Emotions Power Public Administration

Emotions Power Public Administration


“The reaction of public administrations to an emergency situation is one of the basic themes of my research. The fact that I was in the United States during the lockdown provided an opportunity to compare institutional behavior in two emblematic cases: the Fiera di Milano Covid hospital on Milan fairgrounds and the Javits Center Emergency Hospital in New York by the Hudson River".
Alex Turrini, Professor in the Department of Political and Social Sciences and Fellow of Bocconi’s COVID Crisis Lab, thus tells the genesis of the research study co-authored with colleagues Daniela Cristofoli and Giovanni Valotti and recently published in the American Review of Public Administration in which, at a later stage, also included the comparative analysis with the construction of the Huoshenshan emergency center in Wuhan, China. The purpose of the survey was to identify the determining factors that allowed such a rapid response from the public authorities to take place in the various contexts.
“By analyzing the articles featured in the press and thus reconstructing all the phases of the projects, we observed two different intervention models”, summarizes the Bocconi professor: "In the US, the approach was almost military, with a clear definition of roles and the active participation of the New York state government and the City of New York. On the other hand, the upper level, the federal one, was almost absent, particularly after President Trump exonerated himself from the decision-making chain, further exasperating the conflict with Andrew Cuomo, NY Governor, who still had to deal with the federal government to erect the facility. In Lombardy, on the other hand, there was a strong political-entrepreneurial leadership on the part of regional governor Attilio Fontana, and this involved private funds and facilities and the volunteering sector. In short, the emergency has overturned two clichés in one fell swoop: in the country of private initiative, the US, the state did everything by itself, while in the country of byzantine bureaucracy, Italy, a public-private partnership for rapid intervention was quickly achieved”. Without going into the issue about whether there was an actual need for building these structures, the fact that both approaches were effective shows that one model was no better than another.
The element of greatest interest underlined by the study rather concerns the role played by emotions in accelerating processes and inspiring collaborations, a new insight uncovered by Turrini's research. “Whereas an excessively rational attitude would have not suited the context, public authorities did not hesitate to leverage emotions to get the private sector involved”, explains the researcher. "This mechanism, perfected and made strategic, could become a new tool in the hands of public administrations to improve operations and streamline decision-making processes, not only in emergency situations, but also in everyday contexts, when in any case public organizations must respond to potentially unlimited needs with scarce resources. The issue of emotional intelligence applied to business had already been debated in private contexts, but in the public sector the discussion is almost completely absent. Public leadership also needs to understand how important it is to use forms of nudging and persuasion - not manipulation of course - that involve emotions."
Click here to read the study.

by Emanuele Elli
Translated by Alex Foti


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