What are the possible futures of covid19 ?

Author: Manu Steens

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

Some time ago I read the book “Handboek Scenarioplanning-Toekomstscenario’s als strategisch instrument voor het managen van onzekerheid” (Handbook Scenario Planning-Future Scenarios as a strategic instrument for managing uncertainty). That book has worked on me like a red rag on a bull. It inspired me to apply the first steps of the procedure discussed in the book. I think that a productive result can be presented very quickly when going through those first steps: a crisis anticipation team can be used in any crisis center. How do I see that? As the procedure prescribes, I start from 2 axes with, in my opinion, a lot of impact and a lot of uncertainty:

  1. Disease flare-up vs further disease decline
  2. The hospital system breakdown vs the hospital system stays upright

This gives rise to four scenario’ s as follows :

  1. Further decline of the disease and the hospital system stays upright : “Road to freedom”
  2. Flare-up of the disease and the hospital system stays upright: “We survive”
  3. Further reduction of the disease and the hospital system collapses: “Delayed stress and PTSD”
  4. Flare of the disease and the hospital system collapses: “Doomsday” scenario.

Figure:

Only one scenario has been extensively proclaimed and explained in the media : the “Road to freedom”.

This can be brave, but one lesson identified that can be predicted from this is that a CAT (Crisis Anticipation Team) should work on developing the other 3 scenarios.

At the moment it is known that hospitals are groaning under the load of covid19 . Other illnesses are delayed for treatment. This entails separate future aspects that are already known and recognized in previous waves, and of which we already know that we will be confronted with them:

-> Postponement of non-urgent treatment results in an overrun of the hospital system with severe non-covid19 cases after the covid19 crisis, regardless of which scenario of the 4 we face.     

-> After the “Road to freedom” scenario, the scenario “Delayed stress & PTSD” can still occur with a high probability. This with a lower uncertainty of occurrence over time. So it would be logical that society, on a global level, should take measures to this end.     

-> This situation can also occur after the “We survive” scenario.     

-> I don’t even want to talk about the “Doomsday scenario”, because then there is no workable hospital system left. Although a “Doomsday scenario” may also occur in varying degrees, as a series of slow-falling dominoes in terms of falling short for hands on the beds .     

Conclusion: a crisis anticipation team can, in my opinion, devote itself with the greatest efficiency and effectiveness to preparing for a failure of the hospital system, when the hands on the beds start to fall short, for example due to burnout and other work-related illnesses.

In order to find solutions, we have to look thoroughly on the labor market for who can do what. A relaxation in job provision to migrants could possibly help? Those of them with medical experience may be able to contribute to the solutions. Or people who are still studying can, as under part of an internship, deal with the more simple tasks of some professionals who then receive the task of “hands on the bed in ICU.”

I hope I’m wrong. Either way, it will never be easy.

Ultimately, if citizens really want to opt for the “Road to freedom” scenario, they will have to exercise a lot of discipline themselves. Because the virus does not adhere to any rules.

Covid19 and Cognitive Dissonance.

Author: Manu Steens

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

Currently I am to delve into how people can spot opportunities. This has in common with having mission that one must have fantasy, creativity and imagination. This is needed in order to arrive at an alternative for merely dealing with threats within risk management. The advantage of opportunity management is that one already has a more developed leg within risk management on which one can rely, namely that same threat management. But one needs fantasy. And that is where things sometimes falter to be creative. In what way?

An important, well-known psychological obstacle is cognitive dissonance.

So with that I start with a difficult term from psychology, which can destroy both opportunities and mission by preventing them.

“What is cognitive dissonance and give a good example” you will ask.

Cognitive dissonance was introduced by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957. The term is used to describe the discomfort we feel when our beliefs are questioned by conflicting information. Because most people are driven by the desire to stay psychologically consistent. In order to achieve this, one will ignore, forget, not want to hear or know or even reason away any contradiction to one’s own truths . So one does not want to question one’s own “values”. These “values” are sometimes also called “frames” and are personal.

You can also find a word of explanation here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance .

