Pandemic Governance in South Korea

The Collaboration Dynamics of Government and Civil Society During COVID-19 in South Korea


South Korea stands out, regionally and worldwide, for its exemplary handling of the COVID-19 crisis. While its technical expertise from a public health perspective has been well-recognized, South Korea’s collaborative approach to civil society and general respect for civic freedoms throughout the pandemic has received less attention.

This groundbreaking paper explores examples of South Korea’s enabling, cooperative approach to civil society in emergency response, drawn partly from its learning around effective approaches in past public health crises.

In particular, it notes the following examples as best practices in pandemic governance in Asia and globally:

  • Integration of civil society input via committees in national and local decision-making structures, resulting in direct communication channels to the highest level of administration
  • Active consultation with civil society, from medical associations to human rights groups, on a wide range of pandemic public policies while respecting civil society independence
  • Continual information-sharing with the public and a generally transparent, accessible approach
  • Facilitation of civil society’s ability to bridge information and service gaps and serve as a resource and humanitarian provider
  • Protection of minority rights, attention to the concerns of marginalized groups, and willingness to adjust when concerns around discrimination were raised by civil society
  • General receptivity to human rights sensitization and advocacy by civil society groups
  • Active promotion of a collaborative approach, recognition of civil society’s importance, and encouragement of civil society-government data-sharing

While the strength of the collaborative approach ebbed somewhat in the later phase of the pandemic due to political developments, South Korea’s protection of civic freedoms remained generally strong. Although there is room for improvement regarding privacy rights, the South Korean example continues to stand out as a model for other governments regarding rights-respecting public health governance.

To learn more about government responses to COVID across Asia and the Pacific, visit our resource page here.