We know that we know nothing

Published on March 20

The coronavirus crisis has and will have a global impact that we cannot predict accurately. For the States that will lead the interventions, it is an unprecedented challenge. It is definitely difficult to be in the role of the government in this context.

Globally, countries adopted different public policy approaches to respond to the emergency, covering health and social measures. There are two visions. The thesis of the “social distance” and the thesis of the “nudge”. The first is a universal look of social control, with (Peru) or without (Argentina for now) coercion, where it is assumed that through the physical separation of people the virus stops (cancellation of mass events and displacements). The second aims to regulate individual behaviors with awareness through public messages (constant hand washing, for example).

This note from the Guardian shows how Britain initially adopted the second approach, that of behavioral sciences based on psychology and the ethics of persuasion. In Argentina  @josenesis,  @ivanbudassi1  and  @martinbohmer know much about this subject. However, the note argues that none of the decisions that were made were based on systematic evidence of the effects. The founding fathers of the idea, the Behavioural Insights Team, make individual behavioral recommendations on their Twitter account and their website: COVID-19: How to promote the right behaviors to slow the spread? [Spanish]. This podcast explains it well. However, on the 18th of March,  this approach to public policy suffered a setback and forced Britain to join the social estrangement measures taken in the rest of Europe that indicate that it is essential to flatten the curve.

We recommend looking at the Cochrane Library website. There are two systematic studies (in Spanish) that address the effects of behavioral measures: one on  relevant evidence on critical care and the other on infection control and prevention measures that are useful in understanding the effects of public policy measures.

So, what do we know?  Nothing, or little to be optimistic. A positive idea that we can derive from the crisis is the need for the State to invest in the collection and coordination of information based on systematic epidemiological, health, social, data of all kinds! This information gathered on time allows to build trajectories such as the one that shows this visualization of the @FT and make better predictions. It is also critical to invest in quality crisis communication as recommended by @marioriorda and transforming complex data into simple messages.

In times of revaluation of the role of the State we need to focus on the radical importance of information management. First, it is key to have a governance center in the Cabinet Office of Ministers that gathers critical data and reports decision-making. Secondly, the public policy monitoring and evaluation function should not be an optional strategy but a moral and legal mandate for the production and use of information. The President’s announcement on March 1 in the State of the Nation Report on the creation of a Federal Evaluation Agency is a public innovation initiative that goes in this direction.

Let’s help politicians and public officials make more evidence-based decisions. We support the collection and systematization of data in times of pandemic and always.


Natalia Aquilino

Director of the Monitoring and Evaluation Program

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