As the COVID-19 pandemic forces people to think of new ways to live under the ‘new normal’, governments must be open to collaborating with its citizens.
This was emphasized by Reboot Co-founder and Executive Director Panthea Lee during the 6th Annual Public Policy Conference (APPC) webinar titled “Institutional Innovations and Reforms under the New Normal” recently organized by state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).
“We must rethink how our outdated forms of governance and economic growth have not served us... We need new paradigms and new ways of thinking,” Lee said during her presentation as one of the panelists in the webinar.
She cited her first-hand experience with a group of community organizers and volunteers in Brooklyn, New York, which developed a COVID-19 response system using chatbots, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. The system aimed to help the people in their neighborhood, especially the vulnerable ones, by providing meals and groceries, among other things. In about six months, the system served about seven percent of the community’s population.
“…I see that most of the change that is happening, and that is responding to the urgent challenges that we face and the long-term challenges, is coming [from] the right-hand side—community-driven change,” Lee explained.
In her presentation, she also highlighted the limitations of institutional response, saying that the highest levels of government, in their worst responses, resort to “denial of the problems, [blaming] of citizens, corruption of stimulus funds and many other ways, unwillingness to face the truth about what is happening… gross incompetence, and the use of executive force to crack down on dissenters”. These, Lee said, “handicap civil service and partners” who are willing to work with the governments.
She further added that the different roles that various sectors in society play are “too idealistic, too simplistic, and are actually quite naive” given today’s complex and fast-moving world. Therefore, this must be changed.
“Government alone [will not] be able to solve these problems that we are facing now. The problems are too great, the scale is too extreme, and the problems are too embedded, the injustices too structural,” Lee said.
In conclusion, Lee urged governments to take a “whole-of-society-approach” in dealing with the new normal. She cited Taiwan as an example, saying that it has effective intra-government, private sector, and civil society collaborations.
“The ‘whole-of-society approach’ does not say that we are all trained to do the same thing at the same time. We need to think about how to structure and sequence these conversations to let artists and activists lead, let researchers and society determine how we set these paths in building on the creative work they are already doing. The government, companies, and private sector can then help us figure out how we set policies and organize markets to realize these more courageous futures. And we need to trust our people,” Lee explained.
Started in 2015, the APPC is the main and culminating activity of the Development Policy Research Month, a nationwide celebration every September to highlight the importance of research evidence in policy and decision-making in the country. This year’s DPRM theme is “Bouncing Back Together: Innovating Governance for the New Normal”. ###

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