On May 1st, 2020, the Building State Capability program at Harvard University hosted our sixth 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 May 1st, 2020, the Building State Capability program at Harvard University hosted our sixth virtual discussion with Professor Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on leading to the crisis of COVID-19.
Salimah Samji [00:00:26] Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our sixth virtual session on Public Leadership through Crisis. I wanted to start with asking Matt to share a little bit about his interview with Graham Allison. Matt, if you wanted to kick off with that, that would be great.
Matt Andrews [00:00:42] Sure, so good morning, everyone. Nice to see you guys. And to the few people on I see Fernando's on a few other folks on who I guess have just had your last classes at the Kennedy School. Congratulations. It was a pleasure kind of meeting you guys and look forward to more engagement beyond the Kennedy School. Graham Allison is a long time professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and he wrote an interesting book in the 1960s. I think it was published in the early 70s on The Essence of Decision, where he was writing a little bit about the decision making process that politicians go through during periods of crisis. It's a really interesting book, and it's one of the first books that I read on political science. It was a classic for a long period of time. He was essentially trying to look through the processes that Kennedy and Khrushchev went through when they were engaged in the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, you know, how did they get information? How did they process the information? How did they come to decisions? And how did you, on two different sides of the world, come to decisions that allowed the world to continue? It's a wonderful book. It was updated in the 1990s when the formal documents behind those decisions were released and people got to see where his theory was right or wrong. But the key thing that he speaks about is just the importance of realizing this isn't just about rational decision making. That decision making at any point in time, but especially under crisis, is always going to be about satisfying. You have imperfect information. You have lots of gaps in the information. And there are many different interests behind the people who bring the information to you. And so there is a political process, there is an administrative process, and then there is a rational process to make that decision. I would recommend it to anybody. It's a very interesting read. I spoke to him and I said, "Let's think about COVID-19. And how does your theory impact what's going on now and how would you advise people to make decisions?" We spoke a little bit about the importance of having a team of experts around you. Also of having people who are willing to and actually tasked with being contrarians around you so that you don't get into group think, that's one of the themes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where the military officers around Kennedy essentially were advising retaliatory strike before there was a strike on the Soviet Union. And essentially there was a group think around them. So he said you need to not only have public health experts in the room, but he's like in this case, the public health experts are absolutely required because they have expertize in this. But in this case, they're the equivalent of the military experts in the Cuban Missile Crisis. And you should have people who are countering their narrative. And I think that's quite practical. He also reflects a little bit on the political calculations that people are going to be making. And, you know, the fact that in most countries, probably every country, politicians are going to have to take steps that are not within the normal political narrative of what is expected of them. You know, in democratic societies, you're going to have politicians saying to people, "You can't go out for a period of time." You're going to have politicians starting to saying people, "You need to modify your behavior." You're going to have potentially or, you know, we I think in the US, everyone was waiting to see the president telling businesses to ratchet up the production of certain things. And he said this could be one of the hardest things. And this is where politicians who don't lead are going to be forced to lead and where leadership it really involves kind of doing things that your followers don't want to hear. And I think it's an interesting interview, it's a fairly long interview. Graham kind of riffs a little bit on his feelings about the United States. You'll enjoy that. He does make a statement that the United States never really does well in the first part of a war, which I hadn't really thought about but as he said, you know, the US didn't get into World War One for a long period, didn't get into World War Two for a long period. And he said if the Revolutionary War was finished in a year and a half, we'd still be a colony. So I think one of his comments is like, well, you know, we don't start well, but, you know, maybe that we can still end well. And I actually think it's a really interesting comment for every country is this is going to be a long process and we need to realize that pivoting is actually as important as anything else. You know, if the best case scenario is a country that was prepared for this, that took the right step on day one, the right step on day two, the right step on day three, the right step on day four. But we know that no country was prepared for this and no one took the right steps on those days, everyone was just fumbling in the dark. And sometimes we got it right. One out of five times. And I think we know that because we're still kind of wondering how is this thing spreading, we're still wondering how to treat it. We're still wondering. I mean, at least in the US, we're wondering why it causes blood clots in some people and it doesn't cause blood clots in others. And now we're wondering how do we open stores and we wondering why Singapore was not successful when they did that. And this is throwing so many questions at us that I think the capacity to learn and to pivot and to have a really strong second wind and a good third wind and a good fourth wind is probably proving to be more important than starting well. So I would encourage you go and listen. Graham is really wonderful. And one of the things I'm working on at the moment and, you know, sorry, we haven't been putting much material. We haven't put a blog up this week. We've got for in the works. But we also have a big online executive program we're starting next week for the first time. So we've been just overwhelmed. But I'm working on what I think is actually a crucial piece. And it's the most personal blog that I've seen so far, which is when do we criticize governments? And on the basis of what and how? And it kind of was sparked a little bit by Graham saying, you know, if you don't have a good first wave or a good first salvo in this, maybe we shouldn't be criticizing the politicians, but maybe we should be helping them to have a great second salvo in this. But when do we take from the behavior in the first way, where the things that didn't work and we don't see them pivoting? And is it in the failure to pivot that we find our voice to say we need something different? And so I've been thinking quite a lot about that and what is the role of the media? What is the role even in civil society and perhaps even of administrative experts who are observing that politicians and this is not the case in every place, but it is a case in quite a few places are not pivoting, on not learning. How do we engage with that? So that's something that is on the cards, you'll see that up in the next few days. But that was that interview. It was really fascinating and thought I would kick it off just saying that's going to be out in the next couple of hours.
