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By Chris Mihm, Adjunct Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs, The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Pubic Affairs, Syracuse University.

Cascading catastrophic events such as global pandemics, climate disasters, supply chain disruptions, and cyberattacks are stressing governments, communities, businesses, and individuals. They raise fundamental questions about how governments at all levels can anticipate, prepare for, and respond to these events and other shocks yet to come.

The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) and the IBM Center for The Business of Government, in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), launched an initiative to help governments identify core capabilities critical to building resilience to future crises.  

The partners convened a series of international roundtable discussions with global leaders from the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors to capture lessons across five key domain areas: Emergency Preparedness and Response, Cybersecurity, Supply Chain, Climate Sustainability, and Workforce. To learn more about the initiative, read the blog, ‘Preparing Governments for Future Shocks’ or listen to the podcast hosted by Michael J. Keegan from the IBM Center.

Based on the common themes that emerged from the roundtable discussions, IBV, the IBM Center, and NAPA recently issued a report that lays out a roadmap of eight imperatives—a guide that governments at all levels can use to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to cataclysmic events that will inevitably hit in the future.  

Imperative 1: Build a governance mechanism to prepare for the future.

Shocks transcend geographic, jurisdictional, political, or organizational boundaries. Therefore, addressing these events cannot be the responsibility of a single sector, program, agency, or level of government. Instead, the key to success—and the root cause of many failures—lies within the capabilities of individual network participants and the strength of the network before, during, and after an upheaval. Simply put, complex problems cannot be solved in silos. 

As Katherine Barrett, Richard Greene, and Don Kettl, have noted “the key is networks—but they do not spontaneously organize themselves.” A successful network therefore must include an intentionally selected and effectively managed governance mechanism to manage the network. For example, a Center of Excellence is an example of a governance model that includes representatives from government, business, academia, and non-profits and strengthens the capacities of existing networks.

Imperative 2: Plan to mitigate crosscutting shocks.

Align planning at governmental and societal levels. Rely on successful practices, support decision making with technologies such as AI, and integrate management capacity considerations into strategic plans.

Imperative 3: Manage risks and extend opportunities.

Embed risk management in decision making, look beyond negative consequences to create a better future, and use generative AI and other tools within standardized risk assessment frameworks.

Imperative 4: Increase public participation and improve communication.

Design communication strategies to promote public participation at all stages, include all members of the community, and use trusted voices and storytelling methods that lead to greater public understanding.

Imperative 5: Fast-track government innovation and transformation.

Expand the use of agile management methods that put citizens, customers, and program recipients first, reduce administrative burdens and harness the potential of AI and other technologies.

Imperative 6: Support data-driven decision-making strategies.

Develop comprehensive data management systems before crises occur, build in appropriate safeguards, encourage full and accurate participation, and provide transparency through public reporting.

Imperative 7: Dedicate the proper resources and get the incentives right.

Channel the power of government funding to address future jolts to the status quo, support flexibility that addresses differing capacities of local governments, and plan for future disruptive events in budget funding processes.

Imperative 8: Invest in a future crisis-ready workforce.

Implement strategies that bolster recruitment, retention, and training to ensure mission-critical positions are staffed, and manage human capital across agencies, levels of government and sectors.

As isolated events quickly metastasize into mega-crises, governments must address them, and develop the strategies to meet the missions that are suddenly – often without warming – foist upon them. The key is not only to maintain a vulnerable status quo or adjust to an unsatisfactory “new normal” but to also build more equitable and sustainable governments and societies.

Cross-cutting shocks are challenging governments to adopt new ways to think, operate, and collaborate. This will require new organizational cultures that embrace agility, expand beyond bureaucratic boundaries, and attract and retain talent that can thrive and capitalize on transformative technologies such as generative AI.

Taken together, the steps of the report and the roundtable discussions offer practical insights and options that governments can use today, through public-private sector partnerships and networked environments, to be ready for the next future jolt to societies normal functioning —now gathering on an unforeseen, but inevitable timetable.

The contents of this guest column reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of Barrett and Greene, Inc.



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