On April 17th, 2020, the Building State Capability program at Harvard University hosted our fourth virtual discussion with Prof. Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on Leading Through Crisis.
Read BSC's Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series: https://bsc.cid.harvard.edu/public-leadership-through-crisis.
Katya Gonzalez-Willette [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Building State Capability at Harvard University's podcast series. On April 17th, 2020, the Building State Capability Program at Harvard University hosted our fourth virtual discussion with Professor Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on leading through crisis.
Salimah Samji [00:00:26] Good morning, everyone. It's wonderful to see everyone again for our fourth virtual session on Public Leadership through Crisis. What we will do is we will begin again with questions that we received in the chat window from last week that we were not able to answer and then pivot to taking questions from everyone who is here on the call. In addition to questions, if you want to share what's going on in your country, good or bad, just general observations, please feel free to do those as well, because I think it would be really interesting to hear how people are doing, what's going on in your country, how you're feeling, etc.. So without further ado, I want to get started. Matt, we'll start with the first question that we had received. And the question is, what will the role of public investment and public infrastructure be? Do you expect a Keynes comeback?
Matt Andrews [00:01:23] I think whichever way you say it, we definitely are having a bigger role for government. So, you know, if you want to say, is this Keynes kind of revived? I don't know. But I do think that it's also just we don't even have to think about that. In this case, the response of governments to this size of a crisis is always going to involve a significant amount of public spending. I think if the question is, are we going to go into a government-led multi-year period of rebuilding where public infrastructure spending and public investment spending is the basis of growth or the basis of reviving the economy, I think that that is probably going to be happening in some countries, if not many countries. But I do think they are going to be questions about how that works. The crisis itself is costing countries a an extraordinary amount of money. And I think that some of the questions about just reopening are going to cost a lot more. So, you know, it seems to me that the cumulative wisdom around opening right now, any economy, says that you have to have test, trace, quarantine and isolation protocols in place. And there are some technical dimensions of that that in terms of kind of how you do the tracing. There are some financial dimensions. How do you buy the tests? How do you mobilize them? That's going to sit on the backs of governments so the costs that governments are facing. We've already seen in most countries government spending a significant amount of money trying to maintain some amount of income for people through this period. On top of that, I think you're going to see for months and years to come, major implications for spending in the health sectors. And then on top of that, I think that you're going to see a new wave of financing required to get that transition from where we are now into some kind of openness, which is also going to be costly. So I raised all of this to say, you know, I don't think that's traditional Keynesian thoughts. I don't think Keynes thought, well, you know, we're going to be throwing loads and loads of money into kind of just getting people out of the pandemic. I think most of it was build stuff and let's expand the economy in that way. The question for me is how much can we help the economies get out by just doing that? So, you know, even I don't know if you saw the New York Times article about the tracing effort in Massachusetts that is looking to hire like thousands and thousands of people. Right. I think that some of these efforts by states to actually be open will themselves hire a lot of people. And I think that that is going to be something interesting to watch. So I think that there is an effort where there's going to be major state-led injections of money into the system that I think that that will create a lot of jobs. I think it will create a lot of opportunity. I think there will be some creative destruction in the system as well where some sectors, I think are just going to struggle to get back. But I think we're going to see other things emerge. At the end of that, will we see a huge amount of investment in infrastructure and infrastructure-related projects? Will we have something like the New Deal again? I think that there are new deals on the table, there were before we got into this. So I think there will be questions about that. The biggest question for me and in most the countries we are dealing with is just will governments have money by that stage? And, you know, where will the financing for that stuff come from? So I think there's a huge scope for it, because I do think, you know, we spoke about this last week and one of the things that the crisis is showing up is a lot of the vulnerabilities and fissures in society that some of those are about, we could call it infrastructure, or we could call it weaknesses in systems. And I think that we are seeing that we do need a lot more public investment in those systems. The question is, will we have political will afterwards and will we have money to do it? Is it something that I think we should be considering in every country? I think absolutely.
Salimah Samji [00:05:03] Great, Robert Bachmueller also had a comment in the chat window. Would you like to chime in and elaborate more on your comment?
Robert Bachmuller [00:05:10] Thank you. Just very short. We serve different public finance officials in Southeast Europe and we have some discussions with them noticing that there's also kind of a re-prioritization of where the funds go and much attention besides healthcare investments is also in the education area and kind of a thinking of how to make some teleworking also feasible in public sector beyond the needs now and also the hard to make the education sector more digitalized. So just as additional area.
