On Altering States (Part 2)

Bring the present into focus 

The first challenge, of course, is to respond to the immediate impacts that are manifesting across our communities. The impacts are being felt here and how, and many are involved in figuring out the most appropriate response and measures to mitigate these impacts. Would cynefin say this is chaos’ so work to stabilise? This is challenging for a range of reasons (links). In particular, the coronavirus is a perfect illustration of a complex challenge; there is no immediate fix to be discovered and applied, no right or wrong path to follow. In situations such as this, relationships are dynamic, as an intervention in one part of the system will have unknowable and unpredictable effects in other parts of the system. It is the first of its kind and requires an intelligence-led, adaptive response that also maximises our collective learning. 

A characteristic of any work in complexity is that it is impossible to predict with any certainty the consequences of interventions – witness the dramatic rise in suicides in the UK after widespread adoption of gas cookers in the 1920s. We have to see the system and bring the present into focus

This is exacerbated by the fact that, like air pollution or carbon in the atmosphere, is it unseen. We can only see it indirectly; like melting ice caps, the bleaching of the great barrier reef, or the lungs of those inhaling polluted air, we only see the effects of CV in emergency wards, the empty shelves, the nightly press conferences. It is quite possible to lead an isolated life without seeing any of these signs. One of the behavioural challenges, therefore, is to strike a balance between making the challenge salient and avoiding scaremongering whilst being coherent. Policy decisions that create dissonance – such as the confusion over why building sites continue with no social distancing while other businesses are closed – will only lead to moral licensing, whereby we start to behave normally again as we doubt the severity of the crisis – ‘if it’s OK for them…’. We are a social species and we don’t like to be out of step with social norms. We should be reinforcing those new norms – social distancing – that are most likely to combat the spread, and thus impact, of coronavirus.   

This also illustrates the notion that a response needs to be systemic in nature, in other words, the impacts of the virus, and the response needed to it, will be multi-faceted. We are already seeing this through the leveraging of financial support for businesses and individuals, concerns over security of housing tenure, disproportionate impacts on the elderly or infirm, mutual support flourishing in our communities, people adjusting to home working, concerns over home schooling, different standards in what behaviour is ok… orchestrating this collective, systemic effort is the core task of today. 

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