Ever since the Dutch government uttered the words “herd immunity” after the UK gov framed it as meaning doing mostly nothing, internationally the Netherlands is mentioned in lists of countries that are supposedly taking a wait and see approach. That isn’t what’s happening of course. The country is in lock-down all but name, but as is the Dutch way it is implemented as an appeal for collaboration and solidarity (and people are indeed complying), and isn’t implemented heavy handed from the top down yet. It doesn’t mean that in the background there are no emergency decrees signed allowing the enforcement of every measure by police and even military police (it’s just that these are done on regional level, signed by the mayors in that region, so it isn’t on the radar of most people these things have been signed.) It also doesn’t mean no enforcement in practice.

One such example is Tomas Pueyo ‘Hammer and Dance’ piece. I’d have commented there, but it needed jumping to all kinds of hoops to be allowed to comment on Medium, and posting it here anyway is easier for future reference. He writes “Some countries, like France, Spain or Philippines, have since ordered heavy lockdowns. Others, like the US, UK, Switzerland or Netherlands, have dragged their feet, hesitantly venturing into social distancing measures.” “Governments around the world today, including some such as the US, the UK, Switzerland or Netherlands have so far chosen the mitigation path.

The French and Dutch measures are actually much on the same level, only with different cultural accents on the role of central authority, and from what I can see the same is true for Switzerland.

The Netherlands isn’t following a ‘mitigation strategy’ in the ‘weak tea’ meaning in the article as such, but doing much as Pueyo’s article suggests. Bring down the transmission rate, and then release and tighten the measures for the coming months to keep the transmission rate low.

Two quotes from the director of the infectious disease unit (RIVM) who is in charge from an interview (in Dutch).
Based on infection models we use, we estimate the effectiveness of interventions. If we add up the current interventions we conclude from those models that the transmission rate is reduced sufficiently. That is the most important goal.. (Dutch: “Op grond van de infectiemodellen die we hanteren, kunnen we het effect van de interventies inschatten. Als we de huidige interventies optellen, volgt uit die modellen dat de overdracht van het virus voldoende teruggaat om de verdere toename te doen afnemen. Dat is het belangrijkste doel,….”)

…That is why we must align everything, and next to interventions research their actual impacts. It could be we can reduce measures, and later need to introduce them again. It could also be we’ll introduce additional measures, it can go both ways. (Dutch: Daarom moeten we alles zorgvuldig afstemmen op elkaar en naast interventies ook onderzoek doen naar het effect daarvan. Het zou kunnen dat maatregelen versoepeld worden en later weer worden ingevoerd. Het zou ook kunnen dat er dan nog éxtra maatregelen volgen, het kan beide kanten op.”)

Actual behaviour of people will determine this mostly he adds. In short, it’s the ‘hammer and dance’ suggested in the linked article.

In conclusion, what you assume to see from further afield based on choice of words (‘herd immunity’ e.g.), headlines and your own cultural reference points, isn’t necessarily what’s happening on the ground. The same is true here inside the country, many people are making very different assumptions based on what they perceive the RIVM and government doing or not doing. Part of it is that the RIVM isn’t very pro-active in getting information and data out there to put it mildly. The interviews with its director in the past week have provided me with much more clues and understanding of what they are working on than their press communiques or their own website. I assume the director has better things to do than give interviews, so there’s room for much more pro-active disclosure and transparency, as it would free up his time at least. RIVM doesn’t have a knowledge, data or decisiveness issue, they’re clearly following every bit of available science, it has a communication and transparency issue. Key question for me is what we can do to assist RIVM in taking on their data publication and communication needs.

Harold Jarche rightly points to being able to judge and shape your information filters as a critical element in keeping yourself informed about emergent crises like Covid19. What Harold calls trusted filters is the primary reason I follow people not sources in my feeds, and all of those people are selected by myself, not by someone else’s algorithm. It is how I came across Harold’s post in the first place, because he’s been in my list of feeds for many years. Feedback across filters, so that what Harold shares might get commented here, which then gets shared back to my network which includes Harold, is how patterns emerge. This of course does mean you need to ensure your filter has enough variety and churn to avoid echo chambers. Which is why hand curating my list of people to follow is important, I know these people and what I know about them is an active part of the filtering I do. In my mind, the combination of my filtering and sharing, and Harold’s filtering and sharing as well as those of others I follow, constitute a LOFAR, which is able to spot small movements and emerging interests across my networks, and recognising which noises are actually signals to my interests and concerns. Keeping my LOFAR in good working order requires regular attention, and likely more than I already pay to it.