Matt Andrews [00:05:42] And I think, Robert, as you say, those areas, there is a little bit of a creative destruction here and I mean, to be honest, we haven't had any internal conversations at Harvard about this, but I don't see how we go back in the fall. I don't see how it works. And, you know, beyond that, I think it allows us to start thinking, how do we use all this technology to reach more people? So, you know, part of it for me is this anxiety, thinking about what the business model that I rely on for my livelihood looks like in three or four months time. Another part of me says, well, you know, maybe this is the time where education actually gets cheaper and more accessible to the world through different means. And I think that governments have to be thinking in that way, too. So it's encouraging to me to hear that the government officials that you are working with in southeastern Europe are already thinking about re-allocating money into those areas. One of the things to realize is that politically, this is not going to be easy because the creative destruction process is something that economists speak about and we speak about theoretically. Politically, it's very painful because it's the distribution of loss is not an easy one to manage. Right. Meaning that existing industries, existing power groups and influential groups are the ones who potentially face significant losses here. And they are usually the ones who have also a lot of political sway. So I think it'll be interesting to see how these reallocations work in the political domain and how they work as we move out of this emergency period where there's a sense of great urgency. But it's it's exciting to me that there is this thinking going on because I think it is going to be crucial.
Salimah Samji [00:07:15] Great. The next question that we had received last week was, "I would like to have your thoughts about the impact on the travel industry and possible evolving requirements for global travel going forward."
Matt Andrews [00:07:27] Well, I think, again, all of these ones, we're watching these a lot. It's really very, very interesting to think about this. My mind goes back a little bit to 9/11 in 2001, and I'm constantly trying to think about other crises that can compare this to. And on the one hand, you can't really compare this to anything, because I think the scale of it and elements of the nature of the crisis are very different. And I think that the impact on travel is very, very, very stark. At the same time, the reason why I raised 9/11 is, you know, my kids don't understand that before 9/11, airports looked different. That they looked significantly different and that the world pivoted relatively quickly to something that became the norm quite rapidly. So, you know, the first thing I would suggest is people did wonder at that point, "Well, how do we secure airlines? How do we do this? Will passengers undergo these kinds of rigorous invasion of privacy-type security protocols, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?" And hey presto, the answer was yes. Right. Quite quickly. And it then became its own industry talking about some some creative destruction, potentially. I would say this. People are still going to fly. People are still going to go on holiday. People are still going to travel for business. Whether they do so less is something that I think is up in the air. And I think that a lot of people looking at those industries are trying to think about different models to estimate what travel might look like. I think there will still be travel. And I think that there will be significant adjustments to the travel industry, whether it's business travel or leisure travel. I just have confidence that those industries will still be there, but they will look different. So, you know, that's as far as I can say about that. There's a lot of uncertainty. I do think that there is for those industries a very, very severe question in the short run. My understanding for a lot of airlines is that they do not have deep resources to draw on in the face of crisis. I was reading something recently that suggested that most airlines have maybe three or four months of resources that they can draw on to get through this. So I think that what we do need to think about in the next few months is just what happens to airlines in the medium term. So, you know, perhaps between May and December, at least, when people still aren't traveling and they're not making revenue and they literally just run out of money. What happens? Because there are a lot of people affected by these industries in terms of jobs, et cetera. And I think that it is a very, very difficult thing to think about. And it is one of those things also that we should be thinking about for developing countries. In the last 20 years or 25 years, one of the growth industries for many developing countries has been related to travel. Many, many countries get 15, 20, 30 percent, perhaps even more of their foreign exchange from travel related activities. Many of those countries have invested in domestic airlines or have either national run airlines or private airlines that have some kind of support from the government. So I don't think this is just a question for Western countries. I think that actually the vulnerability of developing countries in this travel space is actually immense right now. One of my biggest concerns is that they just run out of foreign exchange at a time where they need a significant amount of foreign exchange to be doing things like buying PPE. So I think that it's an industry to look at and the impact of the slowdown in that industry, which I think is going to be something that we see for a good few months, is something we need to look at.
Salimah Samji [00:11:08] Great. The next question that we had was, "I'm curious to explore the impact of the COVID-19 on the global value chain. For sure it impacted the supply chain. But what will the global value chain be post-COVID-19?"
