What levers do you use to tackle a pandemic?

5 min readFeb 21, 2024

In working through pandemic, we’ve tested and scaled up very quickly a number of different services to meet different people’s needs:

We’re using a variety of different levers to tackle the impacts of Covid 19 which are summarised below and which I go through in more detail below, with some questions we’re thinking about the future.

We used a variation of the local government styles of action which was developed through the Local Government Innovation Network I co-facilitate. That was itself inspired by the Policy Lab’s Styles of Action, which they’ve since repurposed into understanding what these levers have been to tackle the pandemic, as shown below:

In the meantime, below is an overview of what we’ve done across these different levers:

1. Advise, listen, connect, champion, charge, nudge & devolve?

We’ve advised people on support for vulnerable, to signpost to social action and changes to government measures. We’ve also commissioned advice services to increase their impact.

We’re connected citizens to each other, through their needs and assets, delivery & distribution.

We’re listening to people’s experiences and stories, and we’ve nudged people to help support the lockdown and responsible behaviours as we exit from it.

How can you nudge particular ways, encourage people to use online to work, buy or learn rather than face to face. How can you design spaces and travel where people need to distance? How can you encourage people to be healthy to avoid going to the doctor or A&E? How can you encourage ways to design in solidarity for people who are shielded — like through mutual aid or safe spaces.

Our approach has been a mixture of command and control to protect and bottom up self-organising by mutual aid groups and brokering volunteers, food and digital infrastructure in the middle. As NESTA shows by reviewing how different countries have responded, decentralised approaches have worked better.

2. Lobby, inform, engage, agree, incentivise, educate, assure

On lobbying, we’ve developed networks beyond local councils around what common causes (i.e. food, distribution, etc.). How can we mobilise partners to design or redesign or build infrastructure to support physical distancing and healthy streets to become more resilient? How can we design collaborative spaces that are open, networked and healthy by design? New PPE factories or food maker spaces, social distribution spaces

Going forwards, how can we incentivise behaviours to reduce the spread, encourage people to buy local, to walk and cycle more? How can we educate people on the implications of their behaviours

3. Consult, analyse, partner, contract, build, license


We’re consulting on the fundamental changes that will take place and difficult decisions, such as how we can make it easier and safer to travel. How can we open up the conversation on the renewal like the French have done with “The Day After”?

We’re analysing the data, learning and scenarios to help us make better decisions with people.

We’ve partnered and contracted in different ways on key delivery and distribution like food, PPE, etc. We should encourage supply chain innovation to support and design in distancing, buy social and local. How do we reconfigure or reinvent supply chains that are broken through Covid 19? What are the new supply chains we need to create.

What new forms of licensing can we create that introduce “healthy by design” standards?

4. Role model, convene, forecast, plan, co-fund, provide, regulate

It is critical that leaders and institutions role model behaviours that reduce the spread of the virus and encourage economic renewal — like buying local, growing & making, sharing with neighbours. What are the best examples of role modelling you’ve seen by leaders and institutions?

How can we role model — as a workforce, as an employer, as a commissioner, as a landowner — to be “healthy by design”?

We’re forecasting to anticipate future scenarios and work with people to imagine & test how we could respond to the them. However, when was the last time we stopped to think how many people died of the Spanish Flu, where people were more likely to die of that than of World War 1. What did we learn from SARS? Everyone loves a trend, and often assert either utopias they’d love society to be or dystopias to prove how bad the alternative would be.

5. Audit, collaborate, model, commission, target, reform, intervene

We are auditing our work through regular situation reports to the government and have set up a scrutiny panel for people to scrutinise our work. We’re collaborating and commissioning as mentioned above. We’re targeting people who need to be shielded, who are vulnerable, both individuals and businesses who are in lockdown

What state intervention do we want to intervene in? To map this, let’s use Andrea Siodmok’s “Government as a System”

Introducing a ‘Government as a System’ toolkit

In late February I tested Policy Lab’s new ‘Government as a System’ toolkit at the UK Policy Profession’s annual Policy…


6. Govern, negotiate, test, interpret, invest, safeguard, enforce

COBRA, SAGE and other emergency planning bodies have been very closed, traditional and patriarchical forms of decision making. What can we learn from a scientific approach which shares evidence in the open for peer review?

How can the government negotiate more the conditions of any funding or bailouts for companies or with citizens on their behaviours?

Testing has taken on a different meaning but experimenting “whatever needs to be done”. How do you test in a slow burn?

How do you help services and businesses interpret a healthy by design approach? What do we need to invest in to reboot and renew the economy? How do we this collectively at a local level across supply chains? How can we safeguard people during and after lockdown? How can we enforce in a way that doesn’t turn people away from the need for solidarity to protect ourselves and each other from the virus?

7. Publish, elect, pilot, codify, fund, prevent, sanction

Publishing guidance is really important to help people know what to do but also the evidence that shows why it’s so critical. We haven’t elected people during this period!

Could sharing more data help reduce the spread of Covid 19 but also create inequalities (people who’ve got/had Covid 19 excluded from society)?

Finally, what can we learn what #localgov is doing across Europe?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese