The complexity of the Covid-19 crisis is hard to overstate. Arguably, no country, region, organisation, business, household or individual has avoided its impact.
The Government has rightly been led by the expertise of senior epidemiologists, medics and health scientists in shaping its response to the pandemic so far. However, with consequences that are far-reaching, interdisciplinary thought-leadership will be critical in the weeks, months and years ahead. We all have a role to play on the frontline of economic and social recovery.
Last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) published its stark assessment of the economic impact of the lockdown measures taken in response to Covid-19. Its modelling suggests that real GDP will fall by 35 per cent in the second quarter, bouncing back sharply once lockdown measures are lifted. Unemployment rises by more than 2 million in the second quarter and public sector net borrowing soars by £218 billion in 2020-21 (relative to March budget forecasts). After navigating a public health crisis, the Government will imminently face a difficult decision. Does it carry a high deficit or does it take measures to cut public spending or raise taxes?
“We need engaged, collaborative citizens, businesses and organisations working together to help shape policy and action and to develop innovative products and solutions.”
In times of crisis, there is sometimes an impulse to retrench. To expect others to provide the answers and to rely on a narrow range of expertise. However, responding to complex issues requires collective effort. Our epidemiologists, medical researchers, microbiologists, economists, public health specialists, psychologists, political scientists and sociologists will all view the crisis through a specific lens. They will use their expertise to bring critical insight, but individually they will also miss key details of the bigger picture.
There are lots of important decisions to be made. Whether we’re acting as individuals making decisions about our own lives, managers making decisions for our teams, leaders making decisions for our organisations, or indeed local leaders, governors, policymakers and politicians making decisions for regions or countries. Getting these decisions right will require reconciling multiple perspectives and weighing up difficult judgements. It will require experts, leaders, people from all backgrounds to step up and share their own views and insights even if they don’t yet have all the answers. Importantly, it will also require decision-makers to listen.
Even in the midst of crisis, we have been inundated with funding rounds, calls for evidence and calls for expertise in a vast array of fields and specialisms. We have learnt how flexible organisations and their strategies can be. That aerospace, automotive and other engineering companies can rapidly switch to manufacture ventilators. That high-end fashion labels can mass produce plastic gowns and masks to protect health and care workers. That university offices can be transformed into virtual doctor’s surgeries and that graduations can be accelerated to get doctors and nurses into hospitals rapidly.
Collaboration is essential – from the public-private partnerships to expand testing and develop a vaccine, to the local networks of businesses and universities that are supporting local health and community services. We are seeing the best of collaboration, but even once lockdown measures start to be lifted, there will still be a tremendously long way to go.
The solutions to this complex crisis do not reside in a single place. Finding effective solutions to the crisis and its consequences will require all the skills of discussion, debate and critical thinking that we instill in our graduates and that drive collaborative action.
This complex global crisis goes beyond the purview of experts and individual disciplines. No single person can possibly provide the answers and solutions alone. We need engaged, collaborative citizens, businesses and organisations working together to help shape policy and action and to develop innovative products and solutions.
That is why NCUB’s priority is to stay open for business (collaboration). To help shape the collaborative action that is needed to recover.