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Leading in a Crisis








12 May 2020 - 30 June 2020


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become the ultimate stress test for communities, nations and the world. Public managers are dealing with a fast-changing global crisis and being forced to make difficult choices based on limited information.

The Leading in a crisis series featured the best research and thinking on crisis leadership as part of ANZSOG’s mission to lift the quality of government in Australia and New Zealand.

The series was undertaken in 2020 and explored crisis management, leadership and communications, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and put global expertise in the hands of public managers in Australia and New Zealand.

ANZSOG Vice President, Thought Leadership & Ethics and Integrity, Gill Callister, an experienced public manager and former secretary of two Victorian departments, said the series would address the need for accurate and timely research, which public leaders desperately need in the midst of a crisis.

“Public leaders working under pressure need high-quality information from credible sources to assist them to make what are often rapid decisions, forced by times of crisis.

“This information is often available long after a crisis has ended.

“ANZSOG has drawn on our international networks with some of the best crisis leadership researchers in the world to create informative pieces that concisely summarise the lessons from their research.

“At a time where the role of government is more important than ever, ANZSOG is proud to play its part in ensuring that public managers have access to the best thinking and research from across the world.”

The Leading in a crisis series built on ANZSOG’s existing partnerships, enhancing the capability of public sector leaders by ensuring access to the world’s leading academics, such as Paul ‘t Hart – a Professor of Public Administration at Utrecht University and Associate Dean of the Netherlands School of Public Administration in The Hague.


Fredrik Bynander, Carlene York, Jon Johansson – Navigating leadership during the COVID-19 crisis

Slides by Paul ‘t Hart


Post-acute crisis leadership

ANZSOG held a Post-Acute Crisis masterclass series led by crisis leadership expert, Professor Paul ‘t Hart, in June 2020. The series explored the post-acute phase of crises, including the COVID-19 crisis and provided participants with the opportunity to enhance their understanding of crisis lesson drawing, designing and managing crisis evaluations, and avoiding common errors.

The series was an extension of ANZSOG’s Leading in a crisis series, which explored crisis management, leadership and communications in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and put global expertise in the hands of public managers in Australia and New Zealand.

It is an opportunity for select groups of senior public sector leaders to reflect on and discuss world leading crisis leadership research with academics expert in government and crisis response. Importantly, the masterclass series will connect and engage public sector leaders across both Australia and New Zealand.

This series involves three masterclasses led by crisis leadership expert, Professor Paul ‘t Hart, along with contributors to ANZSOG’s Leading in a crisis series, offering:

  • leading research insights about the patterns, pitfalls and potential of learning from crises, presented by leading crisis management experts: Professor Eric Stern (State University of New York), Professor Arjen Boin (Leiden University, the Netherlands), Robbie Macpherson (Managing Director, Adaptable Leadership)
  • facilitation and reflections on learning in and from the COVID-19 crisis by Professor Paul ‘t Hart (Utrecht University), who has been studying, educating and advising crisis leaders in Europe and Australia for over 35 years
  • hands-on experiences and practical wisdom from public leaders and public sector reformers who have navigated and learned from major crises (to be announced).
  • and an opportunity to marry the theory of crisis leadership with the lived practice in the current crisis.

Participants in the Post-Acute Crisis masterclass series gained exclusive access to three papers which are now publicly available.

See below for a summary of the three masterclasses which accompanied each paper.

With Paul ‘t Hart and Eric Stern

Major crises are not just big threats and big disruptors, they are also stress tests for the communities and institutions that are affected by them. How crises happen and how we respond to and recover from them can reveal important things about ourselves, our systems, policies and practices.

COVID-19 is a case in point, revealing much about levels of institutional preparedness, societal and organisational resilience, and governmental crisis response capacities. When we identify and process those insights carefully, we can learn to cope better with this pandemic and other types of future mega-crises.

The question is: how can we organise and protect the work of learning in the high-stakes and politically volatile post-crisis context?

With Paul ‘t Hart and Arjen Boin

Never waste a good crisis, or so the saying goes. Major crises are not just big threats, they also offer opportunities for change – especially for change that has been coveted for a long time but was never possible before.

Even as lockdowns were being put in place to counter COVID-19, talk about how this crisis could be used to forge breakthroughs in areas such as e-health, online education and aged care began almost immediately. Astute policy advocacy or naïve optimism? History certainly gives us examples of major reforms that were enacted in the wake of a crisis, but research suggests that many such attempts falter.

In this masterclass, we discuss the nature and limits of crises as ‘windows of opportunity’, and explore the success and failure of crisis exploitation strategies. We offer the outlines of an approach that will help leaders decide whether a crisis at hand can be leveraged to forge momentum for change or is best ridden out conservatively.

With Paul ‘t Hart and Robbie Macpherson

In a few intense months our societies have been massively disrupted in multiple ways. It remains uncertain what this will mean for our future. COVID-19 has elicited a remarkable upsurge of innovation, experimentation and temporary adaptation across communities, businesses and governments.

There is considerable optimism about this leading to permanent transformation of our organisations and our lives. Despite what we like to think ‘in the moment’, all too often good intentions and commitments slowly dissipate as our systems edge back to a familiar equilibrium. If transformation and adaptation are to be ‘locked in’, they will have to be actively generated and earned through purposeful and energetic leadership activities. In this masterclass we will begin by diagnosing our challenge, undertake sense-making, look at the traps to avoid, and ask what leadership practice is now required to help our organisations successfully adapt to meet the social, human and economic challenges we face.

The urgency of this moment is considerable, as organisations struggle with the tension for the desire for a return to a familiar Normal and the need for the right injection of New thinking, practice and norms.