Matt Andrews [00:11:22] It's a great question. I wish I could answer. I mean, if we can answer that, then we'd know where to put our money and invest, right? I think, yeah, it's going to be disrupted. It's really interesting because, again, I think there's going to be a lot of creative destruction. One of the things that I do think we need to be doing a lot more of. Most of the people on this call are in governments. I find that I'm speaking to a number of governments at the moment who are asking precisely these questions. And sometimes they're actually just talking about the value chain within their country. Sometimes they talking about global value chains. All of these things matter because anytime you're now talking about a link between two nodes in the system, there have to be questions about how that happens. I think, for one, you will see adjustments in that. You will see potentially those value chains becoming a little less efficient, a little more costly, just at least in the short run, as firms start to adjust their own production processes and the ways in which they connect and the ways in which they relate and improving safety. And by the way, I think that if there's one thing that could come out of this that is a gigantic improvement is safety standards in most firms around the world are not great. Let's be honest about this. And worker conditions are not great. And I think that there is a very significant opportunity to improve that. And hopefully we learn how to improve that in a way that is sustainable and that outside of this transition period actually leads to value chains that work well. But what I would say is when I am speaking to firms and to governments about doing this, I see three or four or five or 10 public policy officials scratching their heads in a room somewhere. And I say to them, are you speaking to the people who are actually in these systems? Because I guarantee you they are thinking about this. I guarantee you that they are talking to their suppliers. I guarantee you that they are thinking up and down those value chains right now. And one of the things that we are trying to do is get some countries to apply some PDIA to this problem. One of the mechanisms of PDIA is essentially to try and get a handle on what the problems are and to not assume that we know what the problems are with the value chains. But to go to the people who are in them and say, what are the immediate problems you have? What are the problems three months out? What are the problems six months out? And then to also start to crawl the design space with those people and say, what are your ideas? What are you thinking about? What are they trying in different countries? One of the things that I think developing countries and even some Western countries have as an advantage here is that some of the countries in the East are ahead of us in this. And if we can see some of the experiments that are really being done to reopen economies, to get value chains moving, I think there's a lot of learning. You know, last week I made the point. There's not going to be one answer to this. I think what we need is multiple ideas and we need multiple experiments. And I think that governments at this stage need to change the way that they think about doing policy. This shouldn't be about developing one idea and telling people what to do. This should be speaking to people in the value chains again local, global, whatever they may be asking them what's going on? Getting a handle of where the problems are and then mobilizing a lot of energy to try as many of those things out as possible.
Salimah Samji [00:14:26] I'm going to call on Tricia Covak, who's also on the call and can share something on local distributed supply chains.
Matt Andrews [00:14:32] Specifically in the agricultural area.
Salimah Samji [00:14:34] That's right.
Tricia Covak [00:14:35] Yes. Yes. So I work on local and regional food systems. And I would absolutely echo much of what you said, Matt, in terms of speaking to the people actually engaged in these systems. And I think from my perspective, what we're seeing is that there is a lot of resourcefulness, there is a lot of responsiveness already happening and a lot of resilience in these systems. And an example that I think is probably somewhat relevant the world over is that we have farmers markets, they are outdoor markets, they are often big community gathering places. There can be quite crowded dogs and kids and all of this. And in some places, they've just shut them down. And in those instances, the farmers and the other businesses that sell there are having to figure out, do we have the technology to do something online? Can we somehow communicate with our customers and they can order ahead and we can do curbside? Those kinds of things are happening. But in other places, they've been deemed essential services and critical infrastructure and then they're kept open. And at first, the farmers markets were left to figure out themselves, what are we going to do to make this a safe place and a place to get food that is safe? And they did all kinds of great things. They were adapting ways to keep people apart and separate from the food that people were no longer handling all the apples and putting them back if they didn't like them. Those kinds of things were happening. And in some cases, different governments across the country reopened based on that. And in other places, they shut down because the markets didn't do a good enough job or other markets were seen with crowds and people got all upset about it. So we're finding that maybe we're starting to move to a more integrated approach and a place where people are learning from each other. So the systems all over the place individually are getting better. I think that is one future positive thing that might come of this, because local and regional food systems strength and its weakness has been that it's so distributed, it's so dispersed. Everybody's leading separately for their needs, which is great. But sometimes that means they're not learning from each other. They're not learning from positive deviance or best practices. And they're just trying to