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28 February 2021
Public service resilience post COVID19
This call is issued in a context of worldwide uncertainty and enormous organisational and policy challenges raised by COVID19 crisis. But what will the ‘public service world’ look like afterwards? On the one hand, this crisis enhanced the visibility of public value, a concept previously associated with the public sector (Moore 2013) and now representing a superordinate goal uniting all sectors. Indeed, there is some evidence that COVID19 has yielded a public value response from private and community sectors (Hudecheck et al 2020) -see for example restaurants’ initiatives to run social meals programmes or communities and individuals assisting the vulnerable most affected by COVID19 associated restrictions. On the other hand, this crisis has exposed the unsuitability of known foundations to service design, excess in the administrative burden of accessing those services, and negative side effects of fiscal policy, particularly of austerity. The shortage of resources in the public sector (equipment, staff, finances, time) and a general lack of organisational slack (Trinchero et al. 2020) came into focus at the start of 2020 and they are arguably consequences of a long period of austerity underlined by principles such as lean management (e.g. Radnor and Osborne 2013), underlying the efficiency focused managerial reforms in the public sector of the past four decades (Masou 2017). The effects of efficiency maximising work practices (e.g. Crowley and Hodson 2014) have been detrimental to both people and services in the public sector (Vickers and Kouzmin 2001). There is much to learn about public service management and service recovery post-COVID19 from countries which followed severe neoliberal austerity regimes and those who have not, chronically poor nations from the Global South, democratic as well as autocratic states. Comparisons between these are likely to generate valuable insights.
Looking into the future of public service management, we call for contributions around public service resilience post-COVID19. We take a ‘transformational’ approach to resilience, emphasizing not only the ability to return to a stable state after a disturbance (Boin and Eeten 2013) but also the development of new capabilities to innovate while keeping pace with the external environment (Lengnick-Hall et al. 2011). This view of resilience is in essence the ability of an organisation ‘to learn, adapt and self-organise in the face of any challenges’ (Linnenluecke & Griffiths 2010). This perspective (a) resonates well with current thinking internationally –see for example the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction promoting the idea of “Build Back Better (BBB)”; and (b) allows for a conceptual delineation between resilience and robustness –robustness is reactive, rather than adaptive (Giustiniano et al. 2018), whereas resilience is as much about recovering as it is about pre-disaster learning, governance network/institution building and preparedness.
Resilient services, we propose, are built to last, by allowing for innovation, transformation and enrichment of processes and human activities during and beyond crises (Barber and Murdock 2017). Indeed, if adverse events are testing opportunities, some services and organisations raise to the occasion and transform, in the process developing new ways of working, adopting new tools and promoting new paradigms for service delivery (Nicholls and Murdock 2011). In fact, shocks may help nurture, promote and further resilience and, in this respect, they may be beneficial to complex organisations (Meek and Marshall 2018). This proposed special issue will look at such renewed public service provision models after the COVID19 shock. We are interested in new patterns emerging, new organizational relationships developing, new sources of resilience for people in organisations, for service consumers, and new value creation ecosystems. We welcome new empirical data but also newer ways of understanding resilient public services. Complexity (e.g. Dudau et al. 2016, Meek and Marshall 2018, Eppel and Rhodes 2018, Rossi and Tuurnas 2019) and crisis management theories (Fischbacher-Smith and Fischbacher-Smith 2013, Hu and Kapucu 2016) offer popular lenses for analysing post-crisis recovery, but are others illuminating our knowledge of resilient services, and enabling us to build resilience into public services post-COVID19? We call for diverse and global scholarly contributions, theoretical and empirical, on post-COVID19 public services, reflecting on, but not limited to, the following issues:
- How are public services responding innovatively to create a ‘new normal’ in the post-COVID world by reconfiguring following the ‘system shock’ of COVID19?
- What have we learned about the nature of resilient and innovative public services as a result of COVID19, and how might this new knowledge influence our future responses to major pandemics/public health disasters?
- What impact has the pandemic had for the future design of public services?
- The longer-term effects of the policy measures during the COVID19 crisis (e.g. the lockdown) on equity
- Public service resilience though digital infrastructure and digital inclusion
- Public servants’ and civil servants’ individual resilience
- The contribution of newer human learning systems, complexity and systems thinking to future effective responses to major public health crises, as well as to service design and governance network/institution building
- Resilience built, maintained, or tested through citizen-state relationships
- The limitations and requirements of political and administrative leadership in the face of scientific evidence.
- The moving boundaries and interfaces between public sector, private sector and third sector post-CoVID19, as a result of non-public sectors contributing to public value creation during the crisis.
- Comparisons between the service responses to CoVid19 in democratic and autocratic nation states, richer and poorer nations
Developments on any connected knowledge areas are also welcome, to the extent to which it (a) pushes forward our understanding of resilient services and (b) offers empirical insight into public services tackling and learning from the COVID19 global crisis. Comparative and global perspectives are especially welcome as we aim to achieve geographical diversity in our themed issue, particularly including evidence from the global South.
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