On April 3rd, 2020, the Building State Capability program at Harvard University hosted our second 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
Leading Thru Crisis event April 3, 2020
Katya Gonzalez-Willette [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Building State Capability at Harvard University's Podcast Series. On April 3rd, 2020, the Building State Capability Program at Harvard University hosted our second virtual discussion with Professor Matt Andrews', who answered audience questions on leading through the crisis of COVID-19.
Salimah Samji [00:00:26] Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our second virtual discussion on public leadership through crisis. I see a bunch of people who we saw last week. Welcome again. And I see some new people. Welcome to you guys as well. For those of you who are new, we did post a podcast version of the session from last week. I'll put it in the chat window. We will begin with questions that were posted on the poll that we sent out. And then I will open up again with that. I'm going to turn it over to Matt to say some opening words before we get started with our questions.
Matt Andrews [00:01:03] Hey, good morning, everybody, I think it's an interesting week globaly, I think that the response to COVID-19 has ramped up in many countries in the last kind of eight or nine days.
[00:01:13] And I think there are many leadership issues are also emerging in this process. Initial strategies are having differential effects or raising different issues are creating different kind of stresses on systems. So I think that there are many leadership issues that are emerging. And it'll be interesting to hear from different folks who are on this morning what is going on in their context as well. I can see we have a few from South Africa that I know, we have Murtaza Jafferjee from Sri Lanka and people from all over the place. So as always, I'm less focused on WHAT. I'm less focused on what countries are doing. I would say that in the last couple of days we have been looking to see what resources there are on the what, which is kind of - are countries doing a stay at home orders in a different way? Which countries are leading with testing and tracing and things like that? And we will be putting some of those resources up on our blog post number seven today. The most recent one I saw this morning was the OECD is collecting in an Excel spreadsheet details of what countries are doing differently and how they're innovating. So we'll put that up. But that isn't the focus here. The focus here is on the who and the how. And that's what we want to discuss today. And I think we are open to any question, not necessarily that we will provide all of the answers.
[00:02:27] Thank you, everyone, for joining.
Salimah Samji [00:02:30] Great. Thanks, Matt. So I'll start with the first question that we got, and it is - What advice do you have for coordinating a cohesive response in developing countries that may be faced with increased development partner interest in assisting the COVID-19 response? Any design principles for coordinating domestic and international actors?
Matt Andrews [00:02:52] Yes, for this question, I've been spending some time, firstly trying to understand or trying to communicate to people, and if you look at our number 12, I think it is, you'll see a discussion of the organizational principles behind what happened in Liberia. And if you go before that, you'll see why we argue for this. The major issue that we find in the literature is particularly in inexperience in this kind of situation. Organizationally, there's difficulties, coordination. I think some people think that in the face of a crisis, what you need is control. And you actually see sometimes at the beginning of these responses that the organizational response is to impose control on the system. What you generally find is that the issue is coordination, not control. And sometimes those two things go together. But actually in many times the initial efforts to control are done within the traditional structures that exist, whether these traditional structures or the traditional bureaucratic structures that are in the governments at the time or whether they are the structures in the governments plus the development partners at the time. People will say, let's control around those mechanisms and you tend to find that this actually causes a major coordination failure. So what you want to do in most crises, and had this conversation with some folks in a South Asian country yesterday, is I said it is very rare that you see a coordination response that happens through the preexisting structures of government. The coordination response usually requires creating something new. The U.S. has a version of this where they call it the IMS, and it's essentially the response to the situation that is arising. They create a mechanism that whether it's a hurricane, whatever, that helps people to coordinate. It's usually a new mechanism altogether. And that mechanism brings together folks who are technically qualified to deal with the specific intervention itself, but also people who have cross-functional skills who can make a lot of connections for you. That structure is usually not a singular structure. It's a structure that has, what we like to call, the snowflake structure, where you have a central structure. Then you have teams that are outside of the snowflake structure. It is a new structure. So what it allows you to do is allows you to bring together your government, people with your development path, with people in a new way. What I like, particularly about the Liberian experience with this is that they develop their mechanism and every part of the snowflake, including the center and then every team that was related to that was run by a Liberian. And the person who was second in charge of every single team was somebody from the development community. I don't want to say every single team, but the kind of core teams. And what that meant is it meant that the Liberians were in charge, but it meant that the development partners were part of this so they could not act outside of it. So your United Nations folks, the W.H.O. folks would be seconded to be on