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Reimagining resilience for government and the public sector

By Georgina BlackJaimie BoydZabeen HirjiRoxana GresztaDon MacPherson

Government and public service organisations face unique needs and conditions as they plan for disruption—how can they learn, adapt and emerge stronger than before?

The last two years have shown that government and public service organisations must be able to adapt and respond to change quickly, to maintain critical operations and servicesas well as provide extraordinary supports and services to people, businesses and communities. As we continue into a prolonged era of disruption and uncertainty, resilience has quickly become the foundation on which governments orient their strategies.

But how rapidly and successfully did government organisations respond to change during the last two years? According to a global survey from Deloitte, during 2020, only 23 per cent of  government leaders completely agreed that their organisation “can/could quickly adapt and pivot in response to disruptive events” (compared to 30 per cent of leaders who felt that way, across all sectors). 

And while COVID-19 certainly brought the need for resilience to the forefront, we know this topic has been on the minds of executives for years. In fact, data from Deloitte also shows that more than 60 per cent of CXOs think we’ll see “occasional or regular disruptions of this scale going forward.” Most of these CXOs highlight climate and future pandemics as the most likely causes of future disruptions.

So, will governments relax the resilience muscle they exercised during the pandemic or seize the moment to strengthen it to be better prepared next time?

Cultivating resilience in government poses unique challenges

At Deloitte, we define resilient organisations as those that “plan and invest for disruption and can adapt, endure and rebound quickly in a way that enables them to not only succeed in its aftermath, but also to lead the way to a ‘better normal.’” Furthermore, it’s important to note that “resilience is not a destination; it is a state of being. A resilient organisation doesn’t ride out a crisis, returning to business-as-usual once disruption ends. It instead transforms” and adapts.

The case for cultivating and improving resilience in government is clear. For example, in Canada alone, Deloitte data shows the right investment in national resilience could boost GDP by more than 1 per cent per year over the next decadean increase of more than $350 billion in national GDP by 2030.

But building more resilient governments requires a much broader scope of activities than in other industries—with governments facing more intense public scrutiny, given the critical services they provide. By taking a more holistic view of resilience, governments can realise they can be a strategic enabler of other policy priorities. This holistic approach can also support a fundamental shift in how governments respond to change: from more intense and reactive responses to greater continuity and management through ongoing disruption, so governments may better advance their broad agendas.

Governments may consider focussing on resilience with two lenses:

  • Resilient operations: The ability to deliver services without interruption—during a crisis and in a dynamic context—requires secure infrastructure. Governments face the need to provide services and solutions digitally, from and to any location. This requires staff and end-users to have access to enabling technologies, as well as the know-how to access services digitally. 
  • Resilient society: A resilient society is supported by governments that embrace a dynamic and modern approach to regulation, legislation, budget investment, etc. These unique levers available to governments can help create the conditions for a resilient economy, public health system, critical industries and infrastructure, travel and borders, and education. Governments also play a key role in providing critical services, including to vulnerable populations—making equity and inclusion extremely important during moments of crisis. What’s more, by effectively using big data, governments can develop more precise policy intervention to support marginalised groups and communities.

Resilience traits governments can adopt

From our research, we identified salient characteristics of the most resilient organisations. We see the following nine as key opportunities for governments to reimagine the dimensions for resilience to tackle the unique challenges they face. To promote and strengthen their resilience, governments may strive to be:

  • People-centricJust as employees today are driving their organisations to be employee-centric, governments are also seeing the need to be people-centric, across the span of services they offer. This often means eschewing one-size-fits-all approaches and instead mapping services to the individual, when possible (e.g., increasing options for services accessibility and providing patient-centric healthcare). Governments may look to focus on the user journey through the system and embed diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) principles and reconciliation within day-to-day delivery.
  • PreparedThis encompasses planning for a wide range of scenarios and eventualities, both short-term and long-term, and with a focus across people, industry and society. For governments in the year ahead, they will see further areas to prepare for, including new COVID variants, the climate crisis and natural disasters, a continued shift to hybrid work environments, cyberattacks and data breaches, and the need to ensure proper digital infrastructure is in place to enable businesses to operate.  

Governments can also look to go beyond legacy business-continuity work and “band-aid” solutions to more holistic and proactive strategies that include investing in talent, building organisational culture built on learning and addressing risks associated with modernising government services. Technology, including scenario modelling and analytics, can significantly increase preparedness, as can creating and discussing comprehensive crisis response scenarios and playbooks.

