In the wake of a historic global health and economic emergency – one that has demonstrated governments’ ability to act decisively and with unprecedented speed – can we expect publics to tolerate governments that embrace traditional approaches to service delivery?

It appears unlikely, in the view of this report’s author and contributors. The playing field has shifted, and the high expectations of today’s digital consumer society will no doubt be applied increasingly to governments for smart, secure use of technology and data, trusted and personalized services, faster response times, heightened transparency and greater accountability.

The pandemic has cut across the status quo and unlocked new ways of working that have been relatively successful and subject to ongoing improvements. In effect, the pandemic has precipitated a new way of ‘incubating’ innovation at an unheard-of pace – and one that governments traditionally have been averse to pursuing.

The pandemic has thereby shown a change in governments’ risk appetite regarding its processes, delivering in the current environment digital technology implementation, real-time results tracking, smart data use and electronic prescribing – all of which have been on government to-do lists for years without substantial progress.

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Higher risk, heightened responses

This dramatic change in risk appetite has been driven by necessity. Governments have been forced to accept a higher risk posture in the face of the pandemic’s massive impact and the need for vastly accelerated decision making and reaction times.

In many instances, effective government responses to the pandemic have come at the expense of the usual rigor and diligence required of governments. To support people and economies, governments have relaxed spending rules, implemented rapid change and taken shortcuts that may expose them to risk.

The risk landscape in the post-pandemic new reality will likely be one that has emerged through each phase of the crisis, for instance:

  • Many of the actions taken in the initial crisis reaction phase will need to be safely wound down over time, such as support payments, or they will need to be strengthened and moved to a sustainable footing.
  • Resilience measures, such as new supply chains, will need to be tested and amended to ensure alignment, and reduce risk, to government outcomes and mission.

In managing risk, leaders should ensure that the control environment accelerates, rather than forcing the business of government to slow down. Having assurance frameworks in place to accurately measure the impact of government actions and programs will also emerge to reinforce agility and enhance future responses.  

Effective execution remains a ‘struggle’

We expect governments may recognize the wisdom of staying the course rather than slipping back to a traditional approach. Governments have no doubt learned that, unlike past reliance on high levels of preparedness, due process and fully baked programs deemed optimal for delivery, the future will be more about heightened responsiveness that exploits the power and reliability of digital technology, data use and self-service capabilities.

“Governments are pretty well attuned to the risk issues they face – the true challenge lies in government’s ability to execute and implement,” says Liz Forsyth, KPMG Global Head, Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare. “Government can consider risk very competently but its most-significant risk today lies in its response. Governments struggle with that. Execution and implementation represent significant challenges, particularly in a very time-constrained environment such as we’ve seen during the pandemic.”

Saudi Arabia, for example, has seen “a much more self-forgiving government that is taking action as needed while allowing itself to perfect its approach later,” says Ismail Alani, Head of Government and Public Sector at KPMG in Saudi Arabia. “Acting fast rather than acting ‘spot on’ has become the norm. This is especially tangible in digitalization of the customer experience, where a certain level of error and risk is now allowed to implement new technologies.”

Reshaping approaches in order to accept a higher level of ambiguity concerning risk – as seen everywhere during the pandemic – is the way forward. Dynamic risk approaches will ideally include real-time visibility of program implementation and transparency. Risks can be quickly identified and mitigated, and the performance of programs and services can be both sustained and demonstrated by a strong evidence base.

Key takeaways

The pandemic has prompted a rapid and radical change in risk appetite and posture as nations race to meet today’s emergencies. This dramatic change driven by necessity reflects future possibilities for a modernized approach to risk – one that will significantly accelerate program development, delivery and performance.

Having assurance frameworks in place to accurately measure the impact of government actions and programs will reinforce agility and enhance future responses. Government can be confident that the impact of its investment or intervention aligns with expectations and decision making.