This doesn’t mean that institutional information isn’t valuable. It is actually invaluable. Institutions are the stock of info, the residue of years of knowledge, where my networks and filters are the flow, the reflection on, application, changing and emergence of knowledge. Such knowledge is critical for crap detection, also when it comes to the stuff my network shares with me. In times of emergent crises like Covid19, such institutional knowledge about how to deal with the specifics of e.g. a pandemic is crucial. So I keep an eye on the general statistics collected at John Hopkins, the advise and info of the RIVM (the Dutch national institute for health and environment, in charge of epidemic response) concerning the Netherlands specifically, and what e.g. the WHO says about pandemic response on a personal level and organisational level (e.g. business continuity). My LOFAR in turn allows me to sense what is going on across my networks in this context.

The LOFAR ‘superterp’ in Drenthe, which has hundreds of small antennas, combining with 47 other locations into a total of some 20.000 antennas for signal detection

David Orban highlights the inverse proportional relationship between efficiency and resilience. When you have a fully efficient process it won’t be able to cope with even small changes in surrounding conditions. Whereas a system with some redundancy built in to cope with changes in conditions is less efficient (because that redundancy means increased costs for the same output).

Resilience I think can be decoupled from efficiency sometimes, but then it is usually coupled with effectivity. When the input/output ratio isn’t impacted, but the quality and utility of the output temporarily diminishes. Resilience is a component in how I think about networked agency.

Processes and systems that have been slimmed down to high efficiency as a result are often very brittle. In current affairs Brexit and the Corona virus are colliding with that brittleness, the first is a slow speed collission hard to look away from and the second one a more high speed collision. Whether it is disruption of (JIT) production or transport processes, or whether it is overwhelming healthcare systems, or both. The biggest impact on you of e.g. Covid-19 is likely not that you individually might fall ill and die, but the brittleness of systems that are impacted by it (production, delivery, mobility, healthcare availability also for other things than Covid-19) and how it impacts your personal life (running out of your meds, opportunity loss, slowing down of business, goods not arriving). Cascading system failures because of all the interdependencies.

I for instance have 3 products to be delivered from China, and the factories involved have been closed for well over a month now. One factory is now allowed to re-open and will take 6 weeks to get back on track. For me that is a trivial issue, but if you run a company that sells these products, or produce things that depend on a specific part that comes from a now closed factory, it isn’t trivial but a real and present issue.
More directly a healthcare system overwhelmed or even just starting to get impacted by Covid can lead to higher fatality rates amongst Covid patients (visible in Wuhan at the moment) as well as others. Currently there are 20 Covid patients in the Netherlands, and already three different ICU’s are closed for new patients. Not because they can’t handle the numbers, but because they had a Covid patient without realising and are now closed until they are certain there is no more risk of infection. This directly impacts e.g. where other types critical patients can go and be treated.

In that light the following articles are worth reading, about numbers, the likelihood of a pandemic, and brittleness of systems.

On the spread and transmission of Covid-19: Coronavirus’s Genetics Reveal Its Global Travels
On the impact of numbers: Forget about mortality rate, this is why you should be worried about coronavirus
From a business continuity perspective: Coronavirus Predictions and Business Impact: How Fast It Will Spread, Creating a Business Continuity Plan, and What You Should Stock Up On

And then think about what you can do to increase your personal resilience. E.g. by ensuring you have a month worth of your regular meds, or by having larger stocks than usual. At worst you’ve done your shopping a few weeks early, at best you are all set should you be required to isolate yourself at home for two weeks or more. Tthere’s not much of a down-side to taking such measures, while it prevents a large potential down-side.

