Respond, recover, reimagine: how government agencies can emerge stronger post COVID-19

By on 28/07/2020
Photo courtesy Markus Spiske via Pexels

If you are a government leader, or one of the millions of people employed in the public sector globally, these last 100 days have probably been the most challenging of your career.

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity to show how dedicated public servants and their agencies can best serve citizens in times of crisis. Through analytical insights based on all available data within – and across – government agencies, public sector agency leaders can ensure policy decisions and resulting operational activities deliver the best possible outcomes. During the pandemic and especially as we recover from the devastating impact, understanding analytics best practices will be extremely useful. Analytics can give us a deep understanding of the environment and circumstances in which we’re operating, and inform new policies and structural changes.

But government agencies cannot face down this crisis on their own. The private sector is also stepping up to help. We at SAS have developed a three-phased framework that, when applied to government agency decisions, can guide leaders to make critical decisions.

Respond: achieve better situational awareness

In each phase, the application of analytics may be different because the decisions are different. In the early stages of a crisis, when governments are first responding, leaders must know what has happened, what is happening and what is likely to happen. Companies in the private sector and public sector agencies frequently employ analytics to develop situational awareness – they assess the situation, collect data, visualise it, and use trends and analytics to predict the future.

As part of this situational awareness, analytical capabilities are needed to optimise limited resources such as medical equipment like personal protective equipment (PPE) or testing kits. Public health agencies can use specialised analytics to empower manual contact-tracing efforts to better understand who should be tested, where the virus is spreading, and which communities are at greatest risk. Analytics can also help agencies identify and deliver the right benefits to the right people at the right time.

Recover: ensure value for money through evidence-based decisions

As communities begin to recover and move beyond the urgency of immediate reaction, analytics can support public sector agency efforts. Many countries, states and local government agencies are targeting their support – which in many cases is direct stimulus payments – at individuals and businesses. Agencies can preserve their limited funding for those who truly deserve it by using analytics to identify which individuals and entities need the most assistance and to detect fraudulent activities.

In the recovery phase, public sector agencies must evaluate their agency situation – for example, they must assess a likely drop in revenues and prioritise the activities and projects with limited funding. This too can be improved by applying analytics to make evidence-based decisions on projects that will have the most impact over specified periods of time, such as the next three, six or nine months.

Reimagine: transform how agencies serve the public

When we emerge from the pandemic emergency, the use of analytics can help our government agencies reimagine approaches to a new and changed landscape. Public sector agencies have been talking about digital transformation for years. We now realise that digital transformation isn’t a luxury, but a necessity in a world where a global virus can change lives overnight.

Transformation, or reimagination, is difficult. But public sector leaders can use analytics to unlock the vast potential of the data held by their agency and others. In turn, leaders can make informed and innovative decisions that will improve outcomes, ensure access to services and programmes, and support good stewardship of money and public trust. Advanced analytics like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, when applied to agency data, increases productivity and efficiency and enhances decisions by making them more predictive.

We are at a critical juncture. There is still much to be done to help individuals, families and communities respond to and recover from this deadly pandemic. But we can’t miss the opportunity to use analytics to transform the current state of government. Gene Sperling, in the introduction to his 2020 book Economic Dignity, writes: “Today we are in a moment of major re-examination of how well our existing model for modern capitalism is serving the majority of working people. Can it create paths out of poverty and reverse accelerating economic inequality, repair the hollowing out of the middle class, and cope with dramatic technological change? Such major questions rightly call for equally new policies and structural changes. It is precisely at moments when we want to make giant strides that we should make sure we have clarity on our ultimate destination.”

Analytics – especially advanced data visualisation, AI and real-time analytics streaming – is critical to ensuring clarity during this transformation.

Check out our guidance for public sector agency leaders in How Public Sector Agencies Can Use Analytics to Lead Through Crisis using the respond, recover, reimagine framework. Also, please share ways you think government agencies can come out of the crisis stronger and more responsive to citizen needs.

About the author

Lee Ann Dietz, Global Government and Smart Cities Practice Director, SAS

Lee Ann Dietz is an analytics evangelist for transportation and smart cities at SAS. She has almost 25 years’ experience supporting customers with analytical solutions. Prior to joining SAS in 2012, Dietz held various positions with Railinc and DZone Inc. Dietz began her career with American Airlines and SABRE, after earning her MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business, and BA (Economics) degrees from Stanford University.

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One Comment

  1. David

    29/07/2020 at

    The intense focus required to navigate this moment in time, may have contributed to my lack of optimism. Racial equality, social distancing, electoral challenges, hygienic risks, and even the post-pandemic office has so consumed the thought process that simply contemplating a future and how survivors will be so much more prepared for it, is astounding. Analytics, as always, can be an effective guide.

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