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Nourishing Government: New Directions in a Post-Pandemic Environment

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lisa Saye
May 2, 2020

© A Few Eggs. Photo and Photo Title by Lisa Saye, 2020.

When Brad Pitt opened the April 25th Saturday Night Live show portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci, I waited for the usual applause at the beginning of the opening sketch. I did not know how much that applause, that audible acknowledgement had become a part of my experience when watching the show until the moment that I did not hear it. I had not tuned into the previous SNL-At Home shows, so this show was my first viewing in its lockdown format.

Lockdown is quiet, or at least it is supposed to be. We are all supposed to shelter-in-place, stay at home and make sure that we stay a few meters away from each other at all times. Home has become school, university, work, church, hospital, gym, restaurant, dancehall and refuge.

Nature has begun to fill the vacuums left by the absence of people in some spaces. Lions are lounging across the highway in South Africa, a spotted deer was seen jogging through the streets of Dehradun in India and mountain goats were photographed standing on their hind legs in order to peek over a fence in Llandudno, Wales. Apparently, no one has explained the lockdown guidelines to earth’s animals. While humans have paused, distanced and prayed, the animals are inspecting our structures and our civilization.

Well, I say that earth’s animals should enjoy the run of our empty structures while they can because this phase of our global inhale may be nearing an end. As a result of what appears to be a slowdown in the number of new cases of COVID-19, some states in the US have begun to allow non-essential businesses to reopen and Spain and Italy have begun to ease restrictions on movement as well.

In 49 AD, Roman Stoic Philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca warned us about wasting too much time. He remarked that life is longer than we think it is if only we wouldn’t waste so much of it on things that have little value. I do not know if or how much Seneca content governments and public servants around the world have read or consumed, but as essential entities they are using their time in ways that before the virus were unimaginable. Personnel departments are alternating work spaces, public entrances have become one way in and one way out and when was the last time someone from a state IT Department called you to help you navigate a stubborn Submit Application tab? For one citizen it was last week.

Public servants have become the heroes of bureaucracy and rightfully so. They have to find a way to help you, to help us and to keep the government moving. Protocols are being rewritten with each issue or problem. Civic-tech apps are being designed and redesigned in order to capture citizen complaints, questions and response-time algorithms.

Public servants around the world are receiving the most unanticipated on-the-job training of their entire long or short careers. COVID-19 brings with it a plethora of complex problems that rival any previous crisis management in-box scenarios. Organizational management, strategic planning and public administration as raw material for government operation has proved to be less than adequate when dealing with a virus that can change a work schedule seconds after the slightest cough.

You may be thinking that perhaps I have not been paying too much attention to the show that is the daily coronavirus news conference. Indeed, I have. I have watched as speakers fail to make even a ghost of a point about relief, recovery or renewal while in the next moment I marvel at messaging that is clear, helpful and compassionate. After one such conference, I ventured outside. The sun called me and I rushed around the house to meet its rays and to say hello. As I did, I noticed a tiny lightly spotted bird egg on the grass. After a quick inspection, I found a nest tucked behind the new leaves of my Boxwood Shrub. As humans do, I rushed to get my camera and snapped the photo that accompanies this article. I was so pleased to see the birds. They returned a sense of balance and harmony that I had missed connecting to while huddled within the walls of my home. In an almost startling way, their presence reassured me that there are some things that we can still expect to see, still expect to remember and still expect to cherish.

COVID-19 has created a paradigm shift in the notion of bureaucracy as usual. Its impact has unexpectedly given birth to an era that has yet to be named by its scholars and practitioners. Sentimentally, we are witnessing the end of Government of a Certain Age. What will follow will be a new public administration that reflects an expanded civic-tech with government setting up a permanent virtual space. That will mean the emergence of new themes and disciplines related to Digital Capital and Pandemic Response Management. As part of this new era, balance and harmony willcontinue to be a characteristic of government and public servants will again rise to the occasion of service delivery for our citizens.

The copyrighted image, A Few Eggs, was taken and titled by Lisa Saye in April 2020.

Author: Lisa Saye teaches Applied Research Methods for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University. Saye served as Fulbright Specialist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and as International Consultant for the United Nations Development Program in The Maldives. On July 9, 2019, Dr. Saye delivered the Pre-Departure Orientation Keynote Address at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for Fulbrighters leaving for Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Saye earned her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Troy University and her Doctorate in Public Administration at The University of Alabama. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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