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Governing through crises

Major events, like the Great East Japan earthquake or indeed the euro crisis, can have important ripple effects that spread well beyond the areas immediately concerned. More recently, the budget crisis that resulted in the shutdown of large parts of the US government and public services has raised the spectre of a default, the first in the country’s history.

Governments today are confronted with an increasing number of crises, some resulting from new and poorly understood hazards and threats.

In the wake of the financial and fiscal crises, global leaders are acutely aware that further systemic shocks could severely challenge economic recovery, social cohesion and even political stability. And given the interconnected nature of the world economy, the threat of crises spilling beyond national borders, triggering significant economic knock-on effects, is more present than ever.

“OECD Risk Management: Strategic Crisis Management”, an OECD working paper by Charles Baubion, highlights the changing landscape of crises with which governments are confronted today. The report discusses different approaches and practices in dealing with both traditional and new crises, asking how governments can best adapt to change while still maintaining their capabilities to deal with more usual crises.

Citizens’ trust in government is directly affected by how quick, efficient and transparent government decisions are in crisis situations. But the complexity of managing modern crises means that many actors are involved.

The ability to co-ordinate crisis management is a fundamental element of good governance, testing governments’ capacity to provide the appropriate responses at the right time, in order to protect citizens and mitigate the impact of disasters. Ensuring that national authorities have the right tools and institutional framework for co-ordinated action is critical.

Many OECD governments have taken recent developments in the risk and crisis landscape over the last decade into consideration when revising their crisis management systems. However, crises continue to evolve, challenging even the most recent and robust systems to continue to adapt.

Baubion, C. (2013), “OECD Risk Management: Strategic Crisis Management”, OECD Working Papers on Public Governance, No 23, OECD Publishing.

See also www.oecd.org/governance/

©OECD Observer No 296, Q3 2013