one of the teams. Then you would have other development partners on other teams. In an early blog post, I said that what's important is that people work out what their roles are and they stay in their lanes. And what this means is it keeps people in their lane. So you guys are working on the team. You think about it, then the central team can be almost your coordination team. They are the ones who report upwards to your political leadership. And an important comment here is that in many of these cases, also, the political leadership takes a back seat from the day to day operational stuff. They reserve their energies and they reserve themselves for making the big strategic decisions, but they take a backseat from the operational stuff. You have your central unit and that central unit essentially determines what are the areas in which we need to have other teams and how do we ensure coordination with them. Then you could have your other teams, one could be doing tracing, one could be doing managing. What do we do with deaths? Another one could be thinking of not so much the immediate response, but the economic response that will come up in three, four, five, six weeks time. Another one could be thinking about what are we doing with schooling? Whatever the dimensions of the problem are, you can have different teams working on those things. And the way in which you manage the development partners is you put the development partners into those teams. And so you're basically saying to them, this is what you're working on with, this is what you're doing. I think that it might be easier in this case than in some other cases, actually, because the conversation I was having yesterday was that some of the people who are in the development partners in the NGO communities three weeks into this, they are spent. They are absolutely exhausted, as is everyone in government. I think people are quite looking forward to actually being told this is my role, this is what I'm working on, I'm going to work on 20 things. So that is the idea that I would recommend to you. Go and look at the blog post, blog post number twelve. We are going to today have a hard cause up with Tolbert Nyenswah who was the head of this unit, and he describes it a little bit more. But as with last week, I wonder if I can just give Peter Harrington, who is on the line, just a few minutes, just to add anything. Pete, specifically to the way in which the government was successful in taking the lead, but bringing the donors into the program so that everybody's capabilities will use. That's what you what you want. Everybody's capabilities to be used. And if you could give some ideas on kind of how that worked and what some of the keys to doing that might be.
Peter Harrington [00:08:16] Thanks, Matt. Though just talking about Ebola for a minute, and then I'll draw some parallels and contrast with the current crisis on Ebola. Donors are used to, in general, coming and sort of saying, well, this is how you do it and this is what we're gonna do. And we expect you, the country, to agree with this. I think what was really important was to turn that around, was to reverse that and for the government to be saying, "this is the role we want you to play, and we don't want you to come in with your idea of the program and doing you know all the ten different things that you want to do." So I think that's the essential thing, is that they were slotting into the government's structure emerging snowflake rather than vise versa. And that meant that, for example, the behavior changed the kind of engagement mobilization work UNICEF with a partner on that. And even though UNICEF can probably do five other things, that was what UNICEF did. And they they were given a very clear instruction to kind of focus their resources there. At the beginning everybody disappeared, and I think that's happening today as well. External organizations, donors are all getting on a plane and leaving. And then after a couple of months with Ebola, people started to come back. A few stayed. But as people's lives come back and when they came back, it was a stampede and it was very difficult to coordinate that. It took time for the government to get control and for external people there to help to learn that they were there to follow the government's structures and not give the orders. And I think in the conversation with Tolbert Nyenswah yesterday, he describes how it was necessary to have a forum where all of those voices could be heard and could sort of say that bit. But you also had to have a team that was that was really part of the government as well. I think the big question with COVID is how many people are going to come back? And that's the big difference, potentially difference with the Ebola crisis is how many of those people who have left the country will come back. How much external resource will there be to plug into what the government is doing? But I think the way you've described it is the way that needs to happen. The only other thing I would add about the relationship with international support is getting financial requests or logistical requests for support in really early. So even if you're not 100 percent sure about the amount of financial support that might be needed, because everybody knows how slow the World Bank moves, how slow the IMF moves, how slow other donors move, asking for that money upfront. I mean, I think Africa has written as a continent to the G20 and asked for 150 billion dollars. But I've seen convincing estimates that it's going to need more like half a trillion. So I think now who knows how much of that will be forthcoming. But framing those questions, this is one of the things that President Sirleaf did very well. Obviously, she had a good position to do that, from which she was well known already that she put those requests in very early. So that's a very high level thing, but it's worth thinking about. And even that might even apply to provincial or local level.
Salimah Samji [00:10:55] Thanks. Great. Thank you both. The next question is related, and it is - How important is a charismatic personality to maintain motivation for the snowflake model to be effective, or does shared purpose negate this need?