Bryan Alexander blogs a good overview of resources to track the spread of Covid-19. We’re not in pandemic territory yet, but given current statistics, it may end up where about 50% of a country’s population gets the virus (with ~2% fatalities). The coming weeks will tell how it plays out. Bryan links to a cool global dashboard by John Hopkins (screenshot below).

With two independent confirmed cases in the Netherlands in the last 24 hours (both having travelled to the Italian areas with an outbreak), it’s a good time to check preparedness, for the company (pdf) and personally. I am already encountering impacts like production cycles getting disrupted and deliveries of things I ordered getting postponed indefinitely because the Chinese factories aren’t running at their normal levels. I am also hearing the first companies in my network cancelling international travel of their employees to events.

In my company there’s not much to prepare really, as we can switch to fully remote work easily. There may be mid-term to longer term impact on landing new projects. Specifically some work in SE Asia, foreseen for June I think might be impacted. Other projects in the pipeline also may depend on how cautious clients will get in the coming weeks depending on developments.

At home we’ve checked our stocks to ensure we can take care of ourselves for about a month. This as if you happen to find yourself in an outbreak area, like Milan currently, you will likely encounter empty supermarket shelves within 3 days. Currently the most disruptive thing likely is if public spaces like Y’s daycare get shut down, meaning she’ll be at home 3 extra days. For now we’re not anywhere near that though.

Cory Doctorow formulates something that I think can go onto every list of principles organisations I work with formulate for smart cities, as well as the many data ethics discussions I sit in on.

Don’t track people, help people track the environment to feed their decisions. This flipping of perpective fits with what I posted yesterday about Peter Bihr’s approach to smart cities. It also fits with my main irritation at the state of debate about self driving cars, where all is centered on the car itself. Self driving cars will need to tap into a myriad of sensor streams from lamp posts, road pavement, and whatnot.

Cory’s approach provides agency, the standard smart city approaches tend to take it away.

Bookmarked Imagining a “smart city” that treats you as a sensor, not a thing to be sensed | Cory Doctorow’s craphound.com

the idea of an Internet of Things that treats people “as sensors, not things to be sensed” — a world where your devices never share your data with anyone else to get recommendations or advice, but rather, where all the inanimate objects stream data about how busy they are and whether they’re in good repair, and your device taps into those streams and makes private recommendations, without relaying anything about you or your choices to anyone else.

As I’ve often written, the most important thing about technology isn’t what it does, but who it does it to, and who it does it for. The sizzle-reels for “smart cities” always feature a control room where wise technocrats monitor the city and everyone in it — all I’m asking is that we all get a seat in that control room.

The key insight I find I gained in the past months is that SDGs can be used to add a macroscope to most issues and challenges. So I think Peter Bihr definitely is on a useful track:

Peter Bihr posts about using the UN Human Right Charter, and more specifically the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a framing for responsible IoT and Smart Cities.

2019 12 Smart City Evaluation FrameworkImage Peter Bihr, license CC BY NC SA

I find using the SDGs a valuable notion to help balance any of your activities. A while ago I listened to a conversation with Taiwanese Minister Audrey Tang (唐凤), who explicitly formulates her entire job description in terms of SDGs, and that was a very useful nudge for me. I know my friend Henriette also formulates her activities in a similar way.

I currently work quite a bit with one client on policy monitoring, indicators and measurements. One of the elements I stress is that you need to be aware how indicators can create perverse impulses if used singularly, and that you need to look at any proposed set of measurements to see what they overlook and ignore. Unexpected consequences if they impact visible stakeholders probably will get incorporated over time, but externalised costs and effects (impacting people, places and systems outside your view) usually won’t. SDGs, because they cover a wide range of topics, and acknowledge the deep interconnectness and interdependencies between those varied topics, are a helpful starting point to find a balanced and nuanced approach. So that (taking a randomly imagined example) climate, poverty and equality related elements can be meaningfully incorporated into a mobility dashboard that would otherwise maybe just stick to zoomed in things like traffic density and average speed on a highway. It’s the type of zooming in and out, around a specific challenge, out to the surrounding system(s), and in to the constituent building blocks, that is a common approach in TRIZ innovation efforts, with in this case the SDGs providing a macroscope for the zooming out while maintaining local / zoomed in context.