The need for civic engagement and clarity at Covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

Two articles on the website of the VRT appealed to me. They block the seriousness of the situation:

– Microbiologist Herman Goossens: “Insufficient Security Council measures, we are heading for disaster if we don’t act quickly”.

– Antwerp governor pleads: “Please limit your social contact to your family or choose two regular friends”.

The governor also said in the interview, “Be tougher on yourself than what’s allowed.”

This is not simple: it requires engagement and participation from the people.

Then, of course, the question arises: “What is engagement?”. And what are decisive factors at the government that demands engagement from the citizen?

According to John C. Besley (in Chapter22: ‘Public Engagement in Risk-Related Decision Making’ in ‘The SAGE Handbook of Risk Communication’), the fact that public engagement can involve a huge variety of activities is a stumbling block to transform available information into knowledge.

According to Creighton, public engagement is “the process by which public concerns, needs and values are incorporated into governmental and corporate decision making. It is two-way communication and interaction, with the overall goal of better decisions that are supported by the public”.

There may also be mechanisms whereby citizens have some degree of control over decisions. This then is a continuum that goes from agreeing with what the government wants up to becoming citizens who have a meaningful voice, and are recognized for this by the government.

An important parameter, according to the literature, to get participation is the confidence citizens have in the decision makers, as well as the more they know about the situation in which they have to participate. For the latter, a pervasive communication with press conferences and much more than that is a permanent necessity.

In our country at the moment, it seems that it is mainly the citizens agreement with what is decided that takes place. There are very few citizens initiatives. This seems to indicate that the citizens look to the government with the question “tell us”. But also with the question “save us, because we do not know the solution ourselves”. Decisions can therefore be tough, and as long as they are made authentically and offer the solution in the long term (if necessary), the citizen will continue to agree.

The solutions must also be clear.

This implementation of measures always requires clarity. How do you do this? Goal: defeat the virus. Operational measures are therefore necessary. How do you clearly describe the goals and actions operationally and why do you want to do that? In his book “Your Best Year Ever” Hyatt writes about a well-known method: SMARTER. How can we apply that to the actions we want to roll out?

SMARTER stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-keyed, Exciting, Relevant.

The idea is that we first have to write down the goals. In this crisis, there is only one goal. To defeat the disease. But that in itself is not SMARTER.

This could be a proposal:

Specific: get the number of infections to zero to prevent a third wave. We do this by complying with the six golden measures and limiting our social contacts to our own family and otherwise to a maximum of two friends a week. The intention is to get the R-value back below “1”. However, all this is not specific enough. Therefore, to make things operational and specific, there are the MB and the FAQ. Unfortunately, in the past it has already been shown that these will always be incomplete, because one cannot summarize the lives of 11 million people on about 40 pages of paper. But the rules are there, both in the letter and in the spirit, and people are asked to take their own responsibility with common sense when their situation is not literally described.

Measurable: through testing and contact tracing, no new infections are detected. This is a criterion that clearly states when the downward tail of the new infections reaches zero. This is only possible if indeed we get the R-value under “1”. This is also measurable, through the numbers of for example hospitals that are passed on to the government. But measurable also means that the police must be able to check compliance. Such as leaving your details when visiting a cafe or restaurant. An example of what is very measurable here is a name tag.

Actionable: I translate this here as feasible and useful: it’s about what we do. Here the FAQs are useful again. The six golden rules are not difficult to follow. But the question was asked whether it would not be better to limit ourselves to much smaller bubbles. That in itself is not actionable: it is not useful, for example, to measure your social contacts. Better is “Find a maximum of 2 friends per week instead of 15”. This is useful because it is based on a useful verb: search. Not more generic, often unclear statements with verbs like “are” or “have”. So choice of verb is very important in communication.

Risky. Ugh. Normally it says something like “Reasonable”. But using the word Reasonable makes that we often do not challenge ourselves enough to set the bar at a high enough level. Reasonableness encourages you to make it easy with quickly achievable objectives. A bubble with 15 friends is easily achievable. It seems reasonable. But it’s not. It’s certainly not a challenge, but more than that, it’s a number where people stop counting. 15 seems infinite, so we’ll do whatever. And before you know it, you’ve got a lot more contacts than 15 and the infections are rising. Meeting just two good friends is much more challenging. You have to make choices, decide who you prefer and why. It’s more confrontational, the bar is much higher to realize it.

