Jun 15 2020

How Agencies Can Nurture Trust, Operational Excellence in a Post-Pandemic World

Government IT leaders should embrace and build upon existing capabilities, modernize both citizen and employee experiences, and turn data into actionable insights.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced government leaders to adapt to unprecedented conditions in order to provide for their citizens, whether that means coordinating safety regulations, unemployment benefits or education continuity. 

As states reflect on their pandemic responses and focus on reopening local economies, we’ll emerge from this crisis stronger and smarter — if we’re willing to learn from our experience.

READ MORE: Find out how Virginia CIO Nelson Moe led a rapid expansion of IT and network capacity.

The Case for a Digital Government

Over the course of more than 30 years working in government technology, I’ve never seen the public sector react and innovate at the rapid pace we’ve observed in recent months. In the process, however, it has both validated the case for digital government and put a spotlight on the growing divide among the digital haves and have-nots.

Certain states and municipalities already had modern technology platforms in place that allowed them to adapt to mobile work quickly and maintain operational continuity. Meanwhile, those who lagged in technological modernization — whether due to budgetary or regulatory challenges, outdated workplace culture or competing priorities — were immediately hamstrung as they attempted to navigate stay-at-home orders and unpredictable fallout. 

The Road to Regaining Public Trust

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way our communities engage with their governments. Many constituents have never been more aware of their local governments’ roles. 

To maintain and improve this relationship in the months to come, it’s crucial that governments consider their public response and act on key learnings to ensure a brighter future. Focusing on three primary areas can help state governments nurture public confidence, endure the current crisis and better prepare for the next one.

  1. Embrace and build upon existing capabilities. Nationwide lockdowns have pushed all institutions to improve both their digital strategies and technological infrastructure. All were forced to streamline and expand mission-critical services like providing unemployment benefits, and some state governments have adopted new capabilities like virtual court hearings. Government leaders should be asking questions: How can we expand on these new tools to drive productivity in other areas? What other smart tech investments can we make to drive long-term efficiencies and cost savings? 

  2. Iterate digital employee and citizen experiences. Prior to the pandemic, the public sector was beginning to modernize both its citizen and employee experiences, and that trend has only accelerated under stay-at-home orders. Internally, some state and local governments introduced or expanded telework capabilities for employees and digitized elements of their hiring and onboarding processes. Externally, they initiated more digital touchpoints for citizens in lieu of face-to-face interaction; for example, people haven’t been able to walk into an unemployment office to apply for benefits, leading states to streamline online applications. We’d be remiss to let these innovations die out. Governments must iterate their customer and employee experiences to compete with the private sector and ultimately fulfill their missions. 

  3. Turn your data into actionable insights. When a crisis strikes, public agencies that use accurate information to inform their actions are best positioned to weather emergencies. For example, when COVID-19 began to spread, certain hospital systems were prepared with predictive data that helped them manage the influx of patients without getting overrun. All levels of government can — and should — leverage data to monitor public health, simulate financial models and explore “what if” analysis for current and future crises. Resulting insights better inform policy, operational decisions and risk management capabilities. Crises often have a way of bringing out the best in people, organizations and governments. While it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, there’s no doubt that our future successes hinge on our conscious decision to learn from our experience. My hope is that our best is yet to come.

Jay Yuno/Getty Images