Matt Andrews [00:11:12] It's an interesting question. I'm not really sure how to answer it because here's the thing is I've never really thought that what you need is a charismatic personality in that position. That's not something I've ever really thought about, charisma. In many cases it can help you in many situations because charisma comes out in many ways, comes out in the way you can communicate, etc., etc. But I don't think that it's something that absolutely matters. I think that creating shared purpose is much more important. You're talking now about communicating the message about the person who is the motivator. There are many people who motivate people not because of their charisma, but because of their commitment. And I think in this case, what you are looking for is you're looking to see people who have made a commitment to stay the course. They are going to take their people out of this. And I think that that kind of observation of a public value orientation in leadership is something that is very important at this stage. Remember that during crisis, what you're dealing with is the fact that people are in fear. People are deeply concerned about their futures.
[00:12:11] They are deeply concerned about their health. They are deeply concerned about all sorts of things. But also, there's probably going to be a lot of different ideas about what government should do and how governments should do it. So there is a lot of ambiguity. And what you're really looking for is somebody who can settle some of that ambiguity without necessarily telling people that they're right or wrong, but more with convincing people that they are leading them out of a sense of purpose, that they have their best interests at heart and that they are there for them and they are committed to them.
[00:12:42] And I don't know if you need charisma to do that. I do think that people who have charisma can do that, can use their charisma in making that communication forward. So I'm not saying charisma is not a bad thing in this case, but I think that what's more important is honesty and clarity of message and revealing to people what your public value orientation is.
[00:13:03] One of the people who I have been showcasing on the blogs whose work so far has been, I think, very impressive in the COVID-19 situation, one person I really like is Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, who I think is charismatic. And he tells stories. And the other one, though, is the Prime Minister of Singapore. And, you know, when you look at how the prime minister of Singapore communicates, I think he has charisma. But it's it's a very quiet charisma, if it's any charisma. He sits on a chair. He doesn't move. He talks directly into the camera. He speaks directly to people as if he's in the living room. He is extremely calming. He does establish that idea of a shared purpose. And just to say, I don't think that you get a shared purpose automatically. I think that is one of the jobs of leadership here. I think leadership has to bring people into that shared purpose.
[00:13:51] Remember that not everybody is getting sick with this and not everybody is dying with this. So the allocation of loss is a very complex thing to deal with with a public health issue like this, because everybody has to stay at home to protect a sizeable portion of our population, but not everybody. So what that leader has to do is that leader has to be able to communicate that shared purpose. And, you know, if you look at those videos, I don't think that you necessarily see what we would ordinarily call charisma. So I think honesty, clarity, calmness is particularly particularly important. Why I kind of paused with the question at the beginning is I sometimes find that charismatic people will rely on their charisma in their communication methods and they won't necessarily spend the time with the public health experts crafting the message. They won't necessarily put themselves in submission to the public health experts. And the communication experts as to what the message should be. And they won't necessarily kind of almost pull themselves back to be that common person. That is the kind of person who I think is more important in communicating these things. And just to say it's not just the person who's providing the message to the country, it's the person who is providing the message to the staff. It's the way you communicate with your staff. Leadership is something that happens everywhere in the system right now. A couple of days ago, Salimah and I were on a call with some county officials in the United States. And one of the issues that came up in that call was that one of the supervisors has half of her staff working at home because they are not essential workers. And part of her staff working on the front lines because they're essential workers. And she said one of the difficulties then is you know the allocation of losses is, she didn't say this, but in my language, the allocation of loss is very different in that situation. And what makes it harder is that the people who tend to be on the frontlines tend to be the ones who are worse paid than the ones who are now at home. So that's a very interesting leadership situation that she is in, is how do you communicate to those people? And I would say in those situations, I think that you want more honesty, empathy and putting those people first in the dialog rather than kind of outright charisma.
Salimah Samji [00:16:07] Great. I'll move on to the next question - What are your suggestions for resolving conflict and making quick decisions within a leadership group?
