I’ve spent most of the last 15 years working with different types of organizations on their efforts to move from a reactive to an interdependent safety culture, and thereby better protect the health and safety of their workers. I am impressed that many countries are seeking to do something similar at the moment. Take Italy, for example, a culture defined by the social nature of their lifestyle, and epitomized by the passeggiata. To remain safe and to re-open their economy, the amount of change that Italians citizens have experienced is extreme.
The sheer magnitude of the transformation required compared to what I’ve seen before is particularly striking. Based on my experience, I think that leveraging new technologies is the only way for this transition to be successful, especially in light of its speed and scale. A simple example of this would be the extremely widespread adoption of meeting apps to allow people to socialize virtually. But before I get to how technology can be used to help as we transition to a new economic and social context, let me start at the beginning: culture.
What is an interdependent culture and why is it relevant?
The basic concept comes from the dss+ Bradley Curve which essentially correlates cultural maturity and number of injuries or accidents. According to the model, cultural maturity is split in four stages: reactive, dependent, independent and interdependent. The interdependent stage, which is the goal in most contexts, is really about collective responsibility, with widespread involvement, communication and accountability for each other. When I think about the COVID-19 crisis, and how we as a collective can overcome this, I find that this concept resonates with me.
Prior to COVID-19, most of us would probably identify most strongly with the independent stage of cultural maturity. We each took care of our individual needs, and individualism was considered an ideal in most countries.
Such an outlook may be enough for the individual to be safe in an environment where risks are well known; processes, systems and policies are well defined; and resources are available. The pitfall is a tendency for individuals to believe each one of them could ‘control’ what’s around them as there is general belief that getting exposed to health related risks is a personal choice and it’s up to the individual to decide the level of risk they accept to take.
However, the introduction of a new and completely unexpected and unknown contagion has meant that we now operate in a new risk environment. Our old, well-known tools and methodologies to manage personal risk are no longer a guarantee that we will remain healthy and safe. Indeed, traditional systems and existing infrastructure has suddenly become inefficient, or even a new threat. Take public transportation, for example. A crowded bus is now dangerous.
After several months of restrictions, people will be gradually allowed more freedoms and start taking risk-based decisions again.
However, there has been a paradigm shift: it is now time for the ‘we’ before ‘I’ so that the disease wont spread again. We need to keep physical distancing, we need to wear masks, we must avoid crowds, we must isolate ourselves if we fall sick, etc. If one individual does not behave safely, risk is augmented for the whole of society.
In the cultural maturity model, people from multiple countries will need to move very quickly from an independent culture (before COVID-19) to an interdependent one (after the lockdowns) and ensure collective responsibility for public health.
How do we ensure collective responsibility? One answer can be technology.
Based on my experience, at a typical pace, cultural transformation takes more time than what we have available. It requires changes to regulation and governance, educating and informing the people and helping each individual to accept a new mindset and start to behave differently.
The question now is, how can this be done at speed and scale. To me, the answer is technology and data.
Several solutions are available today to help us to become and sustain collective responsibility: from video analytics and wearables that can remind us that we are too close to each other; thermo cameras and mass thermo-scan devices that can help to track those who have symptoms and help them to isolate themselves; contact tracing applications that can also help monitor symptoms and take the needed actions, among many others. As for leaders, they can get key insights into the various disease dynamics and current epidemiological situation through strong data analytics and machine learning. This can help prevent or manage a second wave of the virus until we get a vaccine.
What needs to be done next and is technology ready?
The good news is that several technology companies have started developing products to support authorities and organizations to accelerate the transformation process with their tech solutions. Will leaders move fast enough? I like to believe they will. Several companies are implementing these solutions in their operations during April and May as technology vendors are trying to cope with large number of orders and interest from private and public sector. Some say it is like hoarding but for technology instead!
Given the speed and scale of the change, we cannot expect that collective responsibility is possible this quickly. As such, technology can be extremely helpful, both for governments and for companies, to help narrow the gap between was is necessary and what is possible.
As a Global Innovation and Digital Manager with dss+, Vinicius Branchini is an experienced operations consultant, well versed in risk management and cultural transformation. Throughout his career, Vinicius has worked with multiple clients to protect their people and improve their operations. Given his experience in engaging people and his passion for innovation, Vinicius can advise on how to ensure that corporations and their people adopt new technologies in their work environment.