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Confronting Coronavirus challenges

The role of good governance and policy implementation

Prof. Himanshu Rai, Director, IIM Indore

A well-functioning and efficient system of governance has always been one of the foundations on which the aspirations for prosperity and welfare of every nation rests. Governance can be described as the manner of exercise of power, to manage the social and economic resources of a country for its development. It employs a framework of policies and practices enforced to achieve the common goals of a community. 

COVID-19 has shaken the world and has posed baffling challenges of unprecedented magnitude to deal with. It requires a robust system of governance and resource administration, that is highly agile, yet effective — powered by perseverance, commitment and cooperation.

The challenge is to bring quick changes and sustain them successfully. The measures for containing the spread would require drastic steps like social distancing and aggressive sanitisation that would be in place for a considerably long duration thus sustaining those measures and establishing them as the new normal.

Prof Himanshu Rai ,Director IIM Indore

Moreover, the disruption of supply chains, labour migration, enforcement of lockdown regulations, shortage of health and safety equipment and damage to the local economy — all are to be recovered from. Although global, national and state-issued guidelines and policies come into play, the major heavy lifting lies with the local authorities to work in conformance to those and overcome the implementation level challenges coming up with decisions on the go.

Management during a crisis requires the administration to effectively plan and execute the functions of surveillance, response and timely communication. It requires exhaustive monitoring of available reliable information and an in-depth analysis of governance models. It calls for a bold and experimental leadership style.

I attempt to analyse a few key governance challenges that are to be dealt with, in the current scenario and try to provide some cues on the better management of the initiatives.

1. Sustained behavioural change: 

Many policymakers fail to understand that a layered approach is required to frame successful policies. Bringing change in the behaviour requires specific measures like shaping tools and incentives to promote acceptable behaviour and unfreeze the resistance amongst the common folks. People need to adapt their behaviour to the new norms and thoughtful policies can work wonders.

2. Decision-making under uncertainty: 

Since problems of a similar magnitude and impact have not been experienced by most of us and the availability of well-analysed data to accurately predict future scenarios is limited, one requires to make a decision blending a rational process with reasonable intuition, resorting to one’s experience and expertise. 

3. Communication during crisis: 

Timely communication is crucial during a crisis, which becomes a challenge amidst the physical and psychological disruption that may frequently arise.

4. Extreme tradeoffs: 

The uncertainty and scarcity of resources confront policymakers with drastic dilemmas and high-cost tradeoffs. The lockdown was absolutely necessary but it led to the loss of livelihoods of many, so it was basically a time buying tradeoff. The challenge is, thus, to maintain a balance in policies and rules, they shouldn’t be too lenient or too imposing.  

5. Rebuilding trust and confidence: 

In an environment of fear, anticipation and anxiety everywhere, it is of prime importance for the authorities to focus on winning the trust of all stakeholders and the citizens, through the expression of commitment towards the well-being of all. They need to infuse motivation and confidence in the ecosystem. 

Powering up the policies

With commitment and cooperation, policies can be made effective and robust to better deal with the challenges, the following considerations, in my view, can strengthen policies: 

1. Proaction: 

It is of foremost importance for authorities and decision-makers to be on their toes as the situation requires rapid response and implementation. Utmost care should be given to timely action on the top priorities. What John Burton, has termed as ‘Provention’, (i.e. Proactive prevention of conflicts and anarchy) should be a point of focus.

2. Clarity of purpose: 

As discussed, there may be a variety of issues to deal with amidst the crisis, the policymakers should be very clear of the purpose behind every action, keeping in mind the limited resources available. 

3. Being ‘glocal’: 

It is vital to develop a hyperlocal view and be sensitive to the unique needs of the local/specific areas and make policies to revive the local economy and health sector, the decision-makers need to have a global vision. They should analyse success stories from across the world (like New Zealand) and how they can be modified and replicated. Thus, a local yet global — Glocal approach could be effective.

4. Collaboration and inclusion: 

It is to be understood that the state authorities alone do not constitute the governance structure, it is a system that can work efficiently through the collaborative efforts of policymakers, implementation/field workers, private players and the citizens themselves. Thus, every component of the system must involve within its capacity, to make governance smoother during a crisis. Moreover, policymakers should invite opinions from experts from diverse areas like economists, academics, front line workers, health care experts, etc. and should be open and supportive to frugal solutions and new perspectives.

The current crisis has made us realise again that the lack of preparedness can shake otherwise robust systems. Thus, there is a dire need for cooperation, responsiveness, learning from mistakes, innovation and commitment within the system and its components. This too shall pass, but how strong we emerge out of it would make a difference now and in the future.

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