A strong example that made headlines is Alan Greenspan’s unshakable belief in market self-regulation, which saw the biggest housing crisis to trigger the worst global crisis since the Great Depression. The situation clamored for government oversight of credit institutions so that the banks would not lend money to unsuitable borrowers. Greenspan declined this, trusting that the market would filter out bad credit risks. It became a real estate bubble. Because of the cognitive dissonance of a man in a powerful position. He ignored all warnings. It wasn’t until October 23 that he acknowledged that he had made a mistake in relying on self-regulation of the markets. Those interested will find more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subprime_mortgage_crisis

What about Covid19 then ? An article about a report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations was published on September 20, 2019. The title block lettered : “The World Knows an Apocalyptic Pandemic Is Coming But nobody is interested in doing anything about it.” ( https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/20/the-world-knows-an-apocalyptic-pandemic-is-coming/ )

So there was this institution, the United Nations, that has to provide the world some protection, and it tried warn the world that a pandemic was at the door. Yet, after the facts, politicians around the world shouted they couldn’t know. There may have been some form of massive cognitive dissonance here, with all its consequences. Apparently a man can turn the world into crisis, but an organization of people who can see beyond their own truths are incapable of saving the world.

In addition, the question can always be asked what we could have done if massive credence had been attached to the report of the United Nations. Because actually, they did not know where it (the pandemic) would come from. They did not know that.

In the meantime, we hope that we can learn from Covid19, and we certainly have: there have been a number of strong examples. Vaccines have never been on the market so quickly, never before has a vaccination program on such a scale been rolled out so quickly, with growing pains though. But they do it anyway.

In the meantime, the researchers are of course not sitting still with the development of other vaccines for other diseases. One of these that is now very promising is one for malaria. To this end, there is an enormous lesson learned from Covid19: if we, the people, want it, we can vaccinate the entire world. This means that it is an opportunity from the lessons learned from covid19 to apply the vaccination experience on a large scale to this terrible disease. A plea on this issue can be found here: https://theconversation-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/theconversation.com/amp/new-malaria-vaccine-proves-highly-effective-and-covid-shows -how-quickly-it-could-be-deployed-159585 

The question is whether an identified lesson here will also become a lesson learned for our world leaders, or whether they would react cognitively dissonant.

In the latter case, however, I have a question. People are allowed to be very committed to their jobs in high positions. However, this implies that these people have great responsibilities that their job entails. Do they then have the psychological right not to consider perspectives if they are inconsistent with their deeply held beliefs, whatever they are? Do they have the right to refuse? Not to consider? To reason away? In other words, are they entitled to cognitive dissonance? Or should they arm themselves against it? And do they have a duty to do so?

Can citizens around the world hope that the dramatic errors of judgment of Covid 19 will give rise to something beautiful, namely more research on vaccines and on logistics to bring the right vaccine to the right target groups? If not, we will again pay an expensive price for an inflexible attitude. World leaders must therefore (dare) to break through their frames.

So my advice here is: “break through the barriers of your frames, have imagination, create a mission ! Learn to recognize the opportunities that present themselves and take advantage of them. Help each other in this! Step out of the reign of the ‘yesterday till now’-activities and look out for possible futures, including those within seven generations.”

To be able to do that, a good risk culture is needed at the top of the world. This means that every employee within every organization (hence from bottom-up) must be open at his / her level to recognizing and tackling not only threats, but also using opportunities. You do not do that by declaring a story of risk management ex cathedra to the world. Maybe one can do that by realizing a cultural change in the world, perhaps first at the level of the high positions, whereby people not only have an eye for the negative, but rather for the positive. A mission is necessary for this. And maybe our generation will see the result, maybe only the next generation will see the result. But let’s try. After all, we don’t really have another option.

Support as one of the unpredictabilities during Covid19 to be tackled

Author: Manu Steens

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

Recently I read the book “Bruggen naar het onvoorspelbare (Bridges to the unpredictable)” ( Aimé Heene , 2016), and now I don’t know whether to write a review or a blog piece. For the time being I will stick to a blog, because it inspired me together with the previous book that I read (“Handboek Scenarioplanning”, Mario van Rijn and René van der Burgt , 2019) and with the situation of the corona crisis. A review is still possible later.