muddle along and often with so few staff that the learning time is not a paid opportunity. So they're just figuring it out as they go. I think that we are definitely hearing from our stakeholders in the larger supply chains and we're hearing them loud and clear to USDA, which is our U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they're asking for their piece of the federal stimulus money. Right. So there are funds coming from the federal government. Everybody's trying to figure out how to get them. What my program is trying to do is communicate with the organizations that represent all these different, smaller organizations and learn from them what they need so that when we're implementing something as big as a stimulus package with direct payments or purchases from the federal government, they can go through systems that are actually not a monolith. They are lifting up all these innovations and adaptations we're seeing investing in those, but also investing in cross pollination and learning for the future. We haven't quite gotten it finished, but we're planning a project with universities that will then work with a lot of nonprofit service providers to coordinate all of that learning. And then the result will be their learning in real time. And then we're learning with something that we can have for the future if something like this were to happen again. So to me, the supply chains are definitely drastically impacted. I am concerned about where that's going to go in the food supply chains. Our beef industry is very consolidated. We've got large meat plants closing because of worker illness and death. But these little guys, they're all doing it. And the big farms are trying to figure out how to get in these local supply chains. So it might result in a more resilient, resourceful, responsive, distributed system, which is what many people have been working toward anyway. And it will never replace. I mean, we'll go back to some consolidation immediately and those efficiencies for sure. But the value of these distributed systems, I think, is being seen.
Matt Andrews [00:18:30] Tricia, that's so exciting to hear and thank you for all that you're doing. And I do think that one of the key roles, I think, for us now is to ask questions and to try and learn. The other one is to become learning centers. And I think that working out how we consolidate those messages and how we put those messages out quickly and how we say this is what this person is trying, etc, etc., I think is going to be really key because I think that one of the roles of government is to help collectivize things. And I think right now we need to collectivize the learning that it was going on. We need to try and bring as much of it to bear as possible without telling people what to do, because we can't tell them what to do, because we don't have the answer yet. But even to say to people, "Here are 20 things that are going on. Here are ways in which people are getting around this." And even better, bringing those people into the learning community itself. If there's a way that we could do that, and I think that that's going to be regional stroke, local stroke in sectors more than anything else. But I think that that's another thing that we should be thinking about in terms of how we pivot the way we do public policy more is to bring people together, try and curate the lessons, try and put the lessons out there and try and create that peer learning network and remembering that these are the people who do the work, we just create the policies. We just bring that knowledge together. So thank you for doing that. We are in a few places pivoting some of the work in Honduras to try and do this right now. And it's going to be very interesting to see how it works. I saw a question from Tim Harris, which is, if you have PDIA teams, they usually meet in practice. And one of the ways that we do the curation of the lessons is we bring the teams together and they share and then they learn things in sharing. And so how do you do that on Zoom? My answer is we are doing it right now. And I actually think that we need to work out how we approximate those processes, whereby teams work together, teams engage, teams share using the technologies that we have. And I actually think the technologies are pretty good, to be honest. So, you know, for instance, I think if you have people on a team and that team is going out and engaging individuals like we would in a PDIA process, and they're going in there speaking to farmers or to firms and they're getting ideas, I think having them come back once a day or once every two days. And Tim, to answer your question, the iterations are going to be tighter to me rather than they ever were before. So, you know, sometimes people like ah let's do it in two weeks, day by day, day by day, day by day, quickly, because we want people to come back and say the other lessons, the lessons are the lessons. I would also use writing more than we usually do. So I would say to people, if you're trying something and you're learning or you're interviewing and you're learning, write it up immediately and share your written work with your team, because I think that we can compile things a lot easier online. If it is written, if there is some kind of record of it. So, you know, my sense is I think we need to have shorter iterations, use the technology, check in more regularly as teams. And I think that it's possible in this area, because I think there is a sense of urgency that people have. And I think that people are open to that kind of engagement. But curating those lessons and then sharing the lessons out is, I think, going to be absolutely crucial.
Salimah Samji [00:21:29] Matt, I would add to that, if you're starting new teams, Tim, you're working with teams that already exist and they already have trust, it's also easier to be able to do this right, because they know each other, they have some sort of trust, and that makes the whole remote communication a little easier. If it's a new team that would be a little harder, and you'd have to do a lot more work on getting them to trust each other and listen to each other, et cetera.