Matt Andrews [00:16:17] Very difficult question and one that you need to master really quickly. I think that the way you set up your leadership groups is going to be part of this. I think that you need to work out who you're going to have in those groups. The first thing I would say is that you do want conflict, you want arguments, right? Let's say conflict may not be the word, but you do want disagreements in the face of these crises. We are dealing with situations where we do not know what the answer is. So you absolutely want to get people with different views, different perspectives, and you want people who think strongly about those different views and different perspectives at exactly the same time. You want people who are in those groups to defer to the person who makes the decision. There is somebody who is going to be accountable, and especially when you're talking about policymaking at a head of state, etc. You absolutely want somebody who takes accountability for their decision. It is very important. And you need people in the group to recognize that the decision making process may be a process that is going to be open, that is going to be argumentative. It needs to be structured. It needs to be respectful at all times. And you need to create those norms right at the beginning because you do not want to waste time. One of the things that Tolbert said yesterday is he said, that I have written here if I can find it. He said, "This disease does not wait for any one." Which means that one of the difficulties is that you are making very difficult decisions that you can never be perfectly sure of quickly. So somebody is going to have to make those decisions. It is never the case that you are going to make a perfect decision. So people are going to have to step backwards when some decisions are made. I think you need to establish what those norms are upfront. You need to establish who is on the hot seat and you need to establish what the process looks like. So allow for the arguments, but have a structured meeting process. I would say every discussion needs to have a time limit to it. Every discussion needs to allow people to come into the discussion. They have to have their points very well organized in advance. It needs to end up with a decision. My sense also is that every decision needs to be accompanied with the communication as to what the monitoring of the decision is going to look like, because it should never be the case that you make a decision and you say we don't really know what to do. But this is the decision. We're just going with it. There should be a communication from the decision that this is what we're doing. This is how we're going to monitor it. This is what we're going to review. How are we doing? That is one of the ways in which you can manage the conflict of the situation as well.
[00:18:51] But I think it's very important you need to set those norms up. People are invited into these groups and the group needs to have norms. It needs to have rules of engagement and then it needs to win. It needs to have ways in which people understand that the decision stands, that the decision will be reviewed based on the monitoring of that. I think all of those points are very, very important. The group needs to be the one that monitors this and the group needs to be the one that holds the norms. It's a very difficult thing to do, but I think the best thing that you can do is set those norms at the beginning so that you aren't catching up later on when you run into deep conflict.
Salimah Samji [00:19:29] I'm going to move on to the next question, which is - Our teams on the ground remain concerned about the aftermath of COVID-19, which does not follow a normal disaster curve. How can we rapidly, systematically measure the impact of short term crisis interventions on the long term work undertaken by development partners and the government?
[00:19:50] We are in phases of the response right now, the phase we are in is an emergency phase and it is characterized by a huge amount of unknown. You know, I was speaking to my 18 year old yesterday and all he wants to do is know how long do we have to be here before I can go and see my girlfriend? And my answer was, I don't know. And he said, but we know lots of things. And there is a lot more that we don't know than we do. I think under these situations, we are still working out what the response looks like. And I think that there will become a phase in the process where we start to think about how we reflect on the response and how it's affecting other things in society. I don't think that we're there yet. Other people might disagree with me, but I don't have an answer simply because I don't think we're there yet. Also, the way the question was couched, I'd like to suggest it in a different way. I think that when you say how is this going to affect what we have been doing? You need to be reflecting on.. let's not be defensive and think how do we go back where we are? This is going to require us thinking about what the future looks like in a little bit of a different way. And when we do get to those phases of this process where we are outside of the emergency phase and we are into a reflection on what does a sustainable future look like after this. I don't think that we should just be saying, how do we rebuild? And I'm I'm bottoming here from what Shruti Mehotra said last week, she said, "We need to think about what we build new." It's not about just the "re" part, it's about the "new" part. We need to see opportunities to do development work differently. There's a very interesting CGD paper, Center for Global Development, that is doing the rounds at the moment. And they are speaking also about the fact that a lot of systems building just hasn't worked in the way that it needed to because we were focused on results too much in the short run. And I think that there are going to be a lot of points in which we can change the way we do things and that point of discussion will come. But I just don't think that we are there right now. And I think that what we need to be doing right now is putting all our efforts into thinking about the emergency response and then thinking also about some of the things that are coming up in the near future that we will need to respond to as the second or third phase of that, which would be, for instance, we already are in its economic effects, the effects on psychology of people in society, etc. You know, we are not out of this yet. And I think that, you know, we need to invest our resources right now in this phase.
Salimah Samji [00:22:15] Thanks, Matt. I'm now going to pivot to taking questions from people who are logged in, and I want to start with Penny, who had asked her question last week towards the end. Penny, can you kick us off with your question, please?
Penny Tainton [00:22:28] Sure. Thanks Salimah. My name's Penny Tenton, and I'm in the Western Cape in South Africa. Thanks very much, mate, for the sessions. They really are useful and incredibly important. And I think I've closed off last week's session with the question around whether we could have a further discussion. And I understand you were talking about a thing in the emergency phase. Obviously, a huge amount of energy and thinking. And if it is going into dealing with this crisis on a day to day basis and it's constantly changing for all of us around the world, but at the same time, at some stage we're going to move out of this and into the next phase. So I wondered what your thinking was around how leaders and governments could start to develop some ideas and to start doing some planning for. I know it's a big unknown, but at some stage we're going to move forward. And also just taking into account Ricardo Hausmann's op ed piece as well, where he says the lock downs are unsustainable and particularly where we're in countries with no fiscal space. How does that impact on how leaders should view what happens as we get through the day to day into planning to move back into whatever that new normal is going to look like and starting to recover our economies?
