Corona approach – which factor can become decisive?

Author: Manu Steens

In this blog I write my personal opinion and not that of any organization.

Recently, the VRT (Flemish Radio and Television) stated that the fifth wave has started, with an expected 125,000 infections per day by mid-January.

That is very appealing of course, such numbers. But people want to know what the risk is and what the risk factors are. Classically speaking, one can say that:

Risk = probability x impact

In the case of this pandemic, if we dig deeper into these two factors, we can say in simplified terms that:

–         Probability = exposure x susceptibility x behavior

–         Impact = sensitivity x behavior

In the case of probability, the exposure is a function of the environment (directly proportional to the number of infected people in the environment of the person) in which an individual is located and the susceptibility is an internal factor of the human body: how receptive the body is to the exposure. The behavior here is a factor that implies caution on the part of the individual. This without any degree of pejorative intent: it is regardless of whether the behavior is reckless, such as people hanging too close to each other at the pub, or whether the job is a contact profession that entails this behavior, such as people taking care for patients with Covid19 in the ICU.

At the impact level, the sensitivity is an internal factor of the person’s body, such as someone who naturally has a strong immune system or, unfortunately, just doesn’t have a strong one. The behavior here is best illustrated by people who do or do not have themselves vaccinated. By having themselves vaccinated, if necessary several times, it has been shown that people who get corona suffer a significantly lower impact: they may still get sick, but it is less bad, and therefore there is a good chance that they will not end up in the ICU.

What does that mean, if we put this analysis back into the original formula of risk?

That behavior has an influence of at least squared. Why at least? Because situations are possible where the behavior can have a serious influence on exposure, for example by reducing the number of contacts where possible. But more than that: you can also protect others by adopting good behavior, such as doing a self-test before organizing a party, for example.

So the risk is in higher powers (than the square) dependent on behavior. So far for mathematics from the secondary high school.

That means that not only people should be “good citizens”, the government should direct that behavior as a major factor that can influence this fifth wave (actually any wave).

This applies to citizens as individuals, but also to organizations that depend on their employees. Having an adapted BCP and pandemic plan that is coherent in a flexible way with what the politicians and the legislator prescribe is therefore of enormous importance in the pandemic.

So there is more to it than just infectiologists, virologists and biostatisticians: just as much importance must be attached to what psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists can say about how to deal with this pandemic.

So an identified lesson from this mathematics is

  • More so to work on behavior in any pandemic, endemic or epidemic. The low numbers of flu in 2021 show that it works. So good behavior must be maintained.
  • Without neglecting the medical reality, of course. But as support to healthcare.

And if possible, without fear mongering. One has to work through the trust of the citizens. That which they have with their General Practitioner, their specialist, their caregivers in their own family, their teachers, the caregivers of their relatives, the social workers, community workers…

Covid19 – How “not to waste this crisis”?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.

The former Belgian minister Philippe De Backer wrote a book “En nu is het oorlog” (And now it is war).

Let me take this statement literally, and view the future post-covid19 period as a post-war period.

The economic recovery after the wars and crises of 1870, 1918, 1945 happened very quickly: a matter of a few years. Usually five years or less. After that, production growth stagnated. (reference: Alfred Suavy, “Het probleem van overbevolking” (Malthus et les deux Marx)) The limitation of the growth of production after recovery did not exist because there was a shortage of injection of money, nor of machines, but because the population was limited in knowledge and skills. And the factor that one cannot include in accounting is that of people. As one can with money, property, equipment, buildings and debts.

Let’s create two lines of thought. The first: there is a huge war that is destroying all machines and buildings. But the people survive. What happens is that external parties provide them with food, people start making machines, and after a few years there is no longer a backlog. After a rapid return on the actions they take, they evolve towards a plateau of growth which then slows down. Because for more growth, even more knowledge and skills would be needed.

The second line of thought is one in which all medical staff and other highly skilled, such as managers, specialized employees,… would disappear.