Time-keyed: the measure of the bubble is the clearest example here. Two friends, who are allowed to change per week. But it doesn’t always have to be time intervals. They can also be frequencies. This concept also divides the goals into “achievement goals” and “habit goals”. An example of an achievement goal is that you buy name tags to leave behind in a café that you visited to be available for testing and tracing. An example of a habit goal is that you always put on a mask when travelling by train. The goals should become a habit as much as possible. Then for many people it goes by itself.

Exciting: “What in God’s name is exciting about such goals and measures?” Actually, internal motivation is meant here. It is an important characteristic that people are intrinsically motivated to make them achieve their goals. Good health is an example of this. I assume that everyone loves themselves enough to find their own health important enough to be motivated. So contrary to what the word suggests, it is the feeling of concern that is important here. Worrying about your neighbor and yourself. Let that concern inspire you to take good care of yourself, your family, and your friends and neighbors.

Relevant: this is here with regard to the crisis situation (including other people) and also your personal health interests. This criteria is the bottom line. Effective goals and measures are relevant. It has everything to do with giving direction. This gives you the opportunity to check your gut feeling before committing to the measures. It is here that everything can go wrong if we are not careful. There are four criteria for measures you can check here: is the measure proportional, prudent, efficient, and effective? Note: what is “proportional” doesn’t necessarily have to be easy, it’s more in the sense of “necessary”. This criterion of relevance gives the necessary pressure in a crisis like this: the pressure can be social, financial, professional, … whatever. This helps to explain why challenging a crisis like this is no easy task. It is therefore essential not to oppose each other. Be stricter on yourself than what is asked for.

More information:

Covid 19 – Discourse for innovation and lessons learned

Author: Manu Steens

Roughly the last 5 months our country has been under the spell of Covid 19. All kinds of things happened, and as in every war (but now against an invisible enemy) we get to know people from their most beautiful and ugliest sides.

To curb the pandemic in our country, measures were taken during the first wave of the disease. But the virus spreads quickly and smoothly over the results we have achieved. Today we can roughly say that we are at the beginning of the second wave, sooner than we originally thought it would occur. Has it been for nothing then? Or can we learn what we need to do from the past?

The first lesson we identify is that the lock down had an effect. But was the way this happened optimal? Are other formulas possible? And should we pretend to start from the same initial situation during the second wave, or is the experience of the population important if the given signal is strong and clear enough?

A second lesson we can see is that there is likely to be a shift in the target audience of the disease. It is no longer especially the elderly in the retirement homes that are the target of the virus, but more and more the younger people. A question that arises here is whether this is because of the so-called super spreaders , and possibly because of edge workers , of which I spoke in the previous blog. The population would then be split into two groups: the common man and the risk-seekers. The common man will let his actions be guided by the measures taken by the government, not so the risk-seeking edge workers . Punishment does nothing to them. Perhaps one can teach them how to do the things they want to do safely rather than make them renounce it, for example through punishment . Because the latter does not work. But then the question arises: how can we teach them to do it safely, because (for example) safe partying is actually a very useful concept for the whole of society. For example: do events need to be adjusted, or is a new concept of events needed? Like the virtual neighborhood party was one.

So we can still identify some lessons. The question is whether we should identify the lessons through a “wild brainstorming” and “ implement quick actions ” or whether we can use an existing framework to make the necessary change (from the lessons identified ) work.

Such a framework exists (Timothy L. Sellnow , The SAGE handbook of risk communication , Chapter 20: ‘ Crisis communication ‘ and references therein ) . To maintain a discourse with an impact on innovation and improvement, an organization must want to learn from each crisis (the lessons identified ), reflect on ethical responsibility and liability, develop a forward-looking vision, and present that vision rhetorically. This may also apply to society in the current crisis.

A society that engages for renewal will then want to change and improve as a result of the crisis. After all, the lessons identified only make sense of the crisis if we turn it into lessons learned . Only when these lessons become part of society do they penetrate their culture and change the way decisions are made. But if the memory of the society regarding these lessons fades over time, eg. because euphoria after the first (small) victory , then this society is again vulnerable to the same crisis.

We saw the latter after the measures were lifted: many people seemed to think that the crisis was over, and the lessons learned quickly “faded”. Result: the R-value quickly rose back to around value 1, according to one source its calculation method just below (0.98) , according to another just above (1.1).

