Centres of government (CoGs) have played an important role in tackling the crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This paper discusses the high-level institutional arrangements put in place by governments to manage policy responses to the pandemic, with a special focus on CoG’s leading or supporting role in three main dimensions: co-ordination and strategic planning, the use of evidence to inform decision-making, and communicating decisions to the public. As governments face unprecedented governance challenges, the pandemic has uncovered gaps in both government co-ordination and the use of evidence for policy making, which directly affect the nature and quality of the measures adopted to tackle the crisis and its aftermath. These challenges have led to a number of quick fixes and agile responses, which will need to be assessed when the worst of the crisis is over.
The policy context of a major crisis
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic exemplifies the systemic nature of today’s crises and the severe effect they can have on our societies and economies. These crises unfold in a fragmented institutional context, leaving central governments with fewer levers to activate in a crisis and more actors to engage with, from the private sector to local governments and civil society (OECD, 2018). Managing such crises and addressing their socio-economic consequences requires audacious policy action to maintain functioning healthcare systems, guarantee the continuity of education, preserve businesses and jobs, and maintain the stability of financial markets.
Political leadership at the centre is essential to sustain the complex political, social and economic balance of adopting containment measures to reduce the impact of the pandemic while ensuring the provision of essential services. Such leadership is essential for maintaining citizens’ trust in government. Simultaneously addressing these various competing policy objectives requires a dual approach working across government “silos”. This is necessary to promote national resilience and preserve well-being with agile and innovative responses at the highest level, while co-ordinating and collaborating with lower levels of government and a large array of stakeholders.