Posted: 21 Sep. 2020 4 min.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of agility in the public sector

Topic: Public

Let’s reset the clock and go back to the beginning of 2020. If someone had told us back then that within the next 24 hours governments would have to completely lockdown societies, many would probably shake their heads.

They shouldn’t. COVID-19 has shown that governments are able to do just that.

The entry of the COVID-19 virus required governments to make bold decisions at an unprecedented pace. We have witnessed this in several ways during the last months, for example when developing and implementing new solutions and the demanding legislation across sectors, almost overnight.

Looking ahead, this kind of agility will be even more important than ever.

Why? Because COVID-19 is just the latest and most comprehensive in a growing list of disrupters confronting governments. Disrupters such as artificial intelligence, cyberthreats and demographic shifts are dramatically transforming societies. Future events – no matter their shape and magnitude – will require governments to navigate effectively. Therefore, we need to pick-up all the learnings from recent months, where governments have truly stress-tested their organizations in order to adapt to the rapidly changing situations.

Creating agility and building foresight

One of the things, COVID-19 has taught us, is the importance of agility and foresight. Especially in moments of significant disruption when the cascade of new information can be overwhelming to decision-makers. 

A predictive approach helps shift the focus from cleaning up problems to preventing them.

After the SARS epidemic for instance, Asian nations like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea put in place epidemic tracking and containment systems. These were an asset while dealing with COVID-19. And we don’t even have to look that far to find inspiration. In 2018, Finland designed the ‘phenomenon-based public administration’ in order to reform operations in a more strategic, longer-term direction. The idea is to provide political leaders and public officials with tools that support them in strategic decision-making by identifying phenomena that are of importance for the future of Finland and require cross-sectoral policy solutions.

Coming out of the recent black swan event, COVID-19, governments need to institutionalize their ability to identify, act, and learn as circumstances change. That doesn’t necessarily require a separate foresight unit. Organizations can build these abilities by for instance engaging with academia, the private sector, and other parts of the public sector to understand risks and their implications. Budget and policy offices, government innovation offices, and other entities can come together to engage in strategic foresight exercises. The idea is to embrace uncertainty while actively taking steps to anticipate it.

This is the truly the right moment to start building these capabilities, which can be deployed not only in a crisis, but at all times. They are more important than ever. Without them, leaders and regulators risk finding themselves trying to catch up with changing citizen expectations, new business models, and innovative technologies in the future.

Therefore, my strongest piece of advice is to pick-up the learnings from the last six months – and accelerating the conversion to agile governments.

You can learn how to get started in Deloitte’s new insight report, How governments can navigate a disrupted world.

More about the author

Carsten Jørgensen

Carsten Jørgensen

Equity Partner

Specializes in the public sector, regulation and deregulation, reforms in the public sector and strategy. Carsten is managing partner for Government & Public Services in NSE (North South Europe). He has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant and advisor for the public sector, where he has led several highly complex analyses and larger transformation programs