The agility of governments was dramatically heightened – practically overnight – during the pandemic’s rapid, sweeping and devastating impact. The simultaneous eruption of health and economic emergencies forced governments into uncharacteristically rapid response modes.

We witnessed rarely seen levels of interaction, innovation, support and short-term spending in the race to help the public. That represents a marked shift from the traditionally slower moving, due-process approach that typically devotes significant time and resources to meticulous planning, balancing of conflicting requirements and demands, and managing of the ‘big P’ political agenda.

The pandemic has proven the potential of governments everywhere to dramatically heighten their agility, slash response times and meet public needs. Witness the rapid launch of new services, benefits and emergency processes that include temporary hospitals and digital health solutions, 24/7 call centers and hefty stimulus packages. And the rapid change will ideally do much over time to enhance public trust in government going forward.

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Restoring trust in government

It’s worth noting that, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, businesses have replaced government as the most-trusted institution. A 2019 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report  found that only 37 percent of people in OCED jurisdictions considered that they had a say in what their governments did. The report further recommended that if governments took a people-centric approach to policy making and service delivery, they could rebuild trust in public administration.

Looking forward, many governments will be undertaking the largest logistical challenge in the past 50 years as they mobilize and rapidly distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to their populations. Along the way, of course, supply chains and procurement functions will need to be restructured and modernized. The pandemic has clearly revealed the fragility of supply chains and governments are now addressing how to rebuild and diversify them in order to make them more agile, modular, transparent and resilient.

It is vital for governments to establish visibility over all key supply chains in order to maintain agile and trusted operations. This will best be achieved through technology and smart use of data and a predictive supply chain toolset.

The future is rapid and responsive. Governments can continue to evolve by building new capabilities for agility that ideally will position them to readily move in and out of the roles that they hold in providing public programs and services.

While roles such as policy making, regulation and funding will remain central, agile new approaches will enable governments to collaborate, partner and interact more responsively and cost-effectively with the public, private industry and the marketplace. And this is already becoming critical as we look to a future that likely will be characterized by continued low economic growth and the need for creative solutions that harness emerging opportunities amid rapid change.

Opportunities for progress in a low-growth era

Sustained low economic growth will likely pose challenges – and new opportunities – for governments to finance and deliver innovative programs and services, while also positioning themselves to manage issues that include: the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the next inevitable health emergency; natural disasters and climate change; aging populations; evolving demographics; economic and geopolitical uncertainty, national security and more. A tall order indeed.

Governments will need to be responsive in revolutionary new ways, pursuing an agile, ‘rapid-service design’ model that can turn emerging challenges into opportunities for advancement. Localized place-based solutions will likely gain prominence to allow governments to respond to challenges and issues with new levels of precision and speed.

Modern, agile government should move in and out of thriving industries to support their continued growth and success, at the same time delivering crucial support to those sectors enduring economic challenges that include large cohorts of workers reaching or nearing retirement age, mounting talent shortages and the need to augment existing workforces with new digital skillsets. As a significant employer globally, governments should also be in a position to stimulate significant job creation in partnership with industry.

Modern government has the opportunity to continually enhance its role as an economic steward, replacing decades of rhetoric with bold new intentions and intervening far more proactively to support the marketplace and foster progress.

Key takeaways

Governments should embrace agile approaches to working and embed rapid-service design into normal operations for policy and services. Greater reliance on place-based solutions will enhance the precision and speed of responses to challenges, issues and disaster scenarios.

Modern governments may play a greater role as economic stewards to drive economic growth via innovation and initiatives.