  • AdaptableLike the other resilience characteristics, adaptability is multi-faceted. It includes the ability to pivot, enable government to happen anywhere, provide services across digital touchpoints, expedite decision-making processes, support and promote continuous learning, and much more. Crucially, it also includes a government’s ability to quickly scale its services, which often means building flexibility into how it accesses appropriate skill sets.

It’s important to note that adaptability in government is more expansive and nuanced than adaptability in other industries. Governments see the need to react and adapt to changing conditions and expectations themselves (e.g., by delivering their services online), but can also leverage their ecosystem to help deliver those services with agility. Smart procurement and flexibility in allocating talent are critical.

  • CollaborativeFor the government and public sector, collaboration internally and externally is often important, as governments typically don’t have all the capabilities they require in-house:

a. Internal: Organisations that support products and services with a team that are able to pivot and respond more effectively.

b. External: Governments can seek to foster more deliberate collaboration with one another at every level, as well as with ecosystem partners and providers to effectively build a more resilient society.

  • TrustworthyTrust is always importantoften even more so during tumultuous times, as organisations that have built trust equity can better preserve and regain trust during a crisis. And trust isn’t just something abstractit’s measurable and actionable, spanning physical, emotional, digital and financial dimensions.

How can government leaders build trust? This is often a politicised challenge today; however, being more transparent with how the business of government is run and communicated to people can help avoid perceptions of mismanagement or even corruption. This transparent approach, in turn, can help cultivate trust and build long-term resilience.

  • ResponsibleResponsible governments and organisations demonstrate purpose and consistently act on itsupporting their employees, people, society, the environment and more. They also demonstrate authenticity and accountability.

Among government leaders who say their organisations are cultivating resilient cultures, 77 per cent globally say their organisation has “a reputation for valuing employees,” 74 per cent say it has “done well demonstrating a commitment to transparent ESG,” and 70 per cent say it has “a reputation for helping the community” (2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report).

  • Digitally enabledSmart governments use modern tools to provide great services. Today, that means that they use data, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies. They empower their teams to innovate, including through access to cloud-based tools. These organisations also build systems and governance around the use of new tools, so that their use can be sustainable, inclusive and accountable. Taking a digital-first approach goes beyond using technology; at its core, it’s about combining new tools with a relentless focus on achieving better services and outcomes for peoples.

In particular, the ability to be smart and use technology to prepare for and even preempt disruptions can help foster anticipatory governmentwhere governments proactively design procedures to anticipate life events and prevent problems (rather than react to them) regularly and successfully through data management. The most resilient have sound data management already in place.

  • Employee-centricAnother driver of resilience in government is a commitment to inclusion. Resilient governments haveand valuediverse employees who are empathetic to the diverse lived experiences of the people they serve.

Governments can also demonstrate employee-centricity and cultivate resilience by promoting resilience in their employees and leaders themselves. That is, how well they can face and overcome stressors and challenges while at work? Factors such as an individual’s personality, personal life, psychological and physical health, community, financial situation and access to workplace resources all impact employee resilience. Government leaders have reported increased mental health strain during COVID-19. To improve employee resilience, government organisations can proactively tackle itgiving leaders and employees at all levels resources, programmes, strategies and a work culture/design that supports their well-being, while also working to break down stigmas around mental health challenges.

  • Bold leadershipThe most resilient organisations start with the people who lead them. The events of the last two years saw contrasts in leadership practices and how organisations weathered events. Resilient government leaders tend to stay focussed on the long-term and look to address the many areas that are required to cultivate resilience to prepare for what’s ahead.

Connecting the dots

In both times of crisis and more stable conditions, people depend on governments for service continuity and, importantly, service excellenceand governments strive to deliver. That’s why the most resilient governments, organisations and leaders themselves seek to “connect the dots,” tying together the above traitsand the processes, ecosystems, technologies and people related to themto better anticipate and successfully respond to change. And change is a certainty in the future.

As government organisations navigate what’s ahead, it’s important to remember that resilience isn’t about trying to return to the previous status quo. It’s much more transformativerequiring new competencies and the ability to predict conditions and outcomes and respond with more agile and precise policy interventions.

For government organisations, reimagining resilienceand embracing the characteristics and principles associated with itcan help them prepare with confidence for what’s next.


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