Matt Andrews [00:23:49] So let me qualify my response a minute ago. I think my response was more - I don't want us thinking defensively, how do we kind of recover what we did in the past? Like I don't want us to think, "OK, we're doing this process. How do we kind of make sure that our process keeps going?" We need to be thinking about what are the implications of this for the future. I'm all for that conversation. I think that that's a very important conversation. So when I was speaking about the snowflake just now, one of the things that I would recommend is that you have a central team and the central team is going to monitor a bunch of things. Some of the teams that are going to be related to that are going to be teams that are working directly on the immediate emergency response. They're going to be working on the public health side of this. But others of those teams are going to be breaking down and saying, how do we think about the economic effects? How do we think about all of those effects? Now, what they are going to be doing is not so much working on the emergency. Now they are going to be thinking about where are we going to be? There's going to be a different timeline on those things. And they need to be starting to think about those things now because those things are going to come sooner than later. So I would say actually those are part of the same response, but they're not sitting thinking I was doing this project. How do I recover that project? It's a different photo altogether. What they are saying is, "OK, where we are now, what's going on? Where's the world going to be in three weeks time, in four weeks time, in five weeks time? What do we need to do in terms of providing food to people? What do we need to do in terms of providing unemployment assistance to people?" You're probably going to need teams working on public safety issues. When I say you need a team working on the psychological impacts of this in society, I really mean that. I think it's a very, very big deal. And I don't think that we need to leave that.
[00:25:24] I think you want to get people working on that. So I think you want it around the constellation in that snowflake. And if you want to think about it, a central team. And then you could think about arrows that connect you to a bunch of other teams right around. You can have multiple teams around those and you could have, for instance, an economic policy team. And then that economic policy team can have a team that's working on direct unemployment issues in the sector, direct income subsidization programs in another group. And I think what you want to do is you want to break this down and have as many people thinking about as many parts of this as possible right now, knowing that there are a lot of complexities. I think that the way that they think about those things needs to be feeding through that central node into the current public health crisis of the moment. Ricardo's piece this morning, I think is important. I think it's an interesting piece. The piece that came out of the Center for Global Development is making a similar point, but a different way where they saying there are other options than total lockdown. And they are putting that out at the moment. And I think you want your teams to be reflecting on those economic dimensions and then bringing them into the conversation so that you can have some course corrections if you need them on the lockdown situation. I've got an interview in a half an hour with the people who are running the program in Bahrain. They have a staged lockdown. They lockdown for a period of time. And then they release, suppression release, suppression release. That is an interesting model. There are other countries that are trying to think about having some areas of the country under complete lockdown because they think there's more risk, this kind of a risk based model of this. There are a lot of ideas that are coming out at the moment. And you do want mechanisms in your system to start receiving those ideas and reflecting on them and seeing if they do warrant any shift in your situation. We are a little concerned right now that there does seem to be what we callisomorphism - everyone seems to be doing the same thing around the world and even speaking, we're told. But the focus seems to be on lockdown and preparing the health sector for the worst. Whereas, you know, in in Liberia, during Ebola and in Taiwan and Singapore right now and in in South Korea, the idea of tracking people was a big part of what they did. I think that many countries are not investing as much in that as them. So I think that they are always in which we need to be generating Know-How and pouring that Know-How into the system as quickly as possible. In the conversation with Peter yesterday that I had, I said the difficulty right now is I think that many governments, they are saying we need to do the lockdown because we don't really know what else to do. And the countries that are ahead of South Africa right now, you know, we don't know how this is going to affect Africa. We don't know because, you know, it's only getting there now. I do think that the mistake is to under respond. I think that over responding is the way to do this. I'm in Boston right now. And, you know, a month ago we had something like 10 cases. We have something like six thousand cases now. And a lot of people are dying. And, you know, when you talk about the economic impact, if you respond heavily first and you stop it, I think it's much better than not. At the same time, I do think you want to have those groups that are starting to reflect on what all the economic costs, what are the economic burdens, where they're going to be carried. How do we think about them? But I think you can do that within the snowflake structure. I think that you can. And it's realizing that this is not just a public health emergency. This is also an economic emergency. But I would also in that say you want those people thinking within the same snowflake because there is something that brings public health and economics together, we are not at odds here, and that is people, right. What we do in public service is we lead people. That's what we do. We serve and lead people. And I think that if we remember that what we're trying to do is work out a solution that is best for the people in our countries, in our provinces or whatever, you can put those two things together. But I think that you can have those things happening in real time. Again, identify roles. You're doing the economic stuff. You're thinking about this. You're thinking about this. Go away. Put your team together. We come back, we report. One of the things that I liked in Liberia was that they had an 8am small group reporting every morning. Then they had a 9:00, a 10:00, 11:00, and they kind of grew the size of it, bringing more and more people into those conversations. And so I think you're trying to not only have people doing research and thinking about new ideas, you want them day by day coming in and sharing where they are so that everybody can benefit from those.