Matt Andrews [00:21:54] So just to say on that as well, the conversations I had with Mark Moore that went up on the blog on Monday, Tuesday were really helpful for me. And that's because one of the things Mark was saying when part of the interview was offline, so you won't hear it. But he said there's many things that we don't have as organizations now. We don't have the time to build trust. That's one of them. Right. We don't necessarily have resources or our resources are in the wrong place and we have gaps and things like that. But he said we do have urgency. And urgency is an incredibly powerful thing because urgency often leads to volition in times of urgency, people are willing to work harder than they ever have before. They're willing, in many cases, to work with others more than they did before. And so where we are creating new teams, in some places, we are essentially being very clear about who needs to be on the teams. And I'm also learning from the approach that Hamad AlMaki took in Bahrain where they created teams. And I said to them, who is on the team? He said, we look for the best people, but we look for the ones more importantly, who were willing to work 20 hours a day and who we knew would just get to it. They wouldn't ask a thousand questions. They wouldn't get distracted. They wouldn't constantly say, do we have a letter of authorization? All of that kind of stuff. What they would say is we're gonna get to work. So if you are thinking about creating teams that go out, that speak to people that engage that curate, that do all of these things that we do in PDIA, I would say what you need to be thinking about right now is where do you see the urgency? Where do you see the volition? And go with that. And one of the realities that I find is that it can often be in more junior people. They are the ones who are sometimes more perhaps enthused. I don't know. I don't know if it's enthused or if they are just more concerned, whatever it is. But I think that energy is something that we're after right now. Energy.
Salimah Samji [00:23:41] Maggie, had a related question, she wrote, "How might we interest folks in capturing the data on what we are learning?" She has a hard time with people saying, "We're overwhelmed. We don't have time."
Matt Andrews [00:23:53] It's a real issue. You know, just to say also, I've had a lot of engagements, with a lot of people who have communicated problems to me. And then when I've tried to connect them with someone who might help them, they said we don't have time for the conversation. So it is a very interesting time period where we need to learn an incredible amount. But everyone is tired and it's not an excuse. It's a real thing. Everyone is tired. It does get back to that conversation we had last week. We need to resist burnout. It also gets to an early blog post that we put up, which was about playing your role and keeping in your lane. Every role requires learning and everyone needs to keep in their lane. And you need to build teams and you need to work in groups. I do find that oftentimes when people say I'm exhausted, I'll say to them, let's talk about what you're doing. And it turns out that they're doing a lot of things. And the first thing I'd say to them is, OK, you may not have the time now to get into learning and to stop and to reflect, but we need to create space for that. And so, Maggie, the answer is, if you're not learning right now as a system, what is your system doing? And this is the question that I ask people explicitly is, this is new, we don't know how to do this, so if we're just going on autopilot with what we know how to do in the past, we are highly likely to make mistakes to worsen this, to be in this situation for longer. I think there are some strategies that we can take to create time or to re-prioritize time. One of them in this case is delegate more, bring more people in. The other one is for people who are decision makers, stop doing the work, step backwards. You know, early on we did reflect on this and I put a video that came from I think it was Norway and it was in Norwegian. But it's a great video. They did an emergency response analysis and they said oftentimes the people who are supervising emergency responses need to be almost not working. They need to be still. They need to be sitting, waiting. They need to be almost saying, "Why am I not working. Why do I have this time to learn?" Because their job is to preserve the energy to make decisions which are incredibly demanding. And they need to be learning. They need to be receiving information, processing information in real time. It's a very difficult thing to do. But the major thing that gets in the way of supervisors doing that is the supervisors get into the weeds and they do the work. So having people think about what their role is, having people think about sticking in their role, having people think about if they are a supervisor, pulling back from the work and actually seeing their job as receiving information, moving information, processing information and making decisions, which is by definition a learning process, I think is very, very key. And I think that what you should be talking about, Maggie, is in your organization, start to talk to people about the cost of not learning. What is the cost of not learning? The cost of not learning is making mistakes. When we make mistakes, people will die, in this case. We will also be here for longer. It will take more to get out of this and the cost of this will be bigger. So I think it is a gigantic reprivatization people need to have about how they think about things. But you almost want to have people in your system whose job is to do the curation, who's job is to do the engagement, etc, etc. I have a blog post going up today about some of the ways that we see politicians work and politicians can be the hardest to work with in this, because what we see is that politicians circle the wagons, they bring people together. They don't want to bring loads and loads of different voices in. And oftentimes it's because they want to move quickly. And what they think is and they think correctly is that, you know, a quick response is really important here. What they need to understand is that a fast, wrong response without learning that allows you to change course takes longer than a series of smaller responses where you learn. And we need to work out how to communicate that to those folks as quickly as possible. Bringing voices in, listening to different perspectives gives you more ideas than you have just with two or three people. It takes a little bit of time, but if you kind of make it a habit, then you can do it. So that's the last idea we have is in some cases where I'm talking to folks at the moment. I'm saying maybe what you want to do is you want to create small groups where there's a period in the week where you talk to those groups. Monday at 9:30am we talk for half an hour to the small business group in this town and we say to them, "What's going on? What ideas do you have?" And we check in and we have people transcribe that and we have those people turn that into some kind of knowledge at the end of the day. I think you want to almost build those habit to make them happen. They have to happen and we have to work out how to get people to prioritize them.
