We the Partnership

Three lessons governments learned using technology during COVID-19

By Elizabeth Byers | January 6, 2021

According to a recently published report by the Partnership and Microsoft, technology—from videoconferencing to artificial intelligence—has enabled federal, state and local government to continue delivering key services during the coronavirus pandemic.

What lessons has government learned from this experience?

When the pandemic hit, government agencies needed to quickly figure out how to operate in the new environment. They needed to transfer large portions of their workforces to telework, establish new programs to help combat the pandemic and continue delivering vital services.

“Bit by Bit,” a new report, offers three examples of government employing technology during the pandemic to govern remotely, provide digital services, and enable coronavirus-related research and development.

At a report release event in December, answers to the question of what government learned came from four federal and nonprofit technology specialists—Sanjay Gupta, chief technology officer at the Small Business Administration; Chris Fall, director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy; Denise Riedl, chief innovation officer for South Bend, Indiana; and Amanda Renteria, CEO of Code for America.

The officials highlighted three guiding principles that government should consider when using technology.

  1. Focus on the mission. “We’ve seen that technology is no longer the periphery or the enabler of business, but it’s core to the business,” Gupta said. Agencies need to fulfill their missions using the right technological tools, not necessarily the newest ones. Government should also recognize that technology does not always lead to better service delivery. When people who lack internet access cannot use online services, for example, agencies should find alternatives.
  2. Show the value of technology. The pandemic forced organizations to rely on technology to fulfill many operations—from videoconferencing South Bend City Council meetings to using DOE supercomputers remotely. Riedl noted, for example, that colleagues who were once skeptical of these kinds of technological solutions contacted her during the pandemic to discuss implementing new technology. “Suddenly the demand for technology and digital service support just skyrocketed. Folks that never wanted to work with my team before were knocking on our door, asking for help,” she said. The panel also recommended that technology specialists highlight how technology has helped their agencies fulfill their missions during the pandemic. Emphasizing specific examples will encourage agencies to continue employing new technology.
  3. Don’t forget the people. Government needs to develop user-friendly technology tools. For public-facing services, human-centered design and user testing can help ensure that customers can access and use new technology. Agencies should also enable their employees to fully use new technology by providing them with training and resources.  

Read “Bit by Bit: How Governments Used Technology to Move the Mission Forward During COVID-19” to learn more about how agencies have used technology to fulfill their missions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons government has learned about using technology to deliver critical services in the future.


Elizabeth Byers