That is why reflecting on ethical responsibility is paramount: a thorough handling of innovation has a strong value orientation . Ethical violations can be things like stinginess, hubris , injustice, context-sensitive rudeness (such as shouting at someone that causes aerosols to spread widely) that are more likely to contribute to a crisis. A society which has a values-structure that is not centered around any of its citizens , has it harder to get into a new normal. It is as if citizens feel as if something is not right, they are tired of it more quickly , which is why some of them will be opposed to it all. To permanently motivate them, purity of spirit and authenticity in the positioning by the policymakers is important. It provides self-protection for the leaders. So making concessions through social or other pressure is not always a good idea. There is a real chance that this will return to the decision-makers like a boomerang afterwards .

A foreseeing vision is important to avoid this boomerang: in the aftermath of the crisis, people are quickly tempted into a “blame, shame and denial game”. That never leads to a solution, it is only a waste of energy, time and resources and it only leads to a deviation from the goal. A foreseeing vision is needed to shift the focus to building a more resilient society that can deliver again its mission with respect to itself, as well as any citizen facing any other citizen. Good communication is central to frame this vision. After all, the fact is that there is no real script in a crisis. Plenty of plans exist, but any pre-made plan is worthless. Over and over again, one has to discover how the crisis at hand ‘works’. Moreover, “The devil is in the details” is true time and again. That is why there should be no one to throw the first stone. After all, casting the first stone does not make a positive contribution to the development of an ethical responsibility. But working out a vision well can help you parry those stones.

This vision must be presented rhetorically: commitment and vision can take the form needed to put the society back on track. After all, the rhetorical activities create a reality of their own for the citizens , to inspire them to remain loyal to themselves and each other during the crisis, and to rebuild society better than it was before. The message must be about all the previous things: the lessons learned, the value structure and the hope for the future.

If society effectively learns of the crisis in the aftercare phase, it can have a ” fresh sense of purpose and direction ” experience. This will enable it to evolve into a new-normal situation after the crisis. The pre-crisis phase thus separates the crisis recovery and – aftercare phase from a new start with the regular risk management (whose strategies are also subject to change themselves). Policymakers must then enter into dialogue with citizens about risks and risk tolerance. This dialogue then makes them respond to change. It means that everyone in the organization is focusing on the new future again. To this end one should also speak with almost everyone . Because without internal communication , people are blind and there is a greater chance of new crises.

But this ‘change effect’ also indirectly provides a criterion for calling the end of the crisis: the crisis is over when the (necessary) change happened, and everyone there finds her place, and picks up the thread again. Note that this does not mean that the wounds are no longer there or have already fully recovered.

Why disobedience in times of Covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

Today I received an email from a colleague about fellow travelers on the train:

“It is really bad how few people in the train wear their masks correctly while they are still sitting close together on chairs / benches. What a difference with 2 weeks ago. ”

In itself this can of course be a coincidence that she is in a train wagon that is the exception. But the partygoers of June 20 in Brussels are no longer a coincidence. Are people able to deal with their regained freedom, or is there something else going on? Earlier, during the lock-down , there were also parties that gave crisis managers and police officers gray hair: the so-called (how can it be different?) Lock-down parties . This concerns people who deliberately ignore current advised behavior and consciously run risks. From now on, what I am going to write is rather speculative, because it should be investigated. So it is only a presumption.

In my opinion, the party- goers are people who are looking for a form of arousal by consciously running a risk. They score high on the SSS: the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman). The question of how the communication of the target groups should be drawn up is then relevant. Is a split according to small kids-youth-adults-elderly enough, or should we add another dimension: sensation seekers and non-sensation seekers? The reason why I find this relevant is because of the idea that not every infected person infects the same number of other people. Perhaps there is a small group of superinfectants , and this group of sensation seekers may be part of it because of their reckless behavior. The question then is: what is known about these sensation seekers?