Salimah Samji [00:28:39] On the related topic, Robert had a question about curating capacity. Robert, did you want to ask the question yourself?
Robert Bachmuller [00:28:45] Yes. I mean, in very short, when we work with public officials and look with them in what was in the institutions can be done to more enable that analytical information and knowledge that is everywhere in a public institution can more effectively be shared with decision makers? I mean, this word curating comes for me very much in there, in the little time now available in face of a lot of uncertainty, what are quick supports one can give to kind of enable this sharing of the internal knowledge?
Matt Andrews [00:29:16] So, Robert, I think there are actually a number of people in this call, including you, I think I would include Doug Hadden in this next comment, Ana Kano in Bahrain. I think there are a bunch of people who spend their lives trying to curate information from organizations and to allow a peer learning across organizations. And the people who I've mentioned now, I think are in nonprofit, government, and the private sector. So this is not something that's just happening in one place. And I think all of us would probably agree that it's an extremely difficult thing to do. And the reason why we exist outside of governments, either in consulting firms or in peer learning networks like yourself is because governments don't do this very well. They need help. So the bad news to start off with is that the processes of learning of, let's say, sharing experience and then capturing learning from experience and then sharing the learning rather than just the experience is a very, very difficult one and not one which these organizations do tremendously well. So what I would say is for the organizations that are helping in this way. Normally, I think that you have an enormous task right now to perhaps start by saying, what is it that we've learned about some of the things that we know people are going to struggle with and how do we get that information out to them as quickly as possible? It's one of the things we're trying to do with the blog posts, to be frank. Some of them, I think, are better than others. Some are too long, some are too academic, some are too whatever. It's very hard to put that out, but one of the things you can see as we trying to get a lot of content out very quickly, we do get a lot of feedback from people and we try to adjust based on the feedback. And what I would say is start with the knowledge that you have. Robert, you guys have a lot of knowledge and I would say start to think, what are they going to need? They're going to need to learn how to do quick procurements. They're going to need to learn for Doug what parts of their I.T. systems, what part of the ithmus are going to be potentially most stretched at this period of time? Perhaps, where are the gaps came to be? What have we learned in crises managing, ithmus in the past? I think Honna has been trying to work with governments a lot to help them capture how they make policymaking well. And I think to be able to feed back into governments those things would be a really good starting point. So start with what you have. And then the other thing I would say is that learning happens in relationships. Learning happens in relationships. It happens in linkages. So start to try and bring those people together. One of the mistakes that I think that we can often make with this, and it's with everything right, is how do we create a big event? And I would say, no, don't create a big event. Start to think about the 10 people you've had at your programs in the last six months, who you think had the most energy were the most dynamic, were the most interesting. Get hold of them and say to them, is there any way we could get all ten of you on a call the next little while and said to them, we want to be sharing information, you guys seem to get it. You guys seem to be on top of it. We would like you to bring you into a small group. You give us your ideas. How do we do this? How do we use you to be the connectors to other people? Start really getting into that snowflake. You don't have to do command and control. These things don't have to be big things, etc.. The other thing I would say for organizations who do do curation like you is don't wait for the money right now. Don't wait for the formal programing. Don't wait for anything. Just do it. You have connections. You have relationships. People trust you, people on your side. I think just move ahead and go and get it done. Don't know if Doug Hadden is online and I did see some written stuff from Doug, where I think he it earlier on and I'm not following everything, was trying to bring some information together into consumable formats that they could share with governments about electronic budgeting systems and things like that in this case. I don't know, Doug, if you have any comments about what you guys are doing about your strategy for sharing information right now across the clients that you guys have about where they might be vulnerable, about where you might help, etc..
