Innovator's Journey: How Washington County moved beyond resiliency to become antifragile in the midst of a global pandemic 

Tanya Ange, Administrator of Washington County, Oregon, shares how antifragile principles showed up for Washington County throughout COVID-19 while also responding to wildfires and evolving community needs. 

ARTICLE | Jun 23, 2021
Tanya Ange headshot

Tanya Ange on what does antifragile mean to you: Antifragile is at the core of local government service delivery. The services we deliver to the community are being done so to meet community needs. Being antifragile means being resilient, responding to emerging and changing needs, and working in partnership with our elected and our community members.

Watch or read our whole interview with Tanya below.

AFI: Hi, everyone! Welcome to the Innovator's Journey by the Alliance for Innovation. I'm Kim Newcomer. Today, we are joined by Tanya Ange from Washington County, Oregon, and we're going to be talking about how organizations can become more antifragile. Tanya, thanks for being here. Why don't you just tell us a little bit about yourself?

Tanya Ange: Thanks, Kim, for having me. As you said, my name is Tanya Ange. I am still relatively new to Washington County. I started as the Washington County administrator in August of 2020. So, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. And I moved from Boulder, Colorado, where I served as the Deputy City Manager for just over four years. And prior to that, as the Deputy City Manager for Mankato, Minnesota. My career has been with local government, and I'm passionate to serve and be a steward of democracy.

AFI: Tanya, I have to say starting a new position, transitioning from city to county, all in the middle of a pandemic. If that's not antifragile, I don't know what is.

Tanya Ange: I'll just add to that, Kim, three weeks into my position, there were wildfires in Oregon. And so, literally overnight, one of the activities we needed to take on as a county was to open up our fairgrounds to animal evacuees. I think this does demonstrate how our services and local government need to meet the needs of the community. And that sense is the reason for striving to be antifragile.

AFI: The amount of resiliency to get through those few months, let alone this entire year, is impressive. What does antifragile mean to you?

Tanya Ange: Antifragile is at the core of local government service delivery. The services we deliver to the community are being done so to meet community needs. Being antifragile means being resilient, responding to emerging and changing needs, and working in partnership with our elected and our community members.

AFI: That idea of being flexible is core to the antifragile philosophy. Your fairgrounds were not intended to be a shelter for large animals. Talk to us about the need for flexibility and your ability to make your organization flexible. How has that been helpful in the last few months, particularly through these trying times?

Tanya Ange: I think on individual levels through, through COVID, I want to reflect on just being a working parent. Antifragile is something that needs to be core in our household, as my kids are in virtual learning. How we changed and pivoted from virtual learning to in-school learning to virtual learning is the same concept as we needed to pivot and adjust within an organization. We talked about the fairgrounds, which was creative thinking and taking a challenge, and seeking the opportunity, and how we can use our county services and our assets, including our buildings, grounds, and our employees, to meet the challenges in front of us.

AFI: I want to touch a little bit on this idea of trust. You mentioned that by working through partnerships, you're trying to find those places best suited to provide needed services. Over the last couple of months, through this pandemic, organizations had to work hard to maintain community trust, particularly our governments and our public health officials. Talk to me about how you as a county have invested in generating and maintaining public trust and accountability?

Tanya Ange: I think the first step is listening, listening to the voices, and listening to those, that express concern and who are willing to share that vaccine deployment, for example, isn't working, or it's not meeting the people we need to serve. Then, pivoting and working with community-based organizations that community members trust; and can be advocates for access. So many times within local government, there are real and perceived barriers to access. As a local government entity, it's our responsibility to understand where those barriers are and then develop different ways to remove them. I truly believe that’s done through partnership. Our community ecosystems, it's not about all about government, it’s about our ecosystem of community-based organizations, working hand in hand with the private sector and individual community members to move forward community need.

AFI: I love the idea of community-based solutions, right? Government isn't always the entity that's right to solve a problem and bringing all of those partners together to actually say, "Here's our challenge. How are we going to meet it collectively?". It sounds like that's a philosophy that you've actually been able to put into practice.

Tanya Ange: Yes, and I think it's central to equity, diversity, and inclusion as well. It is really listening to others' lived experience and then shifting that and integrating that into our service delivery model within the county.

AFI: When we're talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion and how you gather that input from your community, how does data play a role in determining what you're doing well, and where you might need to do better?

Tanya Ange: Disparities have been exposed through this pandemic and disparities that affect people of color. Specifically, our Latin X community has been more adversely affected by COVID. Washington County has been working through vaccine disbursement strategies and we use that data and prioritized our populations most impacted by COVID as our priority areas and then our most vulnerable. We have been using that as our priority indicator, to get the vaccines out to the community and in a way that is rooted within data.

AFI: I want to dig into this idea of disparities because I think it takes a lot of confidence and boldness to measure data and acknowledge when we're not doing well and to address it. Were you nervous when you saw that data come back? As you said, you had to be really open and reflective about what the data was telling you.

Tanya Ange: I think that's part of building a data-driven culture within an organization, and that is core to being antifragile because we need to understand what our outcomes are. The way to understand that is actually through data. In this case, I’m talking about the disparate impacts on our Latin X community. We have now determined that there is health inequities. As local government, we then have a responsibility to not only acknowledge that but then determine steps on how we are going to act on that data or that knowledge that we have.

 

I am very proud and humbled to serve alongside our Board of County Commissioners and our staff, who are just leaning into this conversation and in its communications too.  Sharing why we are approaching our work this way and what the data is telling us about it. We haven't received significant pushback from the community because we've had this story to tell. I'm proud to say that Governor Brown has used Washington County as an example of using data and focusing on inequities in the service delivery approach.

AFI: That's impressive; congratulations! I know many counties are struggling with how to collect that data and put it to good use. It sounds like you have an amazing team behind you as well in Washington County.

As you think about being antifragile, how do you plan for the future and the long-term sustainability of your organization?

Tanya Ange: I always look for opportunities and what we can do better in all areas. That's important to being antifragile. As local government, there's always room to improve, and the community need is ever-changing. Part of being antifragile is just looking for those opportunities and those iterations of where we are today to be stronger for tomorrow.

AFI: So through all of this, a lot of change has taken place, and we've all been in response mode. But if there's one thing that has happened, that you've changed, that you've embraced, that you don't want to see go away. Now, what would be that one thing? What would be the one thing that you want to make sure you keep as part of your organization that you started over the last couple of years?

Tanya Ange: So that's a great question, Kim, and I would have to say our partnerships with our community-based organizations, and we have strengthened those partnerships and leaned into what are the strengths of Washington County and what are the strengths of these organizations. And I don't want to lose that connection moving forward because our communities face complex societal issues, housing homelessness, for example. And so, by continuing that partnership with those community-based organizations, I'm confident that we will be stronger and more antifragile in the future and come up with some creative and innovative solutions to our community needs.

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