Salimah Samji [00:29:51] The next question we're going to take is from Ameena Osman. Ameena, if you could ask your question.
Ameena Osman [00:29:58] Yes, hello and thank you all for having me. I'm from the Commonwealth in Londofon and I'm an education adviser. We work with Ministries of Education and I'd like to know what's the role of education both in terms of resilience of the system, but also in terms of responding.
Peter Harrington [00:30:19] I think it's a really important question, and I think there's a vital role both in the emergency response phase and in later phase. So in the emergency response phase, a lot matters as to whether school closures have happened or not. I think if you have not had school closures in the education sector has a huge role to play to try and contribute positively to prevent transmission. So that's both through implementing changes within schools, within the education sector and focusing on schools, but could be higher education as well. And secondly, as a really, really important channel to distribute messaging. So to actually help with behavior change, you know, risk communication through the crisis if there have been school closures particularly or closures of all kinds of education settings. I think the really important thing is obviously to still be able to use that channel, that communication channel to distribute messaging and risk communication, but then also trying to provide some sort of education continuity, because I think this is going to sound silly, but boredom is a really big factor here. If kids get bored, they don't necessarily want to stay home and they will be creating opportunities for transmission. So I think actually trying to create some education continuity is really important for children's education, but it's also really important from an emergency response point of view in order to be able to actually implement or maintain a lockdown or maintain social distancing. I'm sure Matt struggles with his 18 year old are replicated all over the world to try and keep people indoors. It's not easy keeping teenagers indoors and then looking a little bit further down the line. You know, I think the way Matt framed it before was really important in his answer to Penny's question. There are problems that governments are solving today and next week. There are problems that are going to need to be solved in the month and problems are going to need to be solved in six months. And somebody in government needs to be working on all of those problems now planning for them. And the same goes for education. So what's going to happen to exams? What's going to happen to the kind of gap that children experience in their education at whatever stage of their education they're at. That's an enormous amount of work. Most countries or many countries won't have the facilities to get the Internet connectivity for everyone to hop on Google classroom. So at the moment in Mozambique, for example, right now I know that they're working on just trying to create very simple printed materials to get to children wherever they live. And you've got to solve a logistic problem. How do we get that printed materials? Can we use phone systems or can we use simple safe ways to get that material out, too? There's a huge logistical content effort that needs to happen to try and maintain that, because it's matters for the mental health that Matt mentioned. It matters for your future generation continues and sustaining their education in the long run, which is going to affect the economy in the long run. So there's an enormous amount in there and how, you know, how critical a role the education sector plays.
Matt Andrews [00:33:03] He does answer it well. But let me say, I think that education needs to be in your snowflake. You need to have teams that are working on education and there's multiple things that they need to be thinking of. I think it's a very important sector. You know, you just think what teachers said about boredom, schools, universities, etc. are where a sizeable part of our population spends a sizeable portion of their day. And so you need to think about how to replace that time. But I think also, you know, reflecting on the future and how we manage this period of time where people are not going to be educated directly by teachers, et cetera, is going to be difficult. So I would say you need to have experts in that space working on that very, very aggressively right now.
Salimah Samji [00:33:48] I'd like to call on Rashie Khilnani next. If you could ask your question.
Rashie Khilnani [00:33:53] Sure. My name's Rashie. I'm an HKS alum from Canada. And I appreciate you mentioning the challenges of COVID-19 on different socio-economic groups, particularly when considering who is on the front lines. But on the other hand, I'm hearing that finance folks are just focused on the market. So how can one build momentum and collaboration where a climate of cynicism is also building, thank to senators that are selling stocks and the kind of geopolitical questions going on, whether this is a China vs. the US, orChina versus the rest of the world situation.