Then it will not help in the same way to just bring more money or food to the area: the knowledge and skills needed lack to catch up with the region’s enormous skills shortage, it will take decades to even make any recovery. Let alone keep up with the normal extrapolation of the past.

Fortunately, we are not quite in this situation, although as far as healthcare is concerned, there is serious pressure.

From this short argument, which should actually be supported by figures, one can estimate that knowledge and skills are possibly the most important factors for a recovery after a huge crisis.

Governments have made huge financial sacrifices to allow some sectors to survive. “Golden rules” were also issued in Belgium. Some were very difficult, such as that of wearing a mask in several places, linked to social distancing. But there were also other rules that made us work differently where possible: working from home was sometimes recommended, sometimes (partially) mandatory.

Now I don’t know what other people experienced, some of us certainly miss the social chat with colleagues, which is certainly a loss to be mentioned, but there was also an advantage to mention. I speak for myself when I mention this, however, the days when I was working from home I was much more productive. I want to assume that this may have been the same for many people on such days. I sometimes went to my place of work, to relieve the social need, and those days my productivity was like an ordinary day before. However, I myself am only one ‘case’ and one cannot make a statistic on that, but it still inspired me to the following.

If, thanks to working from home, a number of people can do the “former” work of a week in 3.5 to 4 days, it would be interesting for both the employer and the employee to provide systematic training for these people. In a direct sense, this could include specialist training or employability-broadening training. But it is also possible to think indirectly: even matters that are not directly related to the ‘job’, such as training for many people in languages ​​or ICT applications, can indirectly inspire employees within or outside the job. And that will pay off for society, because during the aftercare phase of a crisis, every skill is super necessary.

Whatever it takes will be to perpetuate such work-and-learn behavior. Future generations will have to grow up with an implementation of lifelong learning, not just as a battle cry.

This is important to “not to let a good crisis go to waste”. Why ? I already wrote it: I read the book by Philippe De Backer, a former Belgian minister, “en nu is het oorlog” (And now it’s war). I took that statement literally. This means that if we can massively invest the time savings that we generate during this crisis in training, the knowledge and skills of the population will increase. The growth of production in the aftercare phase due to the grown creative capacity of more skilled personnel will find an engine in it to support it. As a result, economic growth will continue stronger for longer, and will help absorb some of the government’s financial injections. The flattening of economic growth will therefore slow down when we reach a higher level. And that could help curb potential future inflation.

A Cynefin look at covid19: Can Corona be stopped or must it be controlled?

Author: Manu Steens

In this blog I write my personal idea, not that of any organization.

A first reading for inspiration from the Cynefin framework in the booklet “The Cynefin-Book – An introduction to complexity and the Cynefin framework” gives inspiration to think about the crisis of covid19.

Let me first explain the Cynefin framework itself, the theoretical framework that tries to create an order in types of systems, such as the world.

A first division is made between ordered systems and un-ordered systems .

An ordered system is strongly bounded, the behavior is very predictable. The causality is clear from experience, or is based on a virtuous analysis. The first case is a simple system , the second a complicated (but understandable) system .

We cannot establish causality in an un-ordered system. Some of these systems are stable, where the boundaries evolve over time, and so does the behavior. This evolution occurs through the interaction of its components. Evolution cannot therefore be called situational (i.e. caused purely by external factors) but dispositional: caused by internal, often unknown and changeable, dependencies and interactions. Thus, they are predestined to evolve in a predestined direction. But causality can only be proven retrospectively (in hindsight). These stable systems are the complex systems .

But some systems are not stable, they have little or no limitations or limitations, the behavior is or seems random. These are chaotic systems.

Finally, there are the systems that we have yet to classify, and those are the disturbed systems: we don’t know what they are yet.

The simple systems, we know them: “been there, done that”. They are known knowns. An unambiguous solution is possible for an unambiguous problem. The solution is given by SCR: sense, categorise, respond. We have best practices.

