Pandemic lessons: Improving your municipality’s continuity and coordination of services after COVID

The past 18 months have been trying for governments of all sizes. As with any crisis, the pandemic exposed—and worsened—municipal gaps and inefficiencies.

Municipalities faced all sorts of challenges—one of the greatest being a lack of communication and coordination. Municipal agencies often function in silos, but in the case of a long-term emergency event, silos can make coordinating comprehensive responses extremely difficult. During the pandemic, all these issues blended: vulnerable seniors, a recession, a rapidly spreading virus. Yet those agency silos remained intact.

Another challenge that strained municipalities was the uncertainty of the pandemic and a serious lack of experience or preparation for dealing with such uncertainty. Agencies were forced to design and provide solutions on a day-by-day basis.

Further, the need for social distancing made delivering services even more difficult, especially because of barriers to accessing the internet, which disproportionately impact low-income communities.

In the months ahead, it’s crucial that municipalities don’t let these challenges go to waste. Governments must learn from them, update their processes and ensure they’re better prepared in the future.

In terms of communication, many municipalities should rethink their siloed systems and build channels for better collaboration. Each agency should strive to know what the others are working on, and how it may overlap with their own scope.

The pandemic revealed how taxing a crisis can be on residents’ mental health. And so, municipalities should invest in programs that prioritize mental health and wellness.

Municipalities need to develop new data capture and analysis capacity to understand evolving situations. Had these systems been in place at the start of the pandemic, governments could have more quickly determined where and how to deploy resources like testing sites, rent assistance, or mental health services.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that any crisis—big or small, health-related or otherwise—will affect vulnerable communities more so than any other group. The first step to address this is identifying neighborhoods without adequate access to high-quality schools, parks, public spaces, public transportation, and health resources, listening to the needs of community members and collaborating to enact services and programs that work.

As the pandemic recedes, it’s vital for municipalities to take stock of what they learned and start putting these lessons into practice immediately.

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