Georgia’s local self-governments - called municipalities - are the country’s only subnational governing bodies, often managing an urban center and nearby towns, villages, and rural areas. Their proximity to the public has made municipal officials the primary implementers and explainers of the national government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. Municipal leaders have struggled to develop consistent and proactive messages to reduce public fear and frustration while informing citizens about government services. They reached out to NDI in the spring of 2020 for assistance on developing and implementing a crisis communications strategy. Following this engagement, NDI engaged with local governments to work more broadly on developing crisis response plans.
As a direct result of NDI’s efforts in fall 2021, local legislatures in Zugdidi and Telavi formally adopted crisis management guidelines, institutionalizing a collaborative approach to responding to natural or manmade crises affecting their communities. As a consequence, municipal officials and staff are now better equipped to cope with emerging crises.
To develop the guidelines, NDI and staff from the executive and legislative bodies of four municipalities (Marneuli, Ozurgeti, Telavi, and Zugdidi) conducted tabletop simulations of crisis scenarios, the first of their kind to be implemented for Georgia’s local self-governments. The goal of these simulations was to understand how municipalities would respond in a crisis, including knowledge of available resources, division of responsibilities between municipal departments and government bodies, and current levels of collaboration.
NDI and an invited crisis management expert introduced partners to international practices in crisis management and readiness, and discussed each partner’s current response to the pandemic’s effects in their communities. NDI then designed a scenario for each municipality, matching aspects of the fictional simulation to the local context. At each stage of the scenario exercises participants assessed the severity of the crisis and proposed responses. In each municipality, the exercise revealed limited coordination between local government bodies and departments, often emerging from unclear division of responsibilities.
After seeing how partners handled a fictional crisis, NDI and the expert identified gaps and challenges in the respective municipality’s approach, producing guidelines for each government. The guidelines, titled “Basic Procedures and Processes of Crisis Management,” provided concrete steps for local crisis management, including relevant legislation, how to establish a chain of command and crisis response team, how to analyze, plan, and execute responses, and how to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of a crisis response through internal or external assessments. In addition, guides included recommendations on crisis communication in pre-crisis, crisis management and post-crisis phases, including appointing a communications point person or creating a media hub, where media representatives can operate from within government offices to stay updated on the crisis response.
NDI-Georgia partners directly with local governments in Georgia to increase government responsiveness to public concerns, and build accountability for the consequences of those responses. This activity was funded by USAID’s Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) program in Georgia.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.
Authors: Nino Bolkvadze is a Program Manager on the Eurasia Team, Mariam Tkeshelashvili is a Program Assistant on the Eurasia Team, and Cole Speidel is a Senior Program Assistant on the Eurasia Team