We no longer know what complicated systems are. They are known unknowns. But we can analyze it in great detail and then we can predict things about it. The approach is then SAR: sense, analysis and respond. We have good practices.

The complex systems are those of unkown unknowns. We need to conduct some experiments and hope they will guide us in the right direction. There are many hypotheses, without being able to call them wrong or right. So the approach is PSR: probe, sense and respond. Here we have newly emerging practices.

And the chaotic systems are the unknowable unknowns. The system requires immediate action, but we have no idea what the appropriate actions are. So we tackle it with ASR: act (do something), sense and respond. Here we have new but perhaps transient practices because they may only be usable once.

Finally, the desturbed systems, which we have yet to explore to classify them.

If a situation comes to us, the advice is: first differentiate which type of system it is. If we don’t know anything about it, or it is ‘forgotten’ matter and it seems something completely new, it is better to explore it first, bearing in mind that it can be a worst case system, so according to ordered or un-ordered systems a complicated or chaotic situation. If we do this, we avoid the risk of oversimplification in advance.

How does this fit with Covid19?

It was known from the first investigations that it was a corona-like virus. There was some experience with that. As a result, it appeared to be an ordered system. It soon became clear, however, that this particular corona was not as well known as originally thought. It was not a “simple cold”. The world with covid19 thus quickly became an un-ordered system from an ordered system. So we had to act quickly. In Philippe De Backer’s book “En nu is het oorlog” (“And now it’s war”) it appears that the ASR approach was taken very quickly. And that was a good thing. The first wave was systematically dealt with severely in a radical way. There was a lockdown, and the wave was contained. An almost second wave was tackled by the province of Antwerp with strict measures, and was also suppressed. So fast, in fact, that many dared to ask why it was necessary. For a while it seemed that the world under covid19 would become a complex system or even a complicated and ordered system. Been there done that? Existing techniques yielded new weapons: several types of vaccines saw the light of day. There was talk of “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Freedom was in sight. A chaotic system would be pushed back by science to a complicated system, where vaccinations are at the heart of it.

And a new danger threatens the battlefield: “groupthink”. By estimating it, it can be prevented.

Groupthink is an issue typical of complicated systems. Notwithstanding a great truth that lies behind the wisdom of the masses, as an average of a group of experts in the field. But then with standpoints that first make them independent of each other. This is to prevent them from influencing each other (too much). It is difficult to do this day-to-day, so an effective approach is needed against it, as well as to improve the scanning of information. To tackle this issue, it is best to involve different groups of experts, each from different areas of expertise, so that they can keep a ‘look of wonder’ about the other areas of expertise.

There are no stupid questions in such a group. But one must ask them. A question could concern the composition of the GEMS itself. After all, in addition to infectiologists, virologists and biostatisticians, are anthropologists, sociologists, behavioral experts, psychologists and weather experts also needed in an advisory body? The question occurred to me for two reasons.

  1. The disease always finds a way out in a new variant with which, when we return from a complicated system that seemed ordered thanks to the vaccines, to a chaotic system, which seems un-ordered by the arrival of a new deadly variant, but above all:
  2. The disease attacks through the people who are not ill at the time of the attack, but through their behaviors and habits threaten to expose themselves to the disease. The difference in people’s behavior during the different seasons determines the contacts they make. These behaviors thus form the channels through which the disease can spread.

Knowing this behavior of the different target groups with a sufficiently small resolution with regard to the evolution in previous disease waves could provide better parameters for statistical models concerning those target groups and between them. Even though they can never be seen as a model with a purely predictive value, it could provide an insight into the behavior of the past, so that more refined expectations can be created for the nearest future.

If these experts would already cooperate in the proposals and advice of an advisory body, this is not clear: I never see them in the news reports. I never hear any mention of their contributions.

Since the system on which a chaotic system must be dealt with is one by the acronym ASR, we can never assume that we know what is going to happen, even with the most sophisticated statistical models available at the moment. Therefore, as long as someone can make a coherent argument, their idea is valuable.

