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Design strategies for future governance in emergencies: A case study

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date21/04/2021
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventInternational Research Society for Public Management: Public Management, Governance and Policy in Extraordinary Times: Challenges and Opportunities - Virtual
Duration: 21/04/202123/04/2021


ConferenceInternational Research Society for Public Management


In this paper, we report a case study of the Covid-19 response in Lancaster, a district council in north-west England. This short study is based on a combination of publicly available data and interviews with key officers and politicians. We consider the ways in which the city took a systematic approach to dealing with the pandemic; for example, how a pre-existing emergency plan dealing with the prioritisation and delivery of key services during a pandemic was rapidly adapted as the needs of local residents emerged and were understood by officers. Furthermore, we present ways forward in which using a design approach might enable learning from this pandemic to be embedded into the strategic planning for the future. In parallel with the written emergency strategy the council realised there was an urgent need to support for the local community and businesses in response to the unique nature of the pandemic.

This research is located within wider research questions of how design-led approaches might contribute to policy decisions. In this paper we explore how design may cement learnings, reflections and experiences, thereby building stronger future practices, strategic responses, and resilience in public sector organisations. In particular, we are interested in layering, and the type of emergent strategic challenges which can result when multiple extraordinary events take place concurrently, such as a flood incident during a pandemic, which occurred in Lancaster in January 2021.

The results of our initial study demonstrate some ways in which the particular strategic response in Lancaster was enabled by features and structure of the public sector organisations in this region and how design might enable the learning from these experiences be embedded into future strategic planning. For example, the council was able to be flexible because of adequate staffing levels. Because services were categorised by demand, staff could be redeployed to the highest priority areas such as refuse collection, the establishment of a community hub, and customer service information. This was the result of not outsourcing any of their services, a practice that has become endemic within all scales of Government in the UK, but which is now being reversed in a range of places (Sasse et al. 2020).

We also explore how emergency response during the pandemic has accelerated existing long term strategic plans for the region. For example, policies which had been on the horizon such as developing active transport, developing the urban realm and flexible working policies were brought forward rapidly.

It is vital that we develop and share understandings how an emergency such as the pandemic, which has largely not been experienced operationally by local government politicians and officers, presents both challenges and opportunities to explore how strategies operate and how they can be living documents and practices. Reflection is key to this.

Gatzweiler, F; Fu, B; Rozenblat, C; Su, H.J.J; Luginaah, I; Corburn, J (2020) COVID-19 reveals the systemic nature of urban health globally, Cities and Health, doi.org/10.1080/23748834.2020.1763761 Accessed 16.2.21
Sass, T; Nickson, S; Britchfield, C; Davies, N (2020) Government outsourcing: When and how to bring public services back into government hands, London, Institute for Government