoing;
  • Ensure worthwhile innovations and approaches adopted during the COVID-19 response period are considered as opportunities for continuation and integration in ongoing policy;
  • Identify those issues which require revisiting and determine the triggers for making long-term decisions in this fast-moving environment;
  • Develop a plan for the future.

The Institute on Governance

As a not-for-profit with 30 years’ experience supporting good government, the IOG can ease the burden as your organization prepares for the future.

The Institute on Governance, as an external, not-for-profit with deep experience working with federal departments and officials, has developed an approach that will help the public service prepare for the future.

Our approach is based on four phases of government response to the pandemic: Reacting, Re-Alignment; Re-Invention and Re-Focus; and Moving Forward. Each phase requires decisions, based on data-driven analysis of evolving citizen, provincial/territorial, regional and sectoral concerns and priorities, as well as their expectations of the role of the federal government.

The IOG can work with government organizations to support their future planning for a ‘new normal’.

We would do so by

  • Partnering with organizational officials, bringing added capacity at this busy time;
  • Bringing, as an external, independent organization with deep experience working with federal departments and officials, an outside perspective and awareness of macro-trends;
  • Linking specific issues with relevant developments in other jurisdictions and other levels of government;
  • Leveraging our network of hundreds of senior public servants across the government from our courses and leadership programs for input and advice.

IOG’s Four Phases of COVID

The IOG’s framework for assisting organizational preparation for a post-COVID reality is based on the analysis and assessment of four intersecting phases.

Phase 1: Immediate responses – identifying what was changed and how it has worked.

These refer to the actions being implemented while the crisis is in full motion. Government organizations have had to develop and deploy interventions “on the fly”, reducing traditional review and assessment processes. Some measures, taken by departments themselves or by other levels of government and jurisdictions toward the same end, will prove to be effective and efficient innovations which have catalyzed the introduction of new technology or eliminated red tape which has accumulated over the years. Other temporary work-arounds have purposefully short-circuited important governance and accountability will be short-lived.

Government organizations need to track and assess immediate responses in an organized way, so as to support coordinated and prioritized actions on the other side of the crisis

Four Phases To Normal

Phase 2: Sustaining efforts actions ensuring businesses, citizens and other stakeholders can survive through the duration crisis.

Government organizations are developing and implementing a range of additional measures designed to ensure the population and economy can survive the crisis. As the shock effect of COVID evolves, and the consequential impacts of immediate actions cause ripple effects, the array of sustaining actions implemented (such as delayed tax filing deadlines) may have significant internal and external knock-on implications (both foreseen and unforeseen) which need to be proactively identified and planned for from a business-planning perspective. Forward and horizontal impacts of sustaining actions will need to be flagged and planned for by departments.

Phase 3: The “restart” planning how best to transition back to “normalcy”

While the duration of the economic and societal shutdown is yet to be determined, we know that a return to so-called normalcy will not be uniform or instantaneous. Some sectors, business and societal behaviours and underpinnings will never return to the past normal. Government planning for the “restart” phase can include tracking the key resumption of business planning efforts, as well as the identification of areas where external impacts and dependencies will require departments to identify and initiate revised policy and business models which will respond to their changed operating environment.

Phase 4: Renewal and reinvention Leveraging lessons learned regarding vulnerabilities as well as successes and failures in other jurisdictions to identify and implement transformation.

The end of the immediate COVID crisis will inevitably lead to a different and incremental set of potential pressures for governments. In anticipation of this phase, government organizations have a unique, once a generation opportunity to identify issues and areas where significant, proactive change can both respond to constraining imperatives or pressures, and at the same time advance innovative or transformative initiatives in their areas of responsibility. Anticipating, and identifying issues for this phase requires deliberate forethought, and provides the opportunity to seize competitive advantage to achieve improved societal outcomes. Taking steps now to ensure an active monitoring of the external environment and assessment of implications for departmental mandates and roles, may help to ensure renewal and reinvention opportunities are not overlooked.

