The Government mantra is ‘our actions follow the science’. The scientists collect evidence of how the virus is spreading in order to give the politicians the advice they seek. But what evidence to collect? And how long is the lag before you know whether actions taken are being effective?
Problems about gathering the evidence have bedeviled our national response to Covid-19, so much so that our strategy has been likened to ‘driving blind’. These same issues will confront every organisation that is trying to find its way out of lockdown, albeit on a more local scale. If careful steps are being taken to get going again, how can we avoid ‘ driving blind’? If the aim is to scale up business activity without endangering staff and customers, what evidence can be collected to show the plans are working? The obvious hard data includes the number of staff, customers etc who test positive and the number of customers prepared to come through the doors. The Government test and trace system is gradually providing more local data but there have been lags in getting information that is sufficiently detailed to be useful.
There are, however, lots of other indicators that may provide more immediate and useful feedback. In action research every new action phase has specific aims and we need ways of measuring whether these aims are being achieved. If the aim is to create safe workplaces for staff, regular surveys are needed to assess how staff are feeling. Ideally there should also be opportunities to discuss specific problems and these can be addressed in the next action phase. Similarly, as shops, pubs and restaurants re-open there will be a crude measure of how many customers arrive but, if the response in slow, more effort needs to be put into discovering why and what can be done to give people more confidence that they will be safe. As schools re-open ways are needed to assess whether children and their parents feel confident about the measures taken and opportunities need to be created to discuss any concerns they may have.
The basic message is that if you are going to take ‘baby steps’ into the unknown you have to have measures in place to warn you if you are about to fall down the stairs.