Salimah Samji [00:07:17] Great. With that, I wanted to open it up to anyone who wanted to either respond to what Matt said or had a particular question or comment, wanted to share their own experience.
Olga [00:07:29] This is Olga. First of all, in Massachusetts, we're very lucky to have a very good Governor who is open to experimentation. And I think has really good, smart people around him. So a lot of things that he does involves not just government people, but other people from the community. And that's terrific because people can move a lot faster than the government. But at the same time, we still have the government with the same set of bureaucratic realities and rules that they haven't adjusted yet. And it's not universal, some systems move fast, some move very slow, some just don't have the capacity. One of the issues I've been dealing with is old system, so the old databases that were created hundred years ago and are obsolete or not adoptable, they have a hard time finding software engineers that speak that language that was created in and yet not willing to quickly switch to a different platform. And I think that's a huge downfall because in some situations it's quite urgent that we move really quickly to a new platform. And I feel like we are, I don't know why we're not moving in that direction. It seems to me just dump the whole old thing. It shouldn't be about politics. It's all about resources and moving really quickly. There are tons of software companies in Massachusetts that will jump and do it in two weeks, literally transfer the whole database to a new robust platform, make it workable. And yet we're not doing it. Puzzles me. I don't know how we can. It seems just about technical aspect. It really isn't political. Shouldn't be political. Right. But it is. What do I do? How do I change that?
Matt Andrews [00:09:26] So Olga, I don't know. I did see that there were calls all across the US for kind of programmers in COBOL to come back from wherever they have disappeared to, if they still exist?
Olga [00:09:36] Oh, there is a special place where they all go.
Matt Andrews [00:09:40] Yeah. You know, I think I think it is interesting. I mean, actually, just before you got on the call, we were talking with Katya and Salimah and saying, I think we're in one of the things we are realizing that in many, many places governments have not kept up with technology at all. And I think that we are feeling that in a very real way. I would say that having been through some software changes as a member of an organization and also when I worked at the World Bank putting new software into governments on the other side, I would say my concern with doing it in this period of time would be that they can kind of bring the thing that is off the shelf and put it in your organization, but tailoring it to organization, training people to use it, etc., etc. can take much, much, much longer than you think. I would also say it's a technical process of putting the software in place. It's an organizational and a cultural and even a political process of getting people to use it because it changes how people behave. It changes how people relate. Software is not a neutral thing. So I'm not sure why they would be saying they don't want to do it, because I'm much will these things would be top of mind for them. But I would say that, you know, if I were in government now and someone said to me, "What we need is a new system." I would say, "I think we need to create something that is as organic as possible, because what's important is that we get what we could use." I mean, I think I wouldn't be calling in a company to bring in a completely new system just because I think it would actually be very, very hard and destructive to do. But I would be saying to you guys, "OK. If your detailed system isn't working, I would say let's go even more basic." Where I've worked with governments in periods that look like a crisis or that are just difficult and they haven't been able to work with their systems, every time we've gone back to just Microsoft products, every time. We've gone back to Excel, you know, if they know how to do Access databases, we've gone to Access. And part of the reason is that most people already know how to use them in the background of most systems, people are working on those programs. And if you get some smart people, you can work out how to share them using whatever. And I think that if people are already defaulting to use those systems, my tendency would be to say, how do we power up those systems so that we could use those systems in a more integrated way? That's what they did during the Ebola crisis in Liberia. It can be effective and what you get in the benefit of that is you get something that a lot of people already use. But I think there's a lot of chats and hands going up that also want to comment on that one.