In each of the above phases, government organizations are taking different categories of actions (policy and regulation; program and service delivery, workplace management, administration, governance, and communications). Grouping actions and identifying linkages, can support an organized approach to planning and assigning leadership responsibilities for follow-on actions.

The IOG’s Method

The IOG’s flexible approach is designed to yield a forward looking, external source of perspective on government organizations’ COVID initiatives in order to complement traditional and ongoing intra-departmental planning and management processes that have been established for COVID related initiatives. Our approach can include:

A) Issue identification and monitoring

This could include information gathering by telephone with one or more key officials from different functional areas who can contribute to the identification of issues relevant to each phase of the COVID crisis for planning and tracking purposes. We can review relevant documents and tracking information to assemble an organized and comprehensive document representing key initiatives, challenges, and known implications. Alternatively, we can operate collaboratively in a partnered approach with departmental official(s) who may be internally dedicated to tracking immediate COVID actions and initiatives.

B) Research & comparative analysis

Based on a tailored and approved set of issues and initiatives addressing organizational priorities, we can conduct external scanning, topical research and issue analysis. Areas of comparison can include, other government organizations, other levels of government, private sector initiatives, and the actions and initiatives of governments in other jurisdictions. We can provide methodical and ongoing monitoring of external environmental issues, and thought leader commentary, where a government organization lacks the time or mechanism to adopt a proactive, externally focused approach. We can contact identified stakeholders or partners to collect initiative specific feedback or issue identification.

C) Assessments and recommendations

Based on identified feedback and needs, we can provide periodic and rolled-up analysis and commentary on identified issues relating to all phases of a government organization’s COVID activities. Where appropriate, we can also conduct initiative specific research and provide a neutral analysis and recommendations on potential future issues and challenges that may require transformative planning work.

Our Experience

The IOG is a non-partisan, experienced, and knowledgeable organization that has a solid understanding of the public sector governance landscape in Canada. We have deep expertise in systematically assessing public sector governance arrangements, as well as programs and policies which require consideration of a complex range of needs and dimensions. We often work with federal subject matter experts to crystalize and identify key issues and provide an external perspective. This includes work on federal issues and program initiatives involving federal-provincial-territorial and international bodies and governance considerations. Through our prior work with all three levels of government, and our knowledge of the external environment, we can provide a pragmatic and relevant analytical and monitoring perspective on COVID related challenges and issues.

Deliverables

The IOG’s analytic products are developed in collaboration with officials based on specific needs and in order to support internal management processes. These can include:

  • Scans and frameworks to identify issues, priorities, implications and linkages;
  • Research, analysis, external commentary and insight on a periodic or milestone-oriented schedule;
  • Summative reporting for consideration in department post-COVID workplans; and
  • Specific Assessments and Recommendations (by issue or initiative).

About the authors

Toby Fyfe

Toby Fyfe

President

Toby Fyfe is President and CEO of the Canada-based, not-for-profit Institute on Governance. He is focusing with his team on providing support to government institutions and leaders as they respond to the challenges of public sector governance in the 21st century.

Before assuming this role, he was Vice-President of the Learning Lab at the IOG where he led the IOG’s public sector leadership and capacity-building programs and courses providing tools for, and insights to, executives and officers at all levels of government.

He spent over twenty years with the government of Canada in central agencies (Privy Council Office, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat) and government departments. His last post was as Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Services at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Before he joined the Institute, he worked with the Commissioner of the RCMP on a change initiative.

Toby was an Adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Ottawa and was editor-in-chief of Canadian Government Executive magazine for five years.

He was a broadcaster with CBC radio and television for 17 years where he produced programs such as The House, Cross Country Checkup, and the first commercial-free version of Ottawa Morning.

He has an MA from the University of Ottawa and has attended the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program.

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Brad Graham

Brad Graham

Vice President, Toronto

Brad Graham is Vice President of the Institute on Governance (IOG), Toronto. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. An economist, Brad spent 25 years in the Ontario Public Service including as Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ministries of Public Infrastructure, Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Research and Innovation. He held other senior positions in the Ministries of Health and Finance. Brad Graham was awarded Ontario’s Amethyst Award for excellence in public service.

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