Governing the pandemic: The politics of navigating a mega-crisis

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  • Published Date: 08 June 2021

COVID-19 has been the ultimate stress test for governments and nations – testing their plans and preparations, political and administrative leadership, and societal and institutional resilience.

ANZSOG was at the forefront of providing information to public services in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand dealing with the crisis, including through the Leading in a Crisis series of publications and webinars developed last year.

Arjen Boin, (Leiden University), Allan McConnell, (University of Sydney), and Paul ‘t Hart (Utrecht University / ANZSOG) among others, synthesised research from across the world on all aspects of crisis management to develop a series of primers covering the key issues – including leadership, organisational resilience and communications.

The three authors have now published a freely-accessible book Governing the Pandemic: The Politics of Navigating a Mega-Crisis, which examines government responses to COVID-19 from across the world, and how public managers in different nations made difficult choices based on limited information.

The book’s foreword states that: “for long-time students of crisis management, COVID-19 is ‘the big one’—the scary Future Crisis so often announced and discussed in the literature: truly global, arriving slowly and lasting for a very long time, with devastating impacts.”

Our focus is on how governments, particularly those of the advanced economies (that we are most familiar with) have responded to the pandemic, to the complex, transboundary multi-crises it has generated, and the ways publics reacted to the various responses.

Although the COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding and changing in many parts of the world, the book is an attempt to learn from responses to the four main challenges that governments face in responding to the pandemic.

  • Making sense of a highly uncertain and dynamic threat
  • Getting things done in the face of collective action problems
  • Crafting credible narratives about deeply unsettling events; and
  • Working towards closure of a crisis that has the potential to destabilise societies and their political systems

The authors say that writing a book about COVID-19 while the crisis is still unfolding is an inherently premature endeavour, but that it is important because:

“Future crises are in the making. We need to get ready. We need to learn what we can, as soon as we can. This book is intended to provide fuel for such a discussion.”

The book concludes by offering some preliminary directions for a response to COVID-19 based on the deep institutional learning required to make communities and governance systems more resilient when the next ‘big one’ comes along.

Governing the Pandemic: The Politics of Navigating a Mega-Crisis is available as a free e-book.

Leading in a crisis

ANZSOG’s Leading in a crisis series features 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 explores crisis management, leadership and communications, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and puts global expertise in the hands of public managers in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Find out more about the Leading in a crisis series.