Salimah Samji [00:12:08] Joanna, since you've been in I.T. for 40 years, I was wondering if you can share your thoughts and then Penny can add to that cause she is a COBOL and Fortran programmer as well, that's awesome.
Joanna [00:12:18] I yeah, I started in Fortran and then converted to COBOL COBOL two. Then I converted to SAP and actually the hardest part is getting everyone in government to decide how to agree. So most of the hard part is political in nature. And then once everybody decides how they agree, even getting them to all agree could take years just to do that. Evaluate the systems, figure out which systems they want to implement. And then once they do that, then the technical people can come. But really, the functional people have to come in next. And like he said, customizing is the hardest part. You can swap any vanilla system in, but everybody's gonna be mad because it doesn't do all your custom stuff that everybody says I can't live without, I can't run the government without. So those are the hardest parts. Once you decide how you want to do all that, then the technical part is not that hard. Like she said, it's the political and decision making. Thank you.
Matt Andrews [00:13:29] Thanks, Joanna.
Salimah Samji [00:13:31] Thank you. Penny, did you want to comment? And then you can ask your question, you had your hand raised.
Penny Tainton [00:13:36] Yeah. Just commenting on that. It's a long, long time since I did programing in COBOL. I moved on to IPG many, many years ago. I haven't been in that field for a while. But I think what's really interesting in the final years that I was working in I.T. businesses were introducing far more big package software and so on and the amount of time and effort that goes into customizing those that's absolutely correct, that's where the big challenge is and it's not something that can happen quickly. I can't see how we're going to move into solutions that can help immediately with this crisis. I think there's a huge need for more agility and more focus on proper date systems in government simply don't seem to exist, certainly in our country. But Matt the point that I wanted to just raise with you and I was interested in your thing around when do we start to criticize governments? Because we're sitting in a really interesting situation in South Africa. Today is our first day on level four. We've moved from level five restrictions and lockdown to level four, which has a few changes in terms of allowing that's a little bit more access to going out once a day between the hours of 6am-9am for a walk, as long as you stay within a few kilometers of your home, few more commerce opportunities that have opened up. But it's still incredibly limited. But the really interesting thing for me is just to see how critically we need to be developing new skills amongst our politicians and senior government people, not we. Obviously, this thing is moving so fast and what we're seeing is government Ministers literally making up the rules as they go along. And so one accepts that they're going to be mistakes and they're going to be not kind of facts that are anticipated. But the challenge that we are seeing is the immediate defensiveness moving into an offensive position. And, in fact, digging heels in and making things worse. So there a lot of decisions that are irrational that, in fact, fly in the face of the Constitution. And what I'm concerned about is that many of these are going to end up being contested in court, which is really not where our energies and focus should be going right now. I just wondered if you had any comments on that.
Matt Andrews [00:15:49] I think this is really difficult because I think that there are many, many countries where things are going to be contested in court because I think that this is not business as usual. Let me talk extremely simple terms about kind of a well-intentioned politicians and not well-intentioned politicians, if you would like. I think that a lot of well-intentioned politicians who are actively doing their best are still going to end up fighting in courts about things that they do. And I think that some of the things that they fight about and that ultimately they lose on would still have been the right thing to have done. I think that if you were to look at a stay home order in the United States and take that to the courts, I'm not really sure that it will hold up much. Now, I'm not a legal person, so I don't know. But at the very least, I could see that there's definitely a very strong argument for it right? So I think that our Constitution's, all of these things were and were not made for these times. And why I said they were made for these times is because what they do do is they do say there needs to be process and we should not compromise on process, people who are elected to. I'm really only talking now about elected systems. So if anybody wants to speak about other systems, that's also fine. But in democratic systems, politicians are given the authority to run the country by the people within the Constitution. And I think that we need to remember that at all times. One of the things that the Constitution requires in every country is it requires a governing process. And what I would say is if there are departures from the governing process that are forced, that's fine. But they need to be close to what the governing process is and you still need to have a process. So, for instance, most Constitutions will say there needs to be a process of consultation. There needs to be a process of communication. There needs to be a process of explanation. There needs to be a process of vetting. These are things that are in the Constitution. If we think about how different Constitutions do that, they do it differently. And in some countries, those processes are very carefully and very clearly and very specifically identified. And those countries are going to have a hard time right now because those processes are not necessarily designed for speed. They are designed for accountability. And so in some countries, they are very vague. And it's just like, well, you need to be communicating with the people, or if you want this, if you want to go into this type of area, you need to get a vote from the Congress as well as in this whatever. So my sense is that we should be holding governments accountable for going through a process, which is what you were saying when you said it sounds like individual Ministers are just making things up on the fly and then digging in their heels. I think that we should be very careful not to allow that to happen. I don't know how we do that. But I think that it would be great if we had within the political class people who had the skill to allow the system to move faster and then to kind of gently pull it back. And because I think that what you're looking for here is you're going to be testing those boundaries. There's no way politicians are not going to be testing those boundaries right now