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Governing through a permacrisis

In periods of intense uncertainty and instability, governments need to support citizens through robust services that can withstand and evolve alongside continuous change. Given the impact of recent and ongoing events in global socio-economies – namely the pandemic recovery and economic crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the increase in industrial unrest – concern over future preparedness is to be expected.

The proportion of officials who have high confidence that their organisation has robust contingency plans that align with strategy development has fallen since 2021, from 56 percent to 45 percent. Confidence in contingency is highest in the Nordics. Across seniorities, 56 percent of respondents in Norway are confident about their organisation’s contingency plans, as are 52 percent in Denmark. The agreement score is also high in Australia, at 55 percent.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘We have high confidence in our contingency plans across this organisation and are confident that they are aligned with our strategy development’

Although overall confidence in contingency may have dropped, change awareness is high and there is appetite to explore new opportunities arising from uncertainty. Nearly three quarters of public servants (71 percent) agree that being able to adapt to significant change is part of their organisation’s long-term strategy, and over half think their organisation can capitalise on emerging opportunities. In line with survey-wide trends, there is greater confidence among leaders in their organisation’s ability to respond to uncertainty.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘We have, or are able to quickly source, the required data, information and intelligence for our decision-making’

While 56 percent of respondents say they can quickly source the required data, information, and intelligence for decision-making in a crisis, our broader research indicates that this may neglect citizen feedback. It is vital to understand how new obstacles shape user needs and requirements – as shown, cyclical improvement processes hold the key to iterative improvement and data-driven decisions.

Respondents particularly highlight the need for better cross-agency coordination in a crisis. An official in Canada calls for the creation of a “better communication channel between government organisations” and highlighting that “one organisation’s work can be hindered by another’s lack of response.”

A respondent from the Norwegian government says collaboration needs to go further still, with increased coordination between government and emergency response agencies. This could be achieved through training that aimed to build a better understanding of each other’s roles, capacity and resources. The multi-headed nature of the crises facing governments now will require a different response, Michael Wernick says.

“The public sector has been very good at responding to disruptions, but over the last two years more organisations have been hit simultaneously. Now everybody feels the stress across the system, whereas it was much more episodic in the past.”

According to Alexander Evans, “there is, if not a permacrisis, then at least a ‘permachallenge’ in government.”

Next steps for responsive governments

To effectively prepare and plan for the era of permacrisis, decision-making needs to utilise data alongside user feedback to support continuous improvement.

Government leaders need to lead by example, championing effective communication and collaboration and embedding a change mindset – one that embraces uncertainty as a breeding ground for new solutions, and ensures everyone understands organisational objectives and aims.