Adapting to a major disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic involves progressing through four distinct stages: Reaction, Resilience, Recovery, and finally (positioning for) the New Reality. Municipal leaders can take a number of key actions to help prepare for and guide them through each step of this journey.
Reaction: With various regions across the country now beginning to cautiously reopen, it's fair to say that the Reaction period is behind us. These last couple of months were characterized by scaling back or suspending of municipal services, stepping up of engagement and outreach, and introducing short-term relief for residents and local businesses. While effective in 'flattening the curve,' these measures and changes had a huge impact on municipal costs and revenues, leading to real financial stress and concern in many communities.
Resilience: With growing costs and shrinking revenues, many municipalities then began to focus on managing cash flow and making adjustments necessary to getting them through this period of decreased business. Many looked to layoffs and service reductions to limit operating costs, including the deferral of non-urgent capital investments. While short-term savings are possible, care must be taken to ensure that cutbacks don't increase risk exposure, or hurt a municipality's ability to pivot and adapt for Recovery.
Recovery: The move to recovery has many municipal leaders thinking about what will be needed to re-engage workers, restore services, and jump start their local economies. While federal and provincial governments are exploring stimulus options, municipal leaders must be thinking about their local logistics, needs, and priorities to ensure they are able to benefit from these initiatives once introduced and implemented.
New Reality: Most leaders agree that COVID-19 will drive some significant shifts for municipalities and how they deliver services. The way these organizations function and develop must adapt, not only to limit the risks associated with doing business but also to plan for a sustainable, adaptive, and resilient future.
There's no question that Canada's municipalities will continue to face significant challenges over the coming months. The road ahead is daunting and each step will present municipal leaders with unique problems. Clarity of objective, transparency in needs and priorities, and willingness to make tough choices will be needed to successfully guide our communities to post-COVID prosperity and success.