My personal idea is that we have to deal with a very clear unpredictability that may be turning negative: support from the population.

Let me make a comparison:

In the 1700s AD there was a lot of hunger in England. There was therefore a lot of theft of food. The punishments became more and more cruel, and after a few years the death penalty for stealing a loaf of bread became something banal. It didn’t scare people, many hungry street children died on the scaffold.

Also at Covid 19 , stricter punishment and more original checking will not help to create intrinsic support. (Fines of 4000 € for a party organizer? So why not the death penalty :-)) Moreover, the comparison indicates that extrinsic support will no longer work in the long term. As a result, I had the idea to do stakeholder management by involving stakeholders more.

” How ?” you will ask.

To create a vision for the future in a more scientific way with the aim of exploring how we should tackle the problem with public support. Not so much by inventing new techniques, there are already enough of them. More to make the right recommendations for creating a motivated support base. In the future  that depends on that same future. That can only be addressed according to me by involving the stakeholders.

So ‘how’ is the question . Prof. Heene’s book gave me inspiration in this by reminding me of the possibility of future scenarios. By means of strategic stakeholder dialogue. Difficult term.

Futures explorations with stakeholders are needed in 2 ways: (not necessarily both with the same stakeholders)

  • A stakeholder dialogue in the breadth that explores the wider society.
  • An in-depth stakeholder dialogue that explores the most relevant unpredictabilities and extracts strategic alternatives.

The purpose of the survey is to increase knowledge of the ecosystem in which the target group operates, and thereby to identify key uncertainties and unpredictabilities. As the target part of their own ecosystem within society, they must actively be involved.

In a first phase, the group identifies the key factors that can determine society: trends, evolutions, environmental factors of all kinds.

In a second phase, the organizer of the exercise quantifies the impacts of the uncertainty of all kinds of environmental factors with scores. The key unpredictabilities (potentially greatest impact and with greatest unpredictability) are retained for the in-depth dialogue. This in-depth dialogue continues with these key unpredictabilities from the broad outlook for the future.

Possibly the stakeholder group should be reconsidered now and limited to a relevant group because of a smaller focus in terms of themes to be looked at. The experts who must do the deepening of themes should sit at the table. The target group should also be at the table in this regard. The situation of similar problems in neighboring countries can also be examined. After all, “when it rains in Paris, it drips in Brussels”, etc. Scenario planning is a useful method for this in-depth dialogue .

The two most important key unpredictabilities each form an axis for a total of four quadrants, each with a scenario.

Subsequently, the participants work out the scenarios together based on their background and knowledge. In this way 4 distinct visions of the future arise from the experience and knowledge of the participants.

Concrete recommendations can follow from this.

  • The no- brainers that apply to all scenarios.
  • The thinkers that are scenario dependent.

These recommendations may or may not be implemented as measures.

A possible reason for this approach is the (rapid?) change in the situation of the support base. That support is unpredictable and therefore forces us to look ahead.

“ Wait and see ” is no longer an option. The current social changes also require a more 360 ​​° view of this situation. By involving stakeholders (the target group), the government anticipates the gaps it has (now and in the future) in order to know the substance of this matter.

As an extension of this, any organization that takes itself seriously (and has the resources to do so) could try to set up a crisis anticipation team , which looks further into the future, to explore a number of possible futures so that there are fewer unexpected turns.

One problem I already see after all is that the countries are at times in other phases. Suppose hypothetically that a country gets the problem solved, then the situation in the EU is such that the chances are realistic that the infections will just be coming back from another country.

So we have to look ahead. Anticipate. Collaborate and explore futures.

Hence my motto is “anticipate, anticipate, anticipate!”

