The regional impact of COVID-19: measurement practicalities

I was fortunate to speak at Economic Development New Zealand’s national conference. I shared my experiences of assessing how COVID-19 is affecting regional economies and what economic development professionals can do to help understand what is happening in their local area.

Some key points

What a ride we have been on over the past six months, and we have no idea how much longer this will all go on.

It is fundamentally necessary to not just focus on the immediate and recovery phase from COVID-19, but to understand how what has occurred might be a catalyst for a broader long-term transformation.

As both consumer and business behaviours have gone through such dramatic changes during the crisis, the nature of demand, business practice and supply chains are likely to structurally change. These changes will be inconsistent across industries, presenting some sectors and places with greater opportunities, while others will need to evolve or will cease to exist.

The question is how do we find out about the structural changes that are occurring?

The lock down joke was that the first week was zoom, zoom, zoom and then the second was survey, survey, survey. We hear a lot about survey fatigue as a result. But we were surveying because we realised there are so many things we don’t know, and so many things we must find out from simply asking people about their thinking – we are not mind readers.

I know that people may say and do different things, but we do need to have targeted, intentional ways of finding out from people and businesses how their behaviours are evolving.

The value of qualitative insight should not be underestimated. Targeted surveys to very specific groups of people still have their place and so don’t shy away from them completely. It’s just obviously you should be wary of simply dumping generic survey after survey on your business database.

It’s also worth remembering that surveying is not the only way to gather qualitative insight in your local area. At other times you may wish to pull together focus groups of key stakeholders in different sectors or other aspects of your local community, and have a focussed discussion about what they are seeing, what they are expecting for their own situations and how they are intending on reacting.

Economic development agencies can play a lead role in facilitating these types of conversations in ways economists can’t. It’s not just about fact gathering, there is also a pastoral care element where you listen to others and may also be able to connect them in with support.

Replay my conference presentation

My presentation can be watched here.