Doug Hadden [00:33:01] Sure. I'm Doug Hadden I'm in charge of strategy, innovation at Free Balance and Free Balance is a provider of public financial management software and services. And we focus on emerging economies, developing countries. And we're global. We're a micro multinational. We're global we have people all over the world. And it's also added to the challenges that we have. So that kind of approach that we're looking at is basically how can PFM adapt to meet the challenge? And there's a lot of work going on right now, and I'd have to say that some of it is not exactly complimentary. There's all sorts of different sort of opinions about what to do. How do you loosen controls or do you loosen controls to manage the acquisition of PPE, for example? Should you, should you not? How would that work? How could you enhance transparency? And then within the core financial systems that you have, how can you could actually track spending against these new objectives? And how can you be transparent about spending? So that's our primary focus right now. We're doing a little bit of help in crisis communication, but I think that our focus is primarily the Ministry of Finance and then the second stage is OK, as the crisis comes to some level of completion, how do you make your PFM systems more resilient? So these are processes in technology. And there's a number of areas in there that we're addressing, things like how do you look at things in a multiple year, even if it's only for certain health outcomes rather than looks to the best practices and let's implement. Let's do this. Then the next thing it's like, how can you sort of leverage resilience in health and perhaps other areas that are of concern to you without necessarily imposing the burden of full system across the so-called best practices, across everything? Maybe you should start where it's important.
Matt Andrews [00:35:07] Doug, the one thing just to note is I think that, you know, when we are looking at knowledge that people need where we don't actually know what the knowledge is. So I think your question of do we loosen controls or tighten? It's a very difficult question. One of the things that I find myself doing oftentimes when I'm sitting down and writing these blogs is just kind of saying there's so much ambiguity and nuance in everything. Do I really know what to say in this blog? And I think the first thing that I would say is, you know, when we do have some knowledge, I would say be courageous enough to put out your view, say that it's your view, because I think we need to work out how to share information. I do think that there is much more knowledge and knowhow in the world right now than people share. And I think one of the reasons is that people say, well, I don't really have the answer to that. And I think we need to balance not having the final answer with the fact that we do have knowledge that can help people make the answer for themselves. So, you know, maybe even raising here are the 10 questions that we think are the key questions. And here are different ways to think about those questions and your own country's answer so that people can actually think about for themselves could be a really great way in which once we think about what it is that we curate, we curate questions instead of answers. We curate potential answers instead of singular answers. Maybe we even curate kind of what are the conditions under which countries will need to make decisions and what are the contingency factors. So please keep doing the work. I think that's very, very exciting.
Salimah Samji [00:36:29] Great. We had a question from Sanchita Chatterjee on resource allocation. Sanchita, would you like to ask your question?
Sanchita Chatterjee [00:36:35] Yes. Hi. Thank you. My question is: governments of developing countries, do they have less organizational flexibility to allocate or divert resources, say with human resources and financial resources, for say mitigation or recovery for COVID pandemic?