because they have to do extraordinary things. But you're wanting people who allow you to kind of move out and then come back, move out and then come back. It's hard to know, also, when do you kind of call it and say,"Hey, I think that you've kind of gone over the boundary?" Because we also, you know, we need to look, some of these things happened in the early part of my career. I worked in a developing country where while I was working as an external expert, there was a very severe flood, but in a small part of the country, and it affected two or three towns very badly. And one of the towns, I was working with the mayor in that town and the mayor actually was an excellent, excellent person by my vetting. But he at the beginning of this overreacted and I think overreacted in a positive way and started to limit mobility of people even before they flood arrived. He was removed by higher authorities and the government, that's how the Constitution worked. And I thought it was a very sad moment because fewer people died in his town because they were ready and they had been removed, but because they had been forcibly removed, it was something people didn't like and it created problems for him. And, you know, my sense was always would the town of being better still, having him afterwards will not? And I think it was clear. So I think we need to be really careful about these things. I do think that we should be constantly saying, "How have they modified the process from what the process should be in the Constitution, by my understanding. But are they still trying to due process? Are they communicating those things to us? Because we are the people and we are the ones who matter." And they should also know that just telling people what to do will only last for so long. If you're a democracy and you try to be an autocratic state, you are not an autocratic state and you will start behaving in ways that you cannot maintain without becoming an autocratic state very quickly. So even if they are having tough messages and they are trying to tell people to do things that people are probably not going to like, that's where communication comes in and they should be working on being excellent communicators. The thing is, how do you get people to follow you in those directions rather than to force them? Now, all of this I'm talking theoretically because this is incredibly hard to do. But almost everything we do with governments, people say, "Well, that's really hard to do." And it's almost code for we're not doing it. And I'm like, "No, you have to work out how to do it. These are the skill sets that we have to work on." And, you know, I think possibly these are the skill sets we have to work on as we move on the fly. I also think, as I was saying earlier, that there are a few things that I am thinking should be sparking our concern. One is if we can visibly see that our politicians are not telling us the truth. I think that we should be extremely worried because you do have this tendency of people to be able to kind of take some power. You could see some things happening like we see in Hungary right now, where there seems to be a very aggressive and direct power play by the President to take over the country and to make it more autocratic. And we need to be watching out for that because these things happen. We also need to realize that if they aren't telling us the truth, they are not equipping us to be able to do what we need to do in the face of this pandemic. And this pandemic threatens us as individuals and communities, and they need to be telling us the truth. The second thing is I think they need to be taking responsibility. And this is where the story that you told me is I would give pauses. I would be thinking there's a tension between a politician who actively takes responsibility and says, well, this is my job, and then says the only way I can do it is by taking active control. The positive side is at least she said, this is my job and I'm actually taking responsibility. And I'm in a country now where the president has said on multiple occasions, I do not take responsibility and I don't know what he means by that. But even hearing those words is very troubling. So I do think that if someone overstepped their bounds, but it's it's an expression of them actually trying to take responsibility I think we need to think about that. Taking responsibility is important, telling the truth is important. Being humble and being able to pivot might be the most important of all of these things, because we do have to pivot, we do make mistakes, it is going to happen. No one is going to get this right. So if politicians don't have that third thing, I think we are in very, very serious trouble because they will double down. And I did a blog post early on how to pivot, put about five or six things there. You know, you can fire somebody and blame them, but that only takes you so far because you still need your people to trust you. And if you actually throw people in the bus, you're going to lose your administrative people. You can pretend that you weren't there, which we've also seen in some countries. Or you can, probably the only useful one,, be honest at the beginning that you don't know everything and that you're going to pivot. Be humble and communicate. That's something that I would really be watching carefully. It's something that, you know, from my work, I'm trying to write as much about that as possible. And whenever I speak to politicians, to speak about that as much as possible, to say to them, not only should you pivot, you can pivot and here is how you do it. And it is the sign of good qualities. What you also should realize, though, is that any pivot is also a sign of risky politics. So if a politician pivots now, you and I both know that when this is over, that pivot is going to be put back against them. So what we are asking for is politicians to show leadership, which is essentially to take a risk to realize that taking responsibility and leading people through crisis requires being humble and recognizing mistakes and pivoting and that they need to become good at that very, very fast. But even if they are not good at that, you know, they don't know if they're good at that or not. So they are going to have to take a risk and try it and it will come back to them. And they need to kind of realize that. I think the more we can gently try and communicate that to the political class, the better. But I think where we're not seeing it with the political class, I think this is the kind of thing that we should call them out on. And we should be careful how we do that, too, because we want them to listen to us, not to respond to us negatively. So those are some of my thoughts on this. They are literally my thoughts. But I do think that we need to be careful not to be quiet when we need to talk, but also not to talk and criticize when we need to, we need to be quiet. So it's a very, very, very difficult line to walk.