Matt Andrews [00:34:31] So, I mean, my first comment is I think that all of that stuff is extremely unnecessary noise. But I would also say that in many crisis situations you do get that kind of noise. You get people who are doing things that you would question, that you would frown upon. You get people who are putting counter-narratives out there. There are many things that can be noise. And the first thing that I would say is try and focus on the message that you want to create. Try and focus on that. You can't control everybody's behavior and you can't control everything that they're saying. But what we need to do is think about the message that we are trying to create and think about the best way that we can put that message out there. The behavior of senators selling stocks, I don't think anybody is condoning that. I don't think anybody is seeing that as a positive thing at all. I think that, if anything, that can help you galvanize your message that, you know, we need to be in this together. Look at these people who are not in this together. I think that you need to focus on your message and not worry about that kind of noise. I think what you need to worry about is kind of when there are counter-narratives about what should be done, where this came from. I think about the xenophobia, I think about all of that. I think that I do worry about. I think that if you're in a country where people are doing that, where your leaders are doing that one of my concerns is actually that what they're trying to do is they're trying to shift responsibility. And it's not about where this came from, who caused this. It's about what you're doing in response. And to me, I think that that's where the narrative should be pushed again and again and again and again. This is about the response. This is about where we are now. And we need to be getting to that. I think it's a complex thing because I think that if you are in the opposition or if you're one of the people who throws brickbats at governments, you don't like them. You need to at this stage say we need them to succeed for the first time and you need to be pushing them very hard to take responsibility. But then you need to be getting behind them and constructing that narrative that we have to be one behind this. So I would be trying to get past those narratives as quickly as possible. I think that you could deploy a communication strategy to try and get past that noise. And I'm actually going to bring Peter in again here, because I know that when they started the work in Liberia, there were many, many narratives. There were many people with different views. I know when we spoke to Tolbert Nyenswah, he came in August when there were calls for the government to actually resign. There was a lot of political pressure. So the question I have for you is how did you manage to bring a unitary voice or a unitary enough voice? And how did you manage to perhaps get past some of the other just unnecessary noise in that situation where there was people blaming other people, et cetera, et cetera? How do you do that? And just before you say that, you know, one of the things that I do see in Africa and I saw in Ebola at the time was also people were blaming other nations, they were blaming other nations with slow responses, et cetera. So I think the pointing fingers thing is something that is not new. How do you get people in your communication past that piece so that you can particularly get them behind one message and one response?
Peter Harrington [00:37:36] Whoo! That's a big question. Lots of questions. When Ebola started in Liberia and in West Africa, the very prevalent view amongst the public was that it was either a government created disease or that it was the CIA. And I'm not being flippant. That was genuinely the belief, very widespread belief. It took time to kind of challenge and overturn that. I think where you said the word "enough" was important in the question you ask because you're never going to be able to shut down all the noise or or stop the noise or stop the criticism. And there is an important part of that, which is about accountability that is really important that there is that communication because that communication creates opportunity for accountability. I'm gonna channel what Tolbert saidwhen we spoke to him yesterday, which is the number one thing - leave aside how well or badly you are doing on communications. The number one thing, and this goes back to something I always say, which is communications is ultimately about what you do. The number one thing that that will address all that noise and all that conflict is an effective crisis response. What you do and the ability of the country and the government to actually put in place an effective crisis response is the most powerful thing. Actions will speak louder than words. I think once the public in particular start to see that and starts to trust us, that's exactly what Tolbert told us yesterday. That was the most powerful thing, that they didn't shut down the noise completely, but it made life a little bit easier. Aside from that, on the communications level, I think it's about trying to get, going back to this team and the snowflake, a really coordinated communications team, which involves the key people from within government. That team has to be listening and engaging really carefully with important stakeholders. It's not just one way communication. It's got to be listening and using existing channels, talking to religious groups, unions, business associations, whatever stakeholders you can get your hands on to actually understand the views out there. And then I think just really regular, really clear, truthful daily communications about what's happening. What is the data saying and what is being done about it? So its that idea that hope + empathy + clear truthful information is good kind of crisis communication? Again, it comes back to that coordination point and not having too many voices all talking across each other, really just trying to bring some consistency of the message. A lot of what became effective with Ebola was actually just enforcing some consolidation and simplification of the message down from a 60 page book into a one page book and making sure that everybody's reading from that same page.
Salimah Samji [00:40:00] Federico, would you like to ask your question?
