Learning to be an agile leader
State and local governments are getting the ultimate crash course in crisis leadership, and over the past month, state-by-state policies have varied greatly. The Luminary Labs team is based in New York, the current epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, and we’ve been watching carefully as leaders here and around the globe make decisions and pivot in response to rapidly changing conditions.
New York’s current reality could be another state’s reality next week or next month, and therefore, governments will need to watch what’s happening and analyze in real time. Discrete decisions — like setting up a field hospital in a conference center, then quickly realizing that it would need to serve COVID patients instead of treating broken bones — require agility and humility. It’s all about moving forward for the common good.
Governing well in a time of global crisis is about more than a good press conference. Policymakers and government leaders need accurate, real-time data to assess current conditions, as well as projection models to predict what the future might hold. Then they need to consider policy options, take decisive action, and share clear updates and directives with the public.
Policymaking in a pandemic is a bidirectional exercise: What are governments asked to do? What playbook are policymakers given, and how do policymakers contribute to the playbook so others can learn from their decisions?
The escalation and severity of the situation in New York has prompted a series of actions — we’ve referred to it before as the New York Model. It’s not perfect, but it’s our expectation that other states will seek to refine and replicate what works. Each state and municipality, including New York, has a public-facing portal for COVID-19 information; the resources listed below help shed some light on how those guidelines are formed and how we might set policies that pull our communities out of crisis.
Assessing current conditions
- Several mapping tools — such as the Covid Tracking Project, Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Map, Covid Counties, Covid Data Scraper, and the New York Times’ open database — provide up-to-date data on COVID-19 cases at a county, state, national, and/or international level.
- Dozens, if not hundreds, of apps are attempting to trace COVID contacts. Those that rely on self-reporting may yield unreliable and incomplete data; those that automate tracing may struggle to provide actionable data while preserving privacy. Collaborative initiatives like OpenMined and MIT’s Private Kit seek to provide secure underpinnings for interoperable digital solutions, and NextTrace published a plan for digital participatory contact tracing.
- In the absence of widespread testing, cities may get creative about tracking community spread. In collaboration with researchers at MIT, Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, BioBot is offering pro bono sewage sample testing to track evidence of the virus in wastewater.
- ZenCity analyzed social media data to identify public attitudes and concerns relating to COVID-19, and the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index is tracking the impact of the pandemic on Americans’ work, health, and daily life.
- Crisis Text Line provides anonymized data for free for use by the public and policymakers via its Crisis Trends website.
Projecting future needs
- Projection tools such as Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Covid Act Now provide policymakers and government leaders with data on potential cases, deaths, and hospital resource use. The ESRI Cases & Planning Report combines real-time case numbers with local health and population statistics, such as the number of ICU beds, and community demographics like age, household size, and internet access.
- The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Essential Supplies Forecasting Tool is designed to help governments and partners estimate supply needs, such as PPE, cleaning materials, and biomedical equipment.
Policy, decisions, and actions
- What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative, is maintaining the Local Government Response and Resource Bank List — including links to resources on everything from public transportation and procurement to the CARES Act and FEMA rules. In partnership with the National League of Cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies also created the COVID-19 Local Action Tracker, a searchable list of policy decisions and actions taken by local leaders across the country.
- The United States Council of Mayors shared best practices for mayors, and the National Governors’ Association published a range of resources, including a list of declarations and policies implemented by states and territories.
- The World Health Organization has published guidance for maintaining essential health services during an outbreak and guiding principles for immunization activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Thought leaders and policy experts have shared important considerations: Andy Slavitt, former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shared 20 policy priorities; Harvard Kennedy School staff wrote a series of recommendations on how the public sector and civil society should respond to the pandemic; Johns Hopkins School of Public Health published Recommendations for a Metropolitan COVID-19 Response; and Third Way released CoronaCare for Everyone: A Comprehensive Plan to Rescue Health Care.
- As states ask hospitals to “act as one system” and share staff and resources, a joint MIT-Boston College initiative is proposing a new approach to ventilator rationing during a pandemic that takes into account multiple ethical values, instead of the current point-based system.
- The U.S. Digital Response, founded by the powerhouses behind Code for America, 18F, and the U.S. Digital Service, is matching governments in need with volunteer tech talent to support the development and delivery of digital services during the pandemic.
- In response to the need for temporary hospitals, drive-through testing sites, and morgues, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shared a guide to Alternative Care Sites Retrofitting; architects published open-source plans for field hospitals and instruction manuals for converting convention centers into makeshift hospitals.
Public health communication
- Governments are experimenting and testing public messaging: In the UK, the Behavioural Insights Team shared results of an experiment on effective hand-washing signage, and Ireland’s Department of Health commissioned research on communications strategies to promote social distancing.
- The World Health Organization published a risk communication and community engagement checklist to develop, implement, and monitor strategies for effective public communication.
- The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is partnering with the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Coronavirus Local Response Initiative to support mayors responding to COVID-19. They’ve compiled resources on crisis leadership, including crisis communications.