According to Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “ Edgework and Risk Communication” there are roughly two groups of sensation seekers. There are those who voluntarily engage in risky behavior despite the risks they run, and those who do so precisely because of the risks to be run. The latter are called ‘edgeworkers’ in literature . The first group is often limited to passively run risks due to e.g. incorrect nutrition, disbelief in damage from drug use, driving without a seat belt and unsafe sexual behavior. The edgeworkers, on the other hand, are of a different kind. They go for the risk through, for example, sports or leisure experiences where they consciously risk death, a disability or serious physical injury or other outcomes with a high toll. Examples are sky-diving , mountaineering without ropes, sport flying, irresponsible fast racing on the road …

The reason why they do this? There is more than one reason. For starters, they feel they have an innate talent for facing dangers, which they count as survival skills . As a result, they often also have the idea of ​​belonging to an elite. They also believe that their survival skill is not uniquely limited to their experience of a particular sport or relaxation. They believe their talent spans all possible dangers. After all, it is an innate quality. You either have that or you don’t. And they are not alone: ​​they are more often in an group (e.g. a sports club) of like-minded people where such behavior is encouraged. Their supporters therefore fully agree with them. Moreover, in their experience they sometimes have an “other world” experience, where an experience of seconds seems hours or vice versa. Or, for example, the phenomenon of car racers who get the idea that they have mental control over their vehicle, that they form a unit with it. Sometimes they lack words to tell the experience. Sometimes not. Their goal: “controlling the seemingly uncontrollable ”.

The cause why they do this? Marx- Mead ‘s approach emphasizes social forces that stimulate the search for edgework opportunities. Causes are separations between people, contradictions and conflicts in institutionally based actions. These are things you can have with a lock-down and unclear measures. Also in a social environment, characterized by ‘alienated’ activities, but also in class conflicts, oversocialization , people look for a greater personal individuality in their institutionally defined lives. They are looking for issues in which challenges such as hyper-concentration, control options and survival skills are critical in continuing their ability to live. This contrasts sharply with the perfunctory behaviors of institutionally assigned roles and routines that seem impenetrable to the creative possibilities of the usual, more mundane social individual. The institutional but necessary measures in an pandemic, after a long time with a slow evolution of the pandemic, have a very disappointing effect on these people. The edgework opportunities bring back an enchantment to the social world by experiencing the ‘rush’. So further rationalizations and its disappointing effects mean that this target group will seek alternative experiences, with all the consequences that entails.

A statement such as “have they learned nothing from the past two weeks” has no effect anymore, because it is another rationalization. Adapted communication is therefore imperative for these people. Perhaps one that works on the feeling rather than the ratio. And if the theory of superinfectants is correct, then this target group matters!

 

Knowing more? This idea sprang from reading Stephen Lyng , Thomas Workman and GH Morris in their article “Edge Work and Risk Communication” .

Resilience strictly speaking – Disaster management: Red Ants, Gray Rhino's, Black Swans, and the relation between BCM, Risk Management (RM) and Crisis Management (CM)

Author: Manu Steens

A first question I ask myself: how do these concepts relate to one another?

The following figure of disasters can offer a solution: this is about known knowns.

This table provides a minimalistic sketch as an answer to the question “What can Disasters be like?

In addition, there are Unknown Knowns such as the Gray Rinho’s.

These are things that come to us, that we know they are there, but that we choose not to see, or forget about them.

Gray Rhino’s are not divisible in well-known or poorly known probability and impact. The impact is great. The probability is great. They are always well-known in terms of probability and impact, and thus fit within the quadrant of Disasters, as follows:

Known Unknowns also exist. These are things we know that are there but we do not know exactlywhat they are. Therefore we can not treat them. These can not be classified with a probability or impact. The consequences may or may not be known. The odds equally. If the consequences are large, but not actively known, and the probability is estimated low, but it suddenly occurs, without any expectation of the event, we speak of a Black Swan. The turkey does not know why the farmer always gives him food, but could have suspected it from a suspicious “Why” question. But the turkey does not know the Christmas party, and can not really assess the probability.

Finally there are Unknown Unknowns. We do not know that we do not know them.

Not only do we not know the probability and the impact, we do not know the event, we do not know the reason, we do not know the consequences. So we can not give a foresight example of this. Unless you look back on the past (Hindsight). Was it right of the priest to save Adolf Hitler from drowning, when he had fallen through the ice as a child?

It is the intention of Resilience management to get to know as many of these four groups as possible and to push them back within the possibilities of the disasters square.

This provides a possible way to frame resilient needs. Where is CM, however? The answer is: everywhere. In all 4 groups, CM actively takes action when a threat manifests itself. Because the known knowns are best known, it is always an advantage to elaborate and prepare RM.

Question 2: what are historically the added values of BCM, RM and CM?

The known added values already known for these three disciplines, are:

  • Compliance with legislation and with clients
  • Protection of the reputation of the organization and the strength of the brand
  • For the time being: competitive advantage
  • Operational improvements
  • Capturing the knowledge and experiences
  • Value protection

Question 3: what are the “new” added values ​​of BCM & RM?