Matt Andrews [00:36:54] OK. Very clear question. I mean, my answer is the governments are not created to be flexible, to do these kinds of things. So, you know, I don't think that it's even developing countries. I think there's a big tension in the literature governments about whether they should be more focused on continuity or change. But I think that the answer is that governments are mostly focused on continuity, on stability, on accountability. And I think that these things are intention. Most governments will have legislation and regulatory mechanisms that affect how they allocate and political devices that affect the flexibility that they can enjoy in times of crises. So it is true that most countries there will be some mechanism in place that allows them to be more flexible in this period of time. I think that what you might see is that some of those mechanisms might be easier to deploy in a de joure sense than they are in a de facto sense. I even think that you're seeing that in a lot of developed countries is that people say, OK. Do we have some mechanism that says we can change the budget now in one special dispensation because it's an emergency? And the answer is yes. Is there a way that we can actually do what we need to do to change it, which is mobilize the Congress, mobilize people, et cetera, et cetera, to do that? Well, that's a little harder to do. So I think acting de facto on some of these mechanisms that we have, it's very, very hard. Also, it makes it harder to move people, I think, than it is to move money. But those things are often connected with each other. So I think governments are having a harder time working out how do we redeploy people across maybe levels of government, which is what's required or between sectors? I think that that's something that is very tricky is one of the reasons, Sanchita, why I advise. And again, just now I said, you know, we need to say when it's our advice and whether when it's kind of like gospel, I advise that people look to create specific mechanisms that are fast, that are flat and that are flexible. But these are usually going to be new. And we often find that governments don't create new mechanisms at the beginning. They think we're going to do it within our existing structure. We're going to manage the money through our existing mechanisms. We going to manage the people through our existing mechanisms. And after a while, they found that it's not fast enough. It's not flexible enough. It's just too brittle. And so this is why you do have entities created not just decision making task forces, but actual operating mechanisms that are more like snowflake type mechanisms and where I see effective responses to society wide crises, because sometimes crises aren't and they don't need this, is that you do see the creation of new mechanisms. Now, it's not just in response to public health crises. Sometimes you'll find in response to things like terrorism or even other kinds of disturbances, you'll find that at the beginning you have multiple forces who are trying to work together according to how they usually do things. And after a while, they come together and they create one individual operating task force. Now, there will be some hierarchy in that task force, but essentially people will be redeployed to that force for a period of time and then they can draw people from the outside. So the answer is, I don't think that there will be enough flexibility. I don't think that's a critique of governments. I think it's actually just a state of the tension between how governments on how governments work and what is needed in this kind of situation. And I think that what is going to be required is some thinking about creating temporary vehicles.
Salimah Samji [00:40:19] Great. Thanks, Matt.
Matt Andrews [00:40:21] Salimah, would it be possible to go from one other person?
Salimah Samji [00:40:24] Sure.
Matt Andrews [00:40:25] I wanted to see if we could hear from Olga. Olga, my understanding from your tweets and things is that you have joined the ground force that is going out and that is doing tracing. I'm very, very interested in what you're learning and in how the task force and the people who are going out trying to do this or learning how to do this, because it's one of those things that some people think there's a technical way to do tracing, there is. But it's also an extremely social thing, right? It requires engaging with people, et cetera. So I just just wanted to get a sense of how it's going with the tracing, what you're learning, tracing what's going on.
Olga Y. [00:41:00] OK. I should start writing down what I'm learning because it's absolutely insane experience. First of all, it's completely virtual. We do everything through the cloud and the teams are formed, I don't even know how, we all jump into it together. And the first wave. So, I'm in the very first wave of people who are being trained on how to make the phone calls. And there are three different roles that people play. So you get a role assigned to you based I think what you have selected, but some people have been shifted and thrown into different roles. So there is some kind hierachy, but I don't really know what it is. So with all bumping into each other, talking to each other. Currently there are about 150 of us, I think, during the conversation, and that will be scaled up to a thousand. So we are experiencing a lot of technical difficulties and trying to solve them as a group. People are very patient in some way and they're open to suggestions from us, from the users, from the shepherds. So I'm just a shepherd, I volunteered to make the phone calls. Being the contact tracer, I specifically did not take the supervisor position or any of that kind of stuff that I do in my normal life because I just wanted to beat the boots on the ground. And however, of course, I can not keep my mouth shut when I see that there could be some improvement to the processes. So I just suggested something very, very simple the other day of scheduling kind of like a buddy system to assign people who are a little bit more computer savvy than others to each other instead of supervisors or people at the very top of the organization, like medical doctors, they don't need to troubleshoot stupid things with headphones or something like that. So that was immediately picked up on this idea. Good idea. So it's very, very insane process. I've never been the part of something that crazy. So as I said, this is all really rumbling because it's been intense and very strange, but a super empowering and I feel useful. And that's the most important thing for me, that I feel that it will make a difference and we will succeed at stopping the spread.
Matt Andrews [00:43:19] Thank you. Really exciting.
Salimah Samji [00:43:20] Thank you, Olga. Thank you very much for joining us. It is really the highlight of our week because we get to hear from a lot of other people and we really like this idea of everyone sharing with us either what they're doing, what they're learning. And if you have any ideas on what we can do differently or what else we can do, definitely shoot us an email and let us know.
Matt Andrews [00:43:41] Thanks, everybody. Thank you, Salimah.
Salimah Samji [00:43:44] Thanks, Matt.
Katya Gonzalez-Willette [00:43:45] To learn more about the Building State Capability program's Public Leadership through Crisis blog series, visit www.bsc.cid.harvard.edu/public-leadership-through-crisis. Thank you for listening.