Some additional topics for further anticipation are:

  • The economic consequences for society and the state finances of current and future generations.
  • The psychological impact of this crisis on youth and possibly future generations, and those who can give support starting now. Also by analyzing matters scientifically.
  • The restart for the hospitality & catering industry: what drastic measures are further needed for the survival of this sector. What can they do to redefine themselves?
  • The approach to vaccinations and associated (communication) strategy after the crisis, because in my opinion there is almost no other option than to make a regular new corona injection against new variants compulsory in order to keep the disease at bay. So one must think beforehand how to tackle this.
  • Crises in the periphery that can develop further unseen, because all the focus of awareness (too much for many) is now on Covid19. How about drought? Terror threat? Climate in general? Other illnesses? You hardly hear anything anymore.
  • What other themes may be relevant, they must not be forgotten in the aftercare phase. The aftercare phase itself should also not be forgotten and one should start thinking about it now. It may not take that long operationally, because a new normal situation is coming, but it is all the more important to continue to guide the aftercare of the strategic crisis, because we do not yet know that new normal.
  • All organizations must start to see and recognize and use opportunities in the crisis. At the moment there is a lot of focus on the negative, that is human. But that should not be / remain the only thing.

Hence anti-fragility will be the new resilience in the new normal.

In order not to lose relevance, I quote here a quote from the movie “Mr Brooks”:

“… Give me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (Evans)

On the occasion of the early spring… Corona and support for measures in Belgium – a case study

Author: Manu Steens

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

The last days the weather was nice, last weekend there was even (again) a surprise of the trains filled with day trippers who wanted to go to the sea, and afterwards all wanted to go home again . According to the press, it was a huge mass of people at the sea side. The press had interviewed a few people. That gave an inspiration to apply my tool again to the support of the measures. The question I ask myself is, which aspects of support are failing here? Why did people seem to take a massive risk of contamination just to be able to go to sea? A challenge to try to measure support once more.

My analysis comes to the following color palette: (click for a better view)

Discussion:

Legitimacy: people indicated that they knew that the risk was still there, that it might not be a good idea to be packed together on a train.

Coherence of the target group through proximity of the issue to the target group: Lately there have been many people who do not have a dead or sick person in their personal circle of acquaintances.

Effectiveness: because more people hear that the figures fluctuate around a very high number of patients in hospitals and ICU they may doubt whether their own efforts really matter?

Purposefulness: the web pages of Sciensano show to anyone who wants to know clearly the evolution of the vaccinations. However, a barometer had been announced  and never came, vaccinations that were promised to the masses by saying that the end of the tunnel is in sight, but are dependent on the supplier who does not seem to deliver, while ambiguity remains why… All of that make the whole less transparent. There remain many unknowns. The people may even have lost purpose.

Efficiency: the government is insufficiently successful in showing in a transparent manner where the shoe is pinching. Demonstrating the effectiveness of the government’s own actions is done insufficient.

Perseverance: the people lose their discipline. There has been (for a long time now) corona fatigue. Many begin to believe their own false hope that there is no harm in it all, and take risks as a result.

Leadership: about this I do not look at the situation. It is unclear to me whether actors or other public figures with a good example have any influence at the moment. So I’m currently leaving it open.

Internalized: the people see the restrictions increasingly as a mandatory process. People probably know very well about themselves whether they are showing the behavior of a super diffuser, but partly due to the lack of perseverance and too little inspiration from above, they let themselves go.

Reputation: about this I do not look at the situation. I don’t know if people are currently attached to their personal reputation or if corona can continue to be seen as a force majeure. So I’m leaving it open at the moment.

Conclusion: there is a lot of red on the canvas. That is not good. It seems that the negative hope, the hope that it doesn’t do all that much harm, is winning over common sense. It has been stretched for too long a time. But what needs to be done is clear: persist and vaccinate as much as possible. We will desperately need that.

How about post-crisis with covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I write my own opinion.

With multiple vaccines and the global roll-out of vaccination in the pipeline, it is not only useful now but also desirable to take a look at what might be called the post-crisis phase.