Salimah Samji [00:24:40] I was wondering if anyone else wanted to comment on anything that Matt has said. I know Tricia posted an article that she found useful. If anyone wanted to comment, that would be great.
Tricia [00:24:51] I can just tell you why I posted that article. It's about the Epidemic Intelligence Service may be getting that wrong. But Epidemiology and Intelligence Service, something like that, a long term training and then sort of people move out into their different local and regional health jobs and form kind of a network. But it's also about when leaders decide to like there's a very clear strategy that the E.I.S. has for listening to experts, putting them out front so that it doesn't politicize things. And also, they have strategies for how and who communicates what so that people trust it and they listen and it seems to work in many cases. Nothing is perfect. And this is a new case always. But I just found it useful to know that there are strategies and there are systems and not everyone's listening to them.
Matt Andrews [00:25:44] And I think, Tricia, one of the things in many of these systems that you create, you want to create the process of discourse. And so what I see is so in the COBRA system and the COBRA system is in the U.K., the way in which the British government has structured the decision making process in response to a crisis. And it's emerged over about 45 years, and it generally doesn't work very well. But I think it works better than it did when they didn't have anything. And COBRA is essentially they bring together you have the Prime Minister and a core team that will identify what the subject matter is and who the subject experts are. They will then define what a standing kind of committee would look like and that committee would include those experts into it. They would also introduce counterexperts and do kind of what I think in the US military has is called Red Teaming. Blue Team presents the argument. The Red Team produced the counterargument and you would either have counterexperts brought in to build the narrative that is different to what the experts do or you would have an individual tasked with that at every single meeting and every single meeting they have would be structured in this way. And it would be the meeting where the agenda would be set with specific topics that are that are coming into the agenda so that it would be very disciplined. There would not be a catch up time in the meeting. All of the information would be shared in advance of the meeting, and the meeting would be essentially an argument and the experts would be asked to provide their views. The counter people would be providing their views in a specific amount of time, and then there would be a political discourse around the views in the room. Then the decision would be taken at the end, nd not only is the decision taken, but a strategy for monitoring the decision and seeing how the decision plays out would also be developed. So I think that this is an interesting way in which you ensure that you are identifying who you think the primary experts are. You're identifying people who can push the experts and push their arguments so that you make sure that you're not getting into any groupthink. So you're going to have multiple views in that conversation. You're also ensuring that it doesn't go on for forever. So you are creating a time boundary around what the conversation will look like, how the conversation will progress, etc.. You are also allocating a clear responsibility for who will make the decision in that meeting. And that can also differ according to how big the decision is and also according to the expert content of that decision. But I think the thing that might be the most interesting is that you are at the end not just making a decision. You are also saying we do not know if this decision will work so therefore, this is how we are going to monitor it and these are the questions we're going to ask at this point in time down the line to see if it's working. And I think that in this time, actually, in most times, we should be structuring our decision making processes as tightly as that. Being extremely clear about who we want, why we want them, who gets to talk, how the argumentation works, when the argumentation is stopped, who makes the decision and takes responsibility for it, and how we then manage the risk that we could have made a wrong decision by putting in a monitoring strategy. These meetings typically will take a couple of hours and they are literally time-bound and at the end of that they have to make decisions. And I think that they have different options that they can take for different kinds of decisions. Now, what they also do there and so the situation in Bahrain is similar. This is I'm describing in Bahrain what the Crown Prince's decision making process, the Cabinet process looks like in a crisis. And I'm also describing what the I cannot remember what it was called, the similar mechanism created around Ellen Johnson Sirleaf looked like during the Ebola epidemic. They work then with an entity that sits directly below them, which makes day to day operational decisions. And so that entity will work in a very similar way. They have somebody who will be charged to play the role of the Prime Minister. But the operational Prime Minister. This was Tolbert Nyenswah in the case of Liberia. They can bring whoever they want into into kind of like a central mechanism and they make day to day decisions. They