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
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
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.
- 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:
- 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
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