In this post-crisis phase of covid-19 there will be opportunities. It must be a time for psychological, physical, social, emotional and economic recovery. This applies both on an individual level and on a social level. But it must also be a time of honest self-analysis of the crisis approach (by organizations and governments) , of lessons Identified in all sections of society, whereby doubts about yourself as a person, about your organization as a company and the authorities are central. In effective crisis management, there is always a post-crisis moment for debriefing with comments from the sidelines and commendations of the achievements. This self-assessment must be used for small and large improvements to the own operation, structure, culture, … of the organization, and corrections at all levels. One must dare to take a view on processes, systems and procedures up to the smallest details. This improves insight into their own functioning. The assessment provides the opportunity to apply renewed and especially motivated new insights . The fact that adjustments can be implemented suggests that the anxiety because of the perception of risks and resistance due to uncertainty as to change (through insights by the results obtained in the crisis), be transcended. Appropriate actions provide the basic operation for the prevention and processing of future crises. That way the organization can learn, modify administration and initiate a wide variety of changes. This under the motto “never again”. Because a crisis is often transient, the suffering takes an end and the memory of society is sometimes too short, the moment par excellence to make use of these levers must not be lost. Action must therefore be taken post-crisis if the innovation opportunities are to be used optimally.

Unfortunately, there is always collateral damage. People or organizations that will not be able to reach the post-crisis phase (alone). A crisis like covid-19 includes therefore often media attacks on governments and their agencies . The opportunity to provide answers to urgent needs that were first only latent, makes the organizations stop for a moment and often marks a turning point for these organizations, but also for society.

To thoroughly analyze crisis management afterwards, three types of “investigative board ‘s” are needed : one for the organization, one for a society within a country, and the authorities in the countries, and across countries. They represent with regard to society, every citizen as an individual and the victims and their families the fact that that the problem is being tackled on a permanent basis. Because the board represents the public as the ultimate stakeholder, they can be considered as legitimate, and as authority for the investigation.

The goal of the boards in a post-crisis phase is a permanent solution, which includes a pandemic plan with international cooperation as one of my wishes. That is possible when uncertainty is reduced, legitimacy is achieved, and each of the three boards proves to make efforts to establish a basis to address future crises as well as the consequences thereof. Intensive communication will have to be conducted about this, in order to continuously convince and keep the public informed of progress and planned actions. Note that the effects of actions, findings and conclusions in the accompanying investigations of the board can counteract these effects. Therefore, great skill in conducting in-depth objective investigations, drawing conclusions and making appropriate recommendations without external influences (industry or other governments) is required.

Each board is supported by experts from a large number of disciplines in such an assignment. In order to work effectively on solutions in the aftermath of the crisis, a 360 ° approach of the problem is required. This requires specialists who work together in a “modular system”. There are reasons for this

  • Extra expertise and hands at work for generating solutions
  • Direct access to much more data and decisions based on all available information (which is then much broader), where possible without involvement of the crisis teams that did their work during the crisis.

These experts also feed their own organization with information  from the research which they consider necessary. Factors affecting the size and diversity of the expert teams determine the severity of the pandemic , the methods that are involved (here organizational methods , policy action and vaccination technology), the collateral damage that occurs, the chance that a detailed narrative report will be written, numbers and circumstances of injured and deceased persons, public interest and the chance of a formal “board hearing” (committee hearing). The degree of public interest is perhaps the most complex to estimate here.

The expert teams and assessors must take the time to make a thorough analysis of the pandemic. Their report should not be actively public (due to too much technical detail, and potential privacy issues). It must however support the report of the board (committee) which have to be transparent to stakeholders and the public.

The board / committee then decides on a “public hearing” based on

  • Interest of the citizens.
  • Severity of the pandemic.
  • Quality of successes and severity of errors in dealing with the pandemic.
  • Benefits of all kinds with regard to a future pandemic. (e.g. when citizens, society and governments know how to arm themselves against another pandemic thanks to science)

A public hearing is the first real opportunity for the media to know something about the post crisis, but it is also a first chance for the organizations and the authorities and their board to communicate something to the press for their own benefit. So it must be thoroughly prepared. So if a party involved in the investigation wants something in the press, this must be discussed with his board in order to avoid contradiction.

Because contradiction causes anxiety and uncertainty, and even gives the impression after the crisis that the situation is not under control.