then delegate out hour to hour decisions. And so part of this also is how do you create a mechanism where you identify when do decisions need to be taken? How do we create a process whereby they're taken and then you have monitoring that they're taken by the right people at the right time and you only ratchet up a select set of decisions that are very, very important and big decisions. So I think that this is a very important way of ensuring that you have experts and you have information flowing. You are not overwhelming your big decision makers with small decisions, you're allowing a lot of pace in the decision making process. But you are also allowing yourself the information you need to be able to make the pivot. I'm sorry I went on for a long time, but I think that this kind of detail is often lost. What I see oftentimes is people will create what they call a task force, and the task force should be below the decision making entity. And the task force is often the decision making entity and they end up making decisions about too many things and they don't make the right decisions. Sometimes the task force is too big and you have every expert in the world there and you end up just having disagreements and you don't make decisions and it takes too long. So, you know, sometimes, you know, you circle the wagons and you don't bring the experts in at all. So I think that there are many ways in which we can make mistakes on this, and it needs to be carefully, carefully, carefully structured how we do these processes. I would also say this in countries that aren't doing this well at the moment, given how long this is going to take, we can always pivot. And this is probably one of the pivots that is most important. In the Ebola pandemic, the Ebola pandemic began and I think November 2013, the pivot to create this structure happened in July 2014. Think about that. That is eight, nine months, eight, nine months they did not get their organizational act together. People were doing a thousand things. The communication, the message was all over the place. People were starting to die. By the time they got to July, there were active and loud calls for the government to be removed. So I think sometimes we think if we got it wrong, it's the end of the world. No, no, no. I believe this: If we can still pivot, we should still pivot. And so I think that providing information to folks is useful with this. I'm sorry for going on for so long.
Salimah Samji [00:32:10] Great. Thank you. Fernando had a question. Fernando, would you like to ask your question?
Fernando [00:32:15] Yes. Thank you. My question was related to having conversations with people in multilateral world. They are concerned because they are getting a lot of requests from different countries, as you can imagine, not only money, but technical assistance. And they are more in the typical plan and control way of still thinking on the world, we need to put our solutions instead of starting with ideas. And it's very hard for them to move in this so rigid world. And that's why I wonder if you have a full of thoughts. We've been talking about this in many of your classes, but I would like you to share it now that we are really leading these kind of adaptive world. So what are your thoughts about these? And what we can tell them to do to help them changing their mind or to to help them to satisfy some kind of piloting ideas or any kind of adaptive way of working in this such a challenging situations that they have in multilateral world. Thank you.
Matt Andrews [00:33:18] I'm going to ask actually Salimah to lead on this. Salimah, what do you think we should be telling the multinationals to do?
Salimah Samji [00:33:25] This is a tough one.
Matt Andrews [00:33:26] Spending most of our time not managing to find any space for maneuver with most of them.
Salimah Samji [00:33:32] This is a really hard one. This is really, really hard because they're just not created in a flexible way to be able to do that. And I think, at least from our own personal experience, and I'm not going to mention countries or whatever. It is really hard, Fernando, because these organizations, they're almost like they have handcuffs. So it is basically relationships. It comes down to trust and relationships. At least that's the way I see it. If you find a country director who has a limit where he can approve certain funding without having to go up to his board or whatever, and he believes that this country really needs this money to experiment, to try to test, then you've got a winner and you've got something to happen together. In the absence of finding those kinds of positive deviance in positions of power and authority to be able to authorize funding, essentially, that's what they provide. Right? It's resources, it's funding to governments to be able to allow them to do stuff. It is really, really hard because even the ones who have a lot of will don't have the authority or the power to be able to make those decisions. And I think that's what I would say is finding those. It's kind of like even within organizations like the World Bank where both Matt and I have worked. There are pockets that are able to do this. You know, they are instruments that exist, like learning loans, et cetera, that allow you to do this kind of stuff. It's just not the norm. So kind of working through their systems, knowing their systems and finding ways to make it work because they believe that this is what is needed is one way that we have seen has worked.
