Pre-mortems are decision tools that help inform better decision-making, like in the management of COVID-19.
Earlier I explained in this article that pre-mortems can help crisis managers anticipate undesirable outcomes. Unlike the more familiar post-mortems, pre-mortems happen not after but before a decision is struck. In a pre-mortem (aka prospective hindsight) you put yourself in the future, looking back at the decision you are preparing to make, and imagine that it lead to outcomes that were undesirable. You then ask yourself: what went wrong.
The way the Belgian government has communicated to its citizens throughout the COVID-19 crisis has not only been received positively by the Belgians but has also received international praise, for example in this piece from the Financial Times.
There is one communication moment however, where I am sure the decision-makers would turn back the clock if they could to add a dire warning to the citizens.
Belgian lock-down parties
In the first half of March, the Belgian federal government announced that it would undertake a complete closure of bars and restaurants for three weeks in order to protect its citizens from the pandemic COVID-19 outbreak. Following that announcement, something happened that the crisis managers had not foreseen and surely did not want to happen: several bars organized lockdown parties where Belgians could throw one more ‘Corona-party’ before the place would be shut.
Needless to say, these parties actually accomplished the exact opposite of what the government was aiming for. Policy makers were quick to call upon the party goers and say that they should now keep their distance from others. But it was too late, and although no hard numbers are available on the impact of the lockdown parties on the amount of Belgian casualties, Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst did say in an interview to Flemish public television that some participants in those lockdown parties have been among the people being treated in intensive care.
Imagining the unimaginable
Clearly at no point did the crisis managers imagine that Belgians would throw lockdown parties on the eve of a closure of the bars. Had they conducted a pre-mortem they could have imagined the different scenarios that could have led to the measure having less than optimal effects. Bars opening illegally would have been one possible scenario and bar owners throwing a lockdown party for their patrons would have been another.
There were several factors that contributed to these parties taking place: bar owners who dreaded the projected lost income from closing for three weeks and were eager to make a big splash before closing, and a population of young people who have had as little experience living through a pandemic crisis as the government officials who were shutting down the bars. Also, to fully understand the context within which these parties took place, we can not forget that at that time a lot of people were still under the impression that young people were not at as much of a risk from COVID-19.
A pre-mortem analysis would indeed have helped imagine the unimaginable.
Did you enjoy this piece on how the Belgian lockdown parties illustrate the usefulness of pre-mortems?
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