I had the pleasure to participate at an online event of VBO (the Flemish association of public servants) on one year of COVID. Public servants that have been at the forefront of Covid-19 crisis, were present and discussed the ins and outs. Here a short review and an analysis of mine.
What went well?
Exchange between the crisis teams of the different entities and help to get things translated etc. The crisis teams were talking to each other
The crisis was managed, as indicated elsewhere, based on emergency situation of a crisis like the Ghislengien gas explosion: top down, and a command center.
The local level and its specificities were not heard or taken into account.
During the first months of the crisis no exchange happened with the public interest groups.
Over the months cracks started to appear in this top down approach: population did not follow and local institutional levels had to face the changing crisis decisions and overall negative impacts of this crisis.
The public servants estimate:
- the measures should have been explained better (reason why) as the arbitration of measures to close or not certain sectors were not understood
- the psychological dimension of the crisis was not taken into account, and that was an error
- on a local level, the administration really is frustrated because they were not associated or seen as a trusted partner;
- the press has provided negative reports on the crisis management and this has caused international reputation damage
- the measures to the public were based on the stereotype of the family of 2 kids and 2 working parents in a house with a garden.
- more evidence based (science) measures
- public authorities were not listening to public - not right understanding of what was happening.
- New ways of work / digital: to be kept for the future.
- indeed the structure of a reactive top down crisis management, focusing on resolving the crisis (Ministry of interior) was not working for a prolonged health crisis with a wide ramification
- as no exchange happened with public interest groups, these were not listened, and started to become vocal, defending their own little turf. So basically the one shouting the most, got his exception (reopening bars)
- the democratic debate was not happening, only crisis mode
- amazing that crisis managers are quite proud on their energy, solidarity and the way they have creatively worked on the crisis management, despite not having answers; it seems that those 'in charge' have been less affected by the negative spillovers of this crisis.
- failed communication management in the spring, and a non credible one in the fall (one team), where the same slogan used by Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was used, but the measures that were around not applied so non credible (e.g. NZ ministers and parliamentarians got a pay check reduction for several months, to indicate that we are all in this together)
- the failed view of a diversified society in the crisis structure of the government is a real lesson to be learned. Better sociological understanding, true not just 'nudging' measures, could be really beneficial.
- when talking about the local level, apart from this conference, I have been really struck by the attitude of the mayors from the coast, that have done everything to block diversified youth to come to the beach. When talking about 'never waste a crisis', I think that mayors and the governor of West Vlaanderen have misused the crisis and discussion with the railway companies. This to protect appartment owners, and not interested by public that would not even consume a waffle or drink a hot chocolate as cafés and restaurants are closed, but leave trash on the beach that needs to be cleaned up.
Weather forecast till end of the year : rain at the coast. (update, cafés opened again, and the majors are no longer vocal on people not coming to the coast)