But with that comes the question: where does such a model lead? What will the approach to the current crisis lead to? Are they trying to beat the disease? Stop the spread? Or does it make more sense to work with a model in which one tries to control the disease?

Essential in a controlling mechanism is that one does not only look at the direct statistical measurements such as the Rt value, the number of sick people in the hospitals, the number of sick people in the ICU, the number of cases in the schools and the like. And that per province and over time. These are ‘direct’ indicators , the figures that we want low, except for the vaccination rates, which they want to see rise. By directly influencing behaviour.

If one accepts that corona will not just be defeated, but that we will have to serve a time in this prison called Earth, until the disease has adapted itself to its host, one could start in the fringe with ‘indirect’ indicators. By this I mean indicators with which one can indirectly influence people’s behavior, for which we have to rely on the expertise of anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, together with weather experts and the experiences of the authorities with, among other things, tourism. One such indicator that one could track could be a “net good behavior promoter score”. One might take such a philosophy from a firm like Apple, which measures a “net promoter score” (NPS) to determine satisfaction from the customer’s perspective.

For Covid19, this means that with such an indirect measurement one could know the involvement within the different target groups, which can indirectly measure the effectiveness of the press conferences. After some time, one can plot these numbers in an evolution, and see how it evolves, but also how it compares to the infections in the different target groups. By also targeting these indirect indicators, in addition to an attempt to stop the disease, an attempt could also be made to rather control the disease than directly to stop it. And that until the virus has previously been weakened for its host, or until a vaccination technique emerges that allows for a single vaccination that offers lifelong protection if that might be possible. The additional advantage of such a controlling effect could be that people are prepared for the idea of ​​a one-time vaccination, which can then be more readily accepted.

Even if it has not been proven that such an approach would work in a short period of time, I think that in addition to trying to stop the crisis, we should also create every opportunity to try to control the crisis. But it is a lot of trying with ‘can’ and ‘could’ and ‘maybe’ one after the other. This approach would mean a radically different and additional approach to the traditional approach, in which one tries to reduce an un-ordered system to an ordered system on the basis of purely rational arguments. With which one tries to work on the behavior of the ‘homo rationalis’. With an indirect approach one can also work on those target groups where one has more to do with the ‘homo irrationalis’.

What is the use of personality types in crisis management teams?

Author: Manu Steens

Sometimes people wonder who would be a suitable crisis manager or spokesperson, or crisis information manager or crisis communication manager, and so on.

In effect, one asks, “Is my character suitable? Am I the right ‘type’?”

As indicated in most of the literature, questions are usually asked in teams about competences and talents, rather than about character types. That question is usually dodged. The reason for this is that competencies can be developed and talents can be optimally utilized. But a bad character remains a bad character. A personality is fully formed by the time the person goes to work. One personality scale that can be used to evaluate candidates on their personality is that of Millon.

In my view most personalities have character traits that are useful for working in crisis teams and at the CMT.

However, some personality traits are not desired.

That is probably why the question I used to ask consultants “Who is suitable to participate in a crisis team?” wasn’t the best question. A better question is “Who is not suitable to participate in a crisis team?”

So a personality scale should not be used to find an ideal personality for a particular position when dealing with a crisis.

It is however useful to use such scales to prevent certain people with certain personality traits from being given an (important) place in one of the crisis teams.

In other words: you do not want certain personality traits or only with very low scores.

Personality traits where I would like to see low scores are:

  • Unstable
  • Borderline
  • Insane
  • Suspicious
  • Inadmissible – Aloof
  • Solitary (Schizoid)
  • Negativistic (Passive – Aggressive)
  • (Dependent)
  • Impulsive (Comedian)
  • (Fantastic)
  • Aggressive

That may be different from one organization to another.

What you need to know is that no one is just a pure type, everyone has a number of different traits, which you can put on a scale from 0 to 40 according to the personality scales and gradations of the ‘Millon inventory of diagnostic criteria’. To do this exercise properly, it is best to invoke a specialist.