Matt Andrews [00:35:13] So Fernando, I mean, this week we have a story of trying with the government, it's not us, but trying with the government to mobilize some money for them. The first thing that we did was and the government is not work with one agency, but go after all of them at the same time. Basically just send the same request to every single agency out there. So you get there. So we were engaged with three and one came through. And one, you had a country director who did exactly what Salimah just said. And I think there's a few things there. That person needs to have a relationship with the people in the government because they're basically saying, I'm gonna be giving you money and I need to trust that you're not going to you know, I'm taking a risk on you and I have trust that I'll do that. So I think, you know, from the side of not working in the multilaterals and being in the bilaterals, I think there is space to do that. They do have space to maneuver. You know, usually a country director will have a certain amount of money, a certain amount of time, whatever it may be, that she can move from the perspective of the development organizations themselves I think there's a few things I'd say. The first thing is there are a lot of smart people in these organizations and there's a lot of questions that countries are trying to get to that Peter wrote about a couple of weeks ago, these things that are going to come on stream in two months, three months, six months, a year. They trying to get to you, but they just can't either because they just overwhelmed or right now I think they just kind of really burned out. And I think that's one of the things that would be really interesting is if some of the think tank type multilateral bilateral organizations could start to put their people together to think about some of those things on behalf of countries. Now, what I would say is we're not looking for answers. We're looking for options. You know, as I say, we're not looking for solutions. We're looking for ideas. And if they can learn to speak in the language of ideas and options and just count the great work that they do in terms of those and not tie it directly to a loan down the line, I think they could be incredibly useful because I think it is a source of capacity. I spoke to some this week and they were saying their biggest concern is, you know, they can't travel, they can't go to countries now. So they're either sitting at home, if they're international consultants, they are sitting at home or maybe if they work for the multilaterals they're sitting around the buildings. I would say put them to work and say, here are the questions we want you to start thinking about. What could the world look like? What options could there be? And I would say do something that maybe you don't ordinarily do. Put those things out for free. Just start putting them out there. Start saying here are questions people asking about how to restructure meatpacking plants. That's the first one on my mind so you can see what I was reading just before I came in here. Start thinking about that, it's an issue and a lot of places. Right. How do we think about tourism? How do we think about restructuring airports? How do we think about all of these things? These are practical things, thinking at the same way about how do we think about these things from a public finance perspective. So, you know, just a shout out to CABRI. CABRI has been doing some really interesting work, starting to think about what budgets and what revenue systems and things should look like across Africa. And just throwing them out and just saying, here we are thinking about this so you don't have to. Most of people in the government budget offices right now are just trying to find money. That's what they trying to do. They're trying to move quickly. They don't have time to think about it ok what does the next budget look like? How do we do it? So these guys are saying we'll do it and we'll just give you the information. So, Fernando, that is I think that you could actually kind of tap into a little bit of analytical strength that is there. And, you know, these people are not going to be doing country visits for a while. So, you know, have them do that. The other thing is, I would say you want the multilaterals to really think a lot about how they conceptualize risk and trust in the relationships that the governments. And how do they think about taking some of the handcuffs off? And, you know, what is the risk of that? And I think they should be doing some really clear work on that, because I think that there are more countries that where you could take the handcuffs off and let the money flow better, quicker and easier and the risk of a downside is not that high. I think there are countries where they shouldn't do that. So, you know, I don't think this is the same for every place, because I think if multilateral approved a really big loan right now that ended up just going into the pockets of the political leadership, I think they would create problems for themselves, but they would also exacerbate the problems for the political leadership. If you have a corrupt system, don't throw money at it at this point in time, because I think anything that undermines whatever trust is in the system right now is going to be tougher. But I think the funding space, I think that's another you know, the last one is they should be funding. And the question is, how much are they funding? How are they thinking about doing that funding? I have not heard any one outside of donor organizations that thinks that the multilateral is putting enough into this. Everybody I'm hearing is saying that the multilaterals are severely underfunding this, that the funds that have been created are kind of laughable in a sense. I actually have not paid any attention to it at all. I don't even know what is being promised. I don't, you know, I'm not looking at that. But I do think that, you know, one of the problems that even the multilaterals have is that they have to go back to Western countries predominantly, either for permission to ramp up funding or to get more money. And I think that Western countries, you know, this one of the things about this crisis that is peculiar or not usual is that those Western countries aren't, I'm sure, picking up the phone all the time. So, you know, one of the things that multilaterals need to do is they need to convince Western countries that this conversation is very, very important, that, you know, if the US funds this well, that's one thing. If Germany funds this well in its own borders, that's one thing. But you know what? There's a lot of other countries and, you know, the global economy is still global. So, yeah, Fernando, I think it's very difficult. But I think at the moment, what I would almost think is you want to think about how can you start creating a narrative, engaging all the people that, you know in those organizations start listening to them as well, because I can imagine that they are very, very concerned about how their jobs are going to go through as well and start to think about their ideas, to nudge people, to nudge their organizations, to think differently about funding, about trust and about structuring their expertize in this case for what happens down the line.