The new added values according to ISO 31000 are:

  • Value creation, and therefore also
  • Included opportunities

Value creation

  • By studying the threats in new and existing projects and processes, these threats can be tackled so that they happen with a greater probability of success and with less costs in the aftercare phase.
  • This also increases the quality of the output and the outcomes, enabling a stronger positioning in the market, which attracts potential customers.
  • This immediately improves the reputation, creating a positive spiral that reflects in a better market value of the organization and generates a positive effect on the stock market.
  • By applying RM in its projects, the government organizations will mutatis mutandis create added value on a social level, which also means more income for the governments and thus create a positive value spiral for society.

Included opportunities

  • When an opportunity presents itself, it can be recorded correctly, in the sense that the risks run by the organization are known and can be tackled in order to optimize its probabilities of success.
  • Because RM has an ‘outlook’, threats, but also opportunities, are better and faster seen.
  • Because there is systematic reporting that is integrated into all layers of the organization and the processes and projects of the business, the policy can assess the opportunities better and faster correctly.

These added values also apply to BCM.

Question 4: what is the most important added value of CM?

What I really want to know is what is expected by the co-workers and by society.

People expect more and more from organizations. They desire certainty in uncertain times. This is what the organization has to do:

  • Deal with the threat
  • Meet the urgency
  • Fight the uncertainty

Deal with the threat

Threats are relative and personal. There are also general threats that affect us all. Perhaps the best example is terror. Although terrorist attacks demand far fewer casualties than fine dust year after year, it affects the people personally through the choice of method, place of occurrence and the timing. They choose these well to maximize fear. This fear touches everyone personally, because there is arbitrariness where when and how one can be a victim. The society does not know, and as a result, everyone of the potential victims address their anger against the perpetrators.

Meet the urgency

Urgency is personal. A potential crisis that affects you personally is usually urgent as long as you are still hoping for opportunities to escape from it.

Fight the uncertainty

The organization mainly does this by making a division into operational management, communication management and strategic management.

With the operational management the organization can show that the problem is being addressed. Counter actions take place and there are claims to be observed. With the strategic management the organization can do sensemaking, and give an understanding to the people of where they stand. The organization can also indicate its actions, explaining the reasons for these actions, to include its liabilities. Also to learn lessons, to avoid the problems in the future. With the communication management, the organization can make itself be heard about the situation, that it is working on the problem, and what the expectations are.

Question 5: And now this: What about Red Ants?

Is this yet another invention to describe risks? No, actually not. It is a disaster type that is naturally present: incidents with small to moderate impact and small to high probability, but with the possibility to grow into a Black Swan or a Gray Rhino very quickly.

Black Swans (Nicolaas Taleb): very small probabilities, very big impacts.
Gray Rhino’s (Michèle Wucker): Very big probabilities, very big impacts
Red Ants: Very big probabilities, smaller impacts.

Often Red Ants are the small incidents without major consequences that are a warning of imperfections in the safety of a system or organization. Usually a large number of red ants precede a gray rhino or a black swan. In addition to the fact that red ants are an annoying phenomenon in the field of security they are a reason to extinguish a lot of fires, and they therefore have a serious warning function. This is: find the root cause and tackle it thoroughly, otherwise sooner or later really big accidents happen.

So every “animal species” is therefore to be taken seriously.

Question 6: And what can you do about it?

Well, let’s present this schematically in the disaster management table:

Conclusion:

  • CM Exercises are the most necessary aspect in disaster management.
  • Risk management includes preventive measures and protective measures (by analogy with the bow-tie analysis method).
  • Uncertainties have the characteristic that probabilities are poorly known but the impacts are better known. Usually because causes are poorly known. As a result, there is a particular need for protective measures.
  • Ambiguities have the characteristic that impacts are poorly known but the probabilities are better known. Usually because consequences are poorly known. As a result, there is a particular need for preventive measures.
  • In the event of unkown probabilities and impacts, the focus must be on the lookout, to estimate unexpected matters in a timely manner and to incorporate measures in the policy of the organization on a continuous basis.

Crisis management strictly spoken: mini exercises

Author: Manu Steens

In the context of training, both large and regular small exercises are very important. The main objective of these 30-minute exercises is to learn to work together in a crisis situation. The emphasis is therefore also on getting to know each other in these kinds of circumstances. But also to learn to brainstorm together.

Here are some small exercises: