Resiliency in the Age of COVID-19: Introduction

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December 8, 2020

By Steven W. Pedigo


In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson shared his vision of what would become known as the "Great Society"—an America where the air and water are clean, poverty and racial injustice have been eliminated, and all its citizens can develop their full potential and share in the abundance. Tragically, the gap between LBJ's aspiration and our current reality is as wide today as it was then. The ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic calamity shed a blinding light on our continuing need to create more equitable communities, preserve the planet, and nourish the minds of our children. While LBJ couched his dream in the metaphors of battle and transcendence, the word that best describes our society's need today is resilience.

Resiliency Toolkit
Full Report (University of Texas Libraries)

The concept of resilience grows out of a long tradition of emergency management.[1] The more resiliency a community has, the less likely it is to break under pressure, and the faster it rebounds. Typically, the word is used to assess a community's capacity to withstand an environmental disaster but it can also describe the ability of a community to cope with crises like pandemics and economic shocks. Where the COVID-19 emergency is concerned, resiliency is less about "bouncing back" than "moving forward." The concept is best understood through what John Kingdon calls the "policy stream"—the ways that problems, politics, and policies intersect to define where a community is, how it responds, and how it grows through a crisis.[2] This understanding cannot be achieved without a frank evaluation of the system flaws the crisis exposes, which need to be repaired as a crucial step toward restoration.

Resiliency as a Policy Tool

That critical evaluation—and a toolkit for undertaking those repairs—is precisely what we have undertaken in these pages. Tapping into the expertise of our faculty and scholars, the essays in this Toolkit offer both a diagnosis of where the Austin region, America, and the world went wrong in its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and a prescription for what it can do better.

While LBJ couched his dream in the metaphors of battle and transcendence, the word that best describes our society's need today is resilience.

Topics covered include:

  • Equity, including the ways that the virus and strategies for treating its impact different populations
  • Public Finance, how federal governments can supplement state revenues in crises—and how states can maximize their revenues by different funding approaches
  • Corrections, and more particularly, the scandal of COVID-19 in prisons, and the dangers it poses not just to prisoners, but to their guards and their communities
  • Intelligence, how the intelligence community delivered good information about the threat of the pandemic, but failed to get federal decision-makers to act on it
  • National Security, how the U.S., despite its manifest failures, could reclaim its status as a world leader
  • Public Health, samples of approaches that ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive all the help they are entitled to
  • Community Building, and the importance of collaboration between nonprofits and the public sector, and between nonprofits themselves

There are also important essays that highlight the role of public management education in developing effective leaders, global development and the stresses that COVID-19 is creating in the developing world, economic development and inclusion, community health, and how COVID-19 foreshadows the coming shocks borne of climate change. Together, they make a powerful case for the value of evidence-based research and thinking in the service of policymaking—and the clear need for greater expertise in state houses, in Washington, DC, and at private philanthropies and NGOs.

Thinkers and doers: people who dream of progress and who will try to turn those dreams into achievements.

Fifty years ago, LBJ founded our school and introduced its first public affairs graduate program as one that would blend the practical with the academic to produce a new generation of "thinkers and doers: people who dream of progress and who will try to turn those dreams into achievements." This toolkit was produced in that spirit, to help policy makers as they struggle to turn their good intentions into effective actions, but also to put the issue of equitable community development and LBJ's vision of the Great Society back on the national agenda.


Steven Pedigo is a professor of practice at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. He directs the School's Urban Lab.

[1] Sonny S. Patel, M. Boork Rogers, Richard Amlot, and G. James Rubin, "What Do We Mean by 'Community Resilience'? A Systematic Literature Review of How It Is Defined in the Literature," PLoS Curr, February 1, 2017

[2] John W. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, Little Brown, January 1, 1984.


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