Salimah Samji [00:41:19] I'd also add think about smaller amounts of funding, right? Why do we have to do a hundred million dollars? Why can't we do ten thousand?
Matt Andrews [00:41:27] Yeah.
Salimah Samji [00:41:27] And then that's less risky and much more tolerable. And that could go a long way in some countries. I think it's just thinking very differently and creatively. Any other questions? We have time for one more question.
Matt Andrews [00:41:39] So I wonder if I could ask Frank Hartman if he wants to come in and give any sort of you know, what he's seeing who's he's talking to? Because Frank does a lot of work is similar to ours with, I think, more of a US based audience than we have. I know we have quite a few people from the US on here. Nicole, I've been watching your Governor a lot this week. I think he is fantastic, by the way. Really, really, really fantastic. But, Frank, I wonder, what are your thoughts? What are the big challenges that governments are having now that you think they are either getting on top of or that are kind of really creating problems in terms of this organizing, communicating, leaving space?
Frank Hartman [00:42:14] That big jump back to the previous question first. I ran an organization some years ago in Connecticut. And whenever staff applied for a grant of X amount of money, I always said to them, you have to have a Plan B.. What could you do for five thousand dollars? I said, I can always find you 5000 dollars. So whatever grand plan you have for 10 million or whatever and so forth, you have to have a plan B for five thousand dollars to do something, not just just give up, sort of in despair. In terms of the current situation, it feels as if communication from government is so fractured and so I heard somebody yesterday on WGBH, there was a health expert from one of the local towns and she was the person that people referred to and they had to be quarantined. And so someone asked her, can I pet my dog? And her answer was, well, I heard in the news that dogs can get the Coronavirus. And so the issue is when people should feel free government. I don't know that answer right now. And in fact, what might common sense tell you? But there's so much going out there in terms of this is the way it is. These are the facts. It's a very confusing time. And I don't think we should be afraid or government should be afraid. We don't have the answer right now. And what would common sense tell you?
Matt Andrews [00:43:47] One of the things that is really interesting to me is our organizations and governments are created to tell people what we know. That's almost how we are structured. And I have the same conversations with people. And I think that when you are communicating in crisis, you need to be communicating as much what you don't know is what you do know.
Frank Hartman [00:44:04] Right.
Matt Andrews [00:44:05] And you need to be communicating to people almost what it is that you're doing to find out. Yeah, I think it's important. And I do think when I look at what's happening in some places, people are starting to say, well, why's government got it wrong again? Why they got it wrong again? Why have they got it wrong again? And it's not that they got it wrong. It's that they didn't tell people that they didn't know. Right. And I think that if if along the way, people that said, OK, this is our best guess right now as to kind of what this is and our decision making criteria is we're going to earn the conservative side. So at the moment, we're seeing this and we don't know. So we're gonna say this. Two weeks later, look, we found this out about it. So now we can relax it or we can do this. And one of the examples that I've been saying where I see this a lot is actually in Singapore. The Singapore Prime Minister, the way that I've enjoyed watching him communicate, is on good and bad days, saying this is what we know. This is what we don't know. This is how it's like things we've seen before. This is what we're trying to find out. And if we find this out, this is how we might respond. And it may not be what you like. And I think it's very, very interesting way of communicating where you are, but also communicating where you might go, but also places where you might go to the people might not want to go to. But in advance, you almost creating a place holder there for yourself. And I think it's very difficult to do and I think it is politically risky. You know, whenever we say we don't know something, I think it goes almost counter to what our culture is saying. But I think that in a crisis, that is the only way to do it. Thanks for your comment. Thanks for tuning in. It's great to see you, Frank.
Salimah Samji [00:45:30] Thank you. And with that, we come to the end of our virtual session. And with that, thank you very much for joining us. It really is like our highlight for Fridays and are really enjoying. We look forward to Friday mornings, it kind of sets our weekend off in a nice especially from how many parts of the world you all come from. And just hearing all these great things that you're doing or the great work that you're doing and it just makes us really happy. So thank you very much for joining us for an hour every Friday.
Matt Andrews [00:45:59] Thanks, everybody.
Katya Gonzalez-Willette [00:46:01] 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.