The benefits include preventing the collaboration from souring, people hurting each other, time being lost with pointless discussions after nonsensical proposals, collaboration becomes impossible or a crisis team member drops out prematurely.

How to assess a measure of Business Continuity Management and Risk Management?

Author: Manu Steens

Within Risk Management and Business Continuity Management, each management discipline does it in its own way, risks and uncertainties are assessed in order to have more certainty in a VUCA world on the success or survival of the own organization.

The more or less succinct view on the way of working is that measures are linked to threats via an assessment. (I’m deliberately limiting risks to threats here, so as not to lose focus on the story, while perhaps what follows may be partly true or analogous to opportunities.)

These measures cost money and effort and must therefore be accountable. Until now I got only two answers in literature and at conferences:

  • Look at the costs versus benefits: if the prevention or mitigation costs more than the damage when the risk manifests itself, it is not worth the effort.
  • Look at the estimate of the residual risk, if that has not decreased enough in your opinion, it is not a good measure. The difference between the original risk and the risk after the measure must therefore be sufficiently large.

However, that won’t take you very far if you want to substantiate an argument as a process manager against a risk manager or business continuity manager who in turn has to discuss it with the board of directors or the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) or in the C-suite.

What’s more, a process manager usually wants hands-on arguments, while a board member or CxO wants more strategic arguments. And then the principle comes into play: to give what is owed to them. Operational and strategic criteria are therefore needed with which to assess each measure.

Without wishing to be exhaustive in the criteria, nor the points for attention that may go with them, I would like to outline a possibility here by proposing such criteria. Note that each criteria can be viewed and further entered and supplemented by those organizations that want to use it. The examples of implementation are purely illustrative and certainly not exhaustive.

As a risk manager or as a business continuity manager, review the measure operationally with the process manager on the following criteria (where applicable):

  • Reliability (For example, if a part is out, there is a backup of processes, people, redundant structure of organization, infrastructure, …)
  • Maintainability (e.g. the building, its equipment, its processes, education and training, …)
  • Availability (e.g. emergency number, network, realizations, independence, visibility…)
  • Feasibility (For example, can it be organized? What legal structure is needed, required finances, required manpower,…)

As a risk manager or as a business continuity manager, look at the measure strategically with the higher manager (CRO, …) on the following criteria (where applicable):

  • Proportionality (Especially: Is a cost benefit evaluation possible, not only with return on investment (ROI) but especially with value on investment (VOI)? ‘More need can be met with the required money in another way than this’, would mean that this is disproportional; what kind of evaluation models are needed for that?)
  • Prudence (For example, what is a life worth? There is no rule of maximum caution here, I think, rather the question whether you can be more careful within budgets?)
  • Effectiveness (Among other things, are the benefits great in the cost-benefit analysis? Is the information flow between the right players? Is there an eye for quality by mapping the risks? Is the organization supportive of the operational and strategic requirements? Does it meet targets in time (for predictable crises to occur) to be able to perform exercises to create preparedness for future crises?)
  • Efficiency (Among other things, is the cost small in the cost-benefit analysis? Is the information flow smooth? Is there a will to collaborate within the networks, and is this with a subsidiary decision-making authority (which is a quality requirement)? Can the organization be reorganized flexibly, and is there a smooth collaboration with government? Are milestones for the plans met in a timely manner?)

Using such a well-thought-out framework of argumentation to substantiate the correctness of a measure, it can help to prevent misunderstandings or arbitrariness when formulating measures to be implemented.

If it has then been established in a subsidiary way at both the operational level and the strategic level that the measure makes sense, it may be safer to implement the measure for all parties, as a justification for a possible audit afterwards if things still go wrong later.

However, although there are the concepts of operational and strategic crisis management, it is not clear to me whether this way of working can be implemented in crisis management. This may be possible in the case of project operation in the aftercare phase. But that in itself may be an idea for others to check.