No matter how much we try, there is no way we can appreciate the importance of what is happening to us. As a society, we’re talking about nothing else, and that’s how it should be. Our very lives are in danger, and if it reminds us of anything, some of us are old enough to have heard our parents talk how they had to deal with the coming of World War II and, when it came, their surprise at what they had to worry about, suffer from, and fear. Their very survival was jeopardized.
And that’s what we face today. The current attack from the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is having the same effect, and in fact from some points of view (certainly my thinking about what’s going on), we don’t really know what we should be doing. We have an overarching, two-part goal: we want to get rid of the virus and get our society up and running again. But within those two goals, there are many, many “pieces” and if I can continue with my clichés, there are just too many moving targets. We don’t know where to aim.
One of the basic facts about knowledge services as a management methodology or simply as a societal approach to “getting things done” has to do with its connection to knowledge sharing. Indeed, those of us working in the knowledge services field (we like to refer to ourselves as “knowledge strategists”) often frame our thinking in three directions: knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization. For some of us, linking the words of our triad is a little bit of an effort, so most knowledge strategists (like many other professional people) make life easier by taking up a common acronym: KD/KS/KU. It helps to move our thinking forward and, in the process, helps us keep the focus of our work on knowledge sharing, central to our work and at the same time central to how we describe it.
Over the past two weeks or so, as Americans have continued to turn their attention to managing the virus, they’ve attempted to try to deal with all those moving targets I mentioned above. And good for them. But before we get to the specifics, all the individual and connected elements that need to be thought about, I’ve been giving attention to what I call “the big picture” framework, the planning steps or schema, we might say, that we must have in hand and act from as we seek to implement all the next steps we must work with.
Three different expert responses to the current crisis – all involving knowledge sharing – have stimulated my thinking, and I’m happy to share some of what I’ve learned here:
In the first, I turn to Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. He is a senior UN advisor, and much respected for his work. While I don’t know Prof. Sachs personally I have followed his work for a long time, and I occasionally have a student from the sustainable development program studying in the applied knowledge services course I teach.
On March 30, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) hosted a global panel of experts to discuss the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and its implications for the economy. Prof. Sachs, the network’s president, opened the discussion with a well-thought-out welcoming statement, clearly appreciative of the generosity of the 13 experts from health, academia, and multilateral institution who had come together to examine the implications of the pandemic for public health and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. SDGs – often referred to as the UN’s “blueprint” for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all – address 17 global challenges, all interconnected.
The conference was global and virtual, and the panelists’ job was the present science-based recommendations for how to contain the spread of the virus, and I was particularly impressed with the panelists’ commitment to providing useful information for mitigating the pandemic’s accompanying economic downturn. The outcomes document for the workshop (called “Where Are We Now? Where Are We Headed?”) begins with Prof. Sachs’s well-thought-out introduction, stating clearly the major policy issues that must be given serious thought as we look for solutions for moving forward with defeating the virus:
- Breaking the epidemic
- Bolstering the medical/hospital system
- Building a public health capacity
- Protecting the vulnerable (elderly, poor)
- Financing the Emergency Response
- Restoring economic activity as soon as possible
- Developing new therapeutics and vaccines
From recent news reports, we can see that the United States is moving in some of these directions. As Governor Andrew Cuomo has been reporting in his daily briefings, as the so-called “apex” is approached, the numbers of deaths to be dealt with continue to present painful and heart-breaking situations for America’s citizens. Now, together with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, the group (calling their region the “COVID corridor”) will carefully weigh public health risks before they decide when to undertake the much-talked-about “reopening” of the region to ordinary workplace activity. [Gov. Cuomo’s recommendations document for New York, just published Thursday, is here.]
On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington have undertaken a similar effort, coming together to seek a framework saying they will work together, put their residents’ health first, and let science guide their decisions. And in the American Midwest, the governors of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kentucky announced just on Thursday that they will coordinate on reopening their state economies amid the coronavirus pandemic following the examples of governors in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
Now we must look to these governors to follow the structures that are available (or to come up with their own lists) to ensure that major policy issues are addressed. And once policy decisions are made, there are examples they can find (although their policy decisions in a way must be limited, since their decision-making must relate to their own states or regions and not nationally). One list of steps to aim for is described in a very insightful CNN article published Thursday, and referred to me by Terry Hall, my Virginia cousin who shares my interest in this subject.
In the article, authors Angela Dewan, Henrik Pettersson, and Natalie Croker, writing from London, report that “As governments fumbled their coronavirus response, these four got it right. Here’s how.” The writers looked at Taiwan, South Korea, Iceland, and Germany and came up with their own twelve “big picture” list. At the same time, as noted in the commentary following each section title, they offer practical and hands-on approaches to lessons learned that clearly – it seems to me – can help other governing authorities (read states-in-the-USA) meet their policy objectives:
- Be prepared
- Be quick
- Test, trace, and quarantine
- Use data and tech
- Be aggressive
- Get the private sector involved
- Act preventatively
- Use Tech but respect privacy
- Use drive-through tests
- Learn from the past
- Test more as restrictions ease
- Build capacity at hospitals
From the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to our global and far-flung friends all fighting the same battle, these examples of knowledge sharing represent an opportunity to get to where we want to be, if we can only follow the lead of those who are succeeding with these steps.