Federico [00:40:04] Yes, you know, this is great. I just had a quick question - Do you have any insight on managing information flows between the different groups that are part of the snowflake structure to make sure that the system as a whole is actually learning? So is there somebody that should be managing the learning process who should play this role? And if so, what type of tools could they use?
Matt Andrews [00:40:26] So, Federico, thank you for the question. It's a really important question. To me, it is under emphasized how important information flows are in all organizations. Information flows on the basis of delegation. They're the basis of knowing if you're doing things right. They are the basis of learning. They are the basis of control. They're the basis of everything. So when you create the system, I think that you need to have somebody on that key group who is literally thinking about what are the information flows going to look like. I think it's absolutely crucial. And they need to think, how regularly do we get information, who needs what information, how many people should be involved in providing the information? What do we do with the information? How do we process the information? All of those questions need to arise right at the start. I would actually say that I think that most organizations we tend to ask these questions very well. We don't think about them very well. But I would have somebody ask that question right at the beginning. It's not just about learning, but it is hugely about learning because you have so much uncertainty. So you have to learn on the go, which is why I say I like the snowflake model, because you have people working aggressively and coming back. The precise type of information system or network that you're going to have is going to vary dramatically across places because it's going to depend a lot on what kinds of technology you have on where you're starting, etc. etc. I do think that in most of these kinds of structures there is something almost manual about information flows that is hard to overcome in the early days where I think you can think about the best I.T. system that you want for information and you're going to have to have stored information. But before you even get there, I think this is about people sharing things that they are doing. It's about that tacit knowledge in their head and they're going to be working so quickly that there's going to be a limited time to always kind of codify what you have. So I think that the idea of bringing people together and convening people physically in meetings is going to be a key part of the information flow during that period. Now, you want to think about what kinds of meetings you have, because if you have a big snowflake and there are 20 teams in your snowflake right now, 20 little chapters working on different things, having a big meeting with 20 people, sharing things can be quite unwieldy. It can be quite difficult. So I think you want to be reflecting on do you create such chapters so that you have four or five meetings with five or six people in those teams so that they can share effectively with each other? And then do the heads of those family chapters come together into a central meeting of five or six people that you don't need, that everybody attending every meeting? I do think that this idea of kind of having these daily meetings is really important. You do not want everybody to be involved in them because you want people to be working. So you're going to need to identify who are the connecting points in each of these teams and how do those connecting points meet? Like I say, what was interesting in the Liberian example was that it sounded like they had a way in which they would have the central team would have kind of five or six people meeting at the beginning of the day. And then they would have a series of meetings throughout the day that would get bigger and bigger or that would address different issues. I think this issue of information flow is very important. You're going to need people who are servicing the team, who are recording the information flows and who are trying to codify that information flow and put it into some kind of system that you build as you go. Right. And the sooner you can get that system, the better when you're dealing with a public health crisis. It's not just kind of the information about what we're doing with the public health crisis, you're also going to be rapidly building up your testing, your tracking, your tracing system. And that's going to be an information system in and of itself. And that information system is going to become crucial in helping, you know, how your interventions are working, et cetera, et cetera. So there is a very big information part of this that you need to think about. And so I think part of it is like what is the softer information about, what are we learning about our strategy, et cetera, and how do we do that? And the other one is kind of the hard evidence that we have about what's going on in terms of how we are handling the disease. And you could think about similar information about what's going on with unemployment, what's going on with social stability, etc.. I would have literally a group that is asking those questions, don't leave it to lck. That needs to be purposefully crafted in this way. And if people say, well, we can do that in existing systems, I would be asking them explicitly how. Right. Because if there's anything that I know about information systems, they tend to be crafted for specific flows and they tend not to be generic. So you have to rework them even if you piggyback on the systems that exist. There is going to have to be some process of adaptation. So make sure you throw that question in. How does it work? How do we know that it'll work now? Because you can't afford to find out in two weeks time that you had a bunch of information gaps you weren't thinking of. If the gaps exist but you're thinking of them, it means that you can swarm them and start to deal with them. Don't leave it to chance. It's a great question. Very, very important.
Salimah Samji [00:45:37] Great, thank you, Matt. Well, thank you very much for joining us for our second one.
Matt Andrews [00:45:43] Thank you.
Katya Gonzalez-Willette [00:45:47] To learn more about the Building State Capability Program's Public Leadership through Crisis Blog Series, visit bsc.cid.harvard.edu/public-leadership-through-crisis. Thank you for listening.