Covid 19 – Discourse for innovation and lessons learned

Author: Manu Steens

In this contribution I write my own opinion, nat that of any organization.

Context

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?

Lessons identified

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.

How to go from lessons identified to lessons learned

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.

Thinking ‘Victory’ too soon

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

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.

What about new normal

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 society 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.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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