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.


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.

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)

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.

Another view of Covid-19 – what are its characteristics and what are the benefits for whom

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I write down my personal opinion.

Crises are characterized by surprise, insufficient information, stress, threats and a limited response time. Similarly with the waves of Covid-19. Although it was a Gray Rhino , the world was taken by surprise. Statistically, it is almost a certainty that something like this will happen every now and then. After all, I read somewhere that around 1,200 diseases do not evolve in a pandemic every year. A pandemic every 30 to 50 years is therefore not surprising. But human life is short, and in 50 years the focus on a potential threat to the masses easily weakens.

Such situations require immediate decision making, problem solving and communication. But a government needs time to switch, and switching multiple governments while the world is not yet properly connected in terms of public health is difficult. Moreover, these situations normally have a high degree of uncertainty as to the cause, the guilt, the reaction, the public perception, the solution. The cause must be known for a good solution. The question of guilt is not a topic for the crisis teams, lawyers can always argue about it later in courtrooms. But an sich does this question not contribute to the approach. The response must be the right one, as there is little time to learn from the mistakes. The public perception must be formed with the solutions that are found and the accompanying convincing communication. With Covid 19, there are two major classes of solutions: on the one hand, the six golden rules, which slow down the progression of the disease, which gives a chance for better results from the second type of solution: the vaccines.

Theoretically important here is the aspect of wrong decisions: they can happen in two ways:

  • Due to disagreements and conflicts in the team.
  • Groupthink: lack of independent thinkers.

But a crisis also has potential benefits: ( after Meyers, GC When it hits the fan: Managing the nine crises of business, 1986)

  • Attention is focused on a specific topic. Here that is the pandemic. This can also become problematic if other crises arise on the sidelines that escape attention.
  • It calls for cooperation. Broadly speaking , this seems to be successful: the crisis centers work together in the sense that information about the pandemic is even exchanged across countries.
  • The organization can show and prove its commitment to the disadvantaged and to society. To this end, in many countries the governments are digging deep into their pockets to try to suppress an economic disaster. Obviously, this cannot be done sufficiently, which means that solutions must also come from society itself.
  • The teams can show their problem solving skills. The term “teams” is broadly defined here. You have the originality of the private businesses that are forced to create alternative ways of working, people who started to manufacture face masks themselves during the shortages, but also large companies that work on vaccines, hospitals that had to redefine their operation and their cooperation, …
  • Heroes are born , and everyone knows the most important group of heroes of the pandemic: people in care professions, hospitals and nursing homes, but also volunteers at call centers and helplines such as suicide prevention and such.
  • Opportunities are being exploited more quickly , such as more home working in professions that can do this, and the installation of technologies that facilitate this.
  • Latent underlying problems arise , such as inadequate ICT support, but, and unfortunately, also the loneliness of many who have only contact with colleagues, marriages that have actually stopped functioning, that way forcing people to learn to choose for themselves where necessary, for each other where possible.
  • Changes can be made , such as the systematization of teleworking after the crisis, when “the office” can rather become a meeting place for many when physical meetings will be necessary for e.g. good contacts with colleagues.
  • New strategies arise , or old strategies are rediscovered. For example, the six golden rules to delay the pandemic.
  • There can be early warning systems designed. For example, measurements and statistics on them are used to predict a third wave, but also to be able to intervene quickly in this situation.
  • New competitive opportunities, products, new markets arise. Restaurants that deliver at home, cafes that ship rare beers in packages to order. Online sales that are booming.

“Higher – Lower” and Covid-19

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I will tell you my own opinion. It is by no means the intention to present dealing with the pandemic as a simple matter. But there are some simple principles that strike me.

In the past, “higher-lower” was a game on television. Never before had I thought that these two words could be so important in assessing the need for action in a pandemic.

Currently, the federal government makes use of the services of specialists: virologists, biostatisticians , epidemiologists, etc. They can be used at any time to draw up difficult mathematical models to estimate the pandemic and to distil difficult indicators of the evolution from them.

How could it have been assumed with higher-lower at the beginning of September how it would evolve at the end of September and the weeks after ? (The next few months remain to be seen, but our experience with the first wave tells us that this wave is not over yet, and it is going to be difficult.)

Using three qualitative, easy to understand indicators as follows:

  1. What was the situation with the number of infections in Belgium at the beginning of September with regard to the number of infections at the very beginning of the first wave? Higher! Much higher ! And what about the number of super spreaders? Also much higher in September.
  2. What was the spread of the disease in the country with regard to the early onset of the first wave in early 2020? Also much higher.
  3. How did people behave in relieving the measures in terms of elation and carelessness? – higher ! And that is normal. If you doubt that, you should see a bunch of cows roaming about after a long winter, and then released into the pasture. People who have been a long time in lock-down have the same desire to be free again. And that behavior became part of the new normal. Goodbye caution. Goodbye discipline.

Is the result surprising, then, that there will be a more severe wave after September, which can whip higher than the first wave?

And that’s not even the question I want to talk about. What I want to talk about are lessons for the near future.

Is it inconceivable that there will be another wave after this? And what should we do about it?

We will not be able to do much about the first two indicators. As for the first, we are not even going to know if all the sick have been healed, and that no one is a carrier anymore. As for the second, mutatis mutandis: we cannot say much about the spread if we are not 100% sure who is still a carrier and who is not.

That is why it is important to do something with the third indicator. This is currently done by reducing the transmissibility of the virus as much as possible. In this way they try to prevent the spread in order not to overload the hospital system, if possible until there is a vaccine, and preferably forever.

But that requires discipline, both during the approach to reverse the new wave and the period afterwards to prevent another wave. So the discipline must be higher ! And that regardless of the precise measures in a ministerial order, or in the protocols, or in the local measures.

The search for exceptions, loopholes, back doors,… to do their thing must therefore be lower !