State and Local Agencies Learned Strategic IT Thinking During Pandemic, Says USDR

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Written by Ryan Johnston

State and local governments are finally taking “the intersection of technology and politics” seriously, after two years of innovations focused on COVID-19, representatives from the US Digital Response said Wednesday.

Pari Sabety, USDR’s economic stability adviser, told StateScoop that the nonprofit group’s government partners better understand the importance of developing a long-term technology strategy than they did before the pandemic. The comments come ahead of the first anniversary of the US bailout and the second anniversary of the US digital response.

“[State and local governments] understood that they had to respond on a large scale and that they had to take the intersection between politics and technology seriously,” Sabety said. “Because without the technology to implement the policy, the outcome will never be delivered to those in need you intend to support. People have learned, governments have learned, ‘I can no longer drive my tanker on a road built for T models”. I have to build a new road.

Sabety, a former Ohio state budget director, said states struggled early in the pandemic to deploy “rapid response” solutions to technology challenges, like distributing aid to emergency rental. “Getting these things out” was a huge problem until organizations like USDR helped by speeding up software development and ensuring projects were tracked with policy, she said.

“We’ve seen governments learn for themselves and start to approach the next decisions they make in a very different way,” Sabety said.

The shift in strategic thinking has also manifested itself in how state governments repair and rebuild their unemployment insurance systems, said Jessica Cole, acting CEO of USDR. Cole said when the pandemic first spread to the United States, the initial response from state governments was “to try to keep it from melting.”

“It was purely an immediate correction, it was the initial instinct,” she said.

That was back then, Cole said. But now, state and local agencies working with USDR aren’t just fixing their technology issues — they’re making sure those issues won’t happen again.

“It took a while, but over time you can see a movement now that’s actually saying oh, we’re going to make structural changes to how these systems work,” Cole said. “Because we know we can’t predict what’s next, we’re actually ready to build flexible, user-centric tools where we can sense needs as they change.”

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