Reflexes publics : investigating public resilience times of crisis

Posted on 29 janvier 2021 par Sylvine Bois-Choussy

Is the future of public action being fabricated before our very eyes, in the multiple spontaneous innovations and other institutional tinkering caused by a crisis as brutal as it is unexpected? We have been working patiently for several years on public transformation. And here we are! From the very first confinement, in local authorities, State services and local authorities strive to innovate. In this critical context, the need for continuity of service has shaken up public management and transformed the way decisions are taken. New modes of cooperation have emerged, and the relationship between public institutions and users and citizens has been redefined.

These in situ transformations have sparked our enthusiasm and curiosity. By their actions, they demonstrate the responsiveness of agents and the inventiveness of public organizations, which improvise responses and shake up modernization software that is all too often designed from the top down. And at the same time, these evolutions have raised the several questions for us.

What about the intriguing items that (re)emerged with the crisis, such as the figure of the « public action reservist » or the notion of « essential activity »? What are partnerships between makers and local authorities, for example around the production of protective masks or visors, the sign of? What vision of the role of the public player and its intervention methods do these all-encompassing initiatives contribute to disseminating? Built to cope with the crisis, the multiple responses of the public player are renewing the visions of public action. Nevertheless, not all of them converge towards the same horizon. So what trends are they echoing? Should we try to maintain them or emphasize their temporary nature?

Between April and December 2020, we launched Reflexes Publics, a collaborative field survey on public transformationsin times of crisis, with the aim to identify prospective leads to strengthen the resilience capacity of public administrations.Initiated by the 27e Région, Vraiment Vraiment and Partie Prenante agencies the support of the Interministerial Delegation for Public Transformation (DITP), Bloomberg Philanthropies, and about twenty French public public innovation labs and local governments. Together, we led more than 50 interviews, complemented with horizon scanning on French and international initiatives.

We started with identifying a series of 6 tensions and 13 actual phenomena that put them at stake, in order to contextualize the profusion of innovations at work. That helped us design 17 prospective leads  to implement changes at different points in the administration and thus, like an acupuncturist, transform the entire machine towards more resilience to face future crisis. These proposals are articulated around 7 main orientations : Diversifying sources of influence, Strengthening the reallocation of resources, Trusting stewardship, etc. This tangible ideas include for exemple a professional micro-mobility policy, citizen liaison committees, civic engagement platforms, etc.

The covid crisis strengthens our conviction on the need to further integrate public transformation and resilience: the first makes the second possible, which helps set it on course. This investigation shows this in a tangible way, and draws the levers to build public capacities adapted to the world to come. Reflexes publics resulted in a forward-looking vision of a « resilient by design » administration, which would integrate into its management, its tools, etc. the context of high uncertainty and the principles of resilience (robustness, agility, decentralization, mutual aid, etc.).  Of course this work also echos works led by our partners across the world in this critical context, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation-Teams community (Covid response initiative) or States of of Change (the learning curve).

We now aim, with our partners, to translate these propositions into experiments or capacity building initiatives for public administrations. I this perspective, we’d be happy to hear about similar initiatives led in the public transformation international community and connect our work. Don’t hesitate to write us !

Download here the Reflexes publics booklet