Knowledge WARFARE

Knowledge WARFARE: from the “lockdown” response to a strategy to use the emergency to societies more resilient towards the 21st century shocks.

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The 2020 opened with a pandemic of a unprecedented scale: an event which has got the potential to change the nature of all the economic and political questions which we were dealing with.

It is, in a sense, the first World War of the Internet Age: it is the first that we are living home and spending most of our time by talking with friends and colleagues through various devices and social networks; it is the first whose outcome will be entirely determined by how smartly will we use the enormous quantity of data that technologies make available so that we acquire the knowledge that we are missing to understand which are the weaknesses of the invisible enemy we are fighting against.

The outcome of the conflict will most likely shape the rest of the 21st century; the balance of power between China, USA and Europe will probably be heavily altered by how efficiently countries will minimize human and economic costs; the fate of liberal democracy itself and of international organizations like the World Health organizations are likely to be decided by how is the PANDEMIC going to be dealt with.

Numbers say that Europe is the center of the new world war and, as a matter of fact, the European Union risks to be the most famous casualty of the COVID19. In our opinion the three ingredients to win are: proceeding by local experiments so that we test different approaches; much more comparable data so that we know what works best in order to scale it up; the creation of a reserve of citizens with the right skills which can be used to react to shortage of the offer of public services (healthcare, in this case) that the emergency can expose.



The greatest paradox of the this bizarre world conflict is that EUROPE is the center of the war, as it has been for the two WW in the twentieth century.

As the following pie chart shows, the EU covers about half of the world's cases by now, ahead of the United States, where contagions are growing at a dizzying rate. Quite the opposite, China seems to have stabilized the contagion situation, and currently it represents "only" 10% of the world's infectious cases.


grafico covid



Source: Vision on Database of Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkin. Update: 1 April 2020.

This situation described by the graph sums to a glaring paradox. In fact, the EU is still the portion of the globe with the most developed welfare and, by far, the best health care system. How does then come that the PANDEMIC seems to hit hardest the continent with the best “style of life” (the one that Ursula Von DER LEYEN, the recently appointed President of the European Commission, promised to defend in her inception speech)?

The explanation of the paradox is even more paradoxical than the paradox itself. One of Europe’s greatest achievement – the SCHENGEN agreement - may have been turned on its head into Europe’s most unexpected vulnerability: in fact, an area of free circulation of people without the same policy to confront an epidemic coming from a third country, may have become the Achille’s heel: people suspected to carry the virus can be banned to enter a certain State of the Union and, yet, get there through another border.

As a matter of fact, healthcare is not a competence of the EUROPEAN UNION. However, the crisis makes evident that an area of free circulation with not even a coordination of health policies is technically unstable and vulnerable.

And yet the European Commission does not even the capability to make sure that numbers (people who have been infected, hospitalized, who have recovered or died) are collected in a comparable way. This is a big problem because this war would need data and differentiated strategies so that best tactic may be replicated: it is a case where Europe would add value but also an additional example of how these opportunities are lost.


The approaches adopted so far, which are basically the same across a certain national territory, with limited differences amongst countries, seem to have returned scattered results: Germany appears to be better equipped than Italy (which still was supposed to have one of the two best healthcare systems in the world), but overall the speed of the outbreak is not abating.

We believe that the real game changer is to move from a defensive approach (“stay home and hope”) to one which accepts the principle of risk management and using different national techniques to generate knowledge.
In a sense, a key to win the challenge (and to become more resilient to the 21st century) is to start looking to ourselves, to our community, as civil society and institutions, as a laboratory in which to test policies. We, therefore, recommend:

a) Strategies of containment/ prevention and reopening are to be (slightly) differentiated by geographical areas so that we can use different approaches to which is the most efficient (in terms of health security and minimization of economic disruption).
Of course, the approach would avoid risky experiments and yet would encourage different regions or countries to use different approaches. It is possible to have spontaneous sperimentations (such as the cases of the Italian Region Veneto which decided to follow its own path) or piloted as in the case of some Asian countries.

b) Data so that the outcomes of each strategy will be monitored; this will need two different sources of information:

a. National healthcare systems and administrations of different levers whose information systems will have to collect more data, more relevant and comparable and in real time. The European Commission could well be the promoter of such knowledge management system

b. Citizens. People hold a crucial position in the strategic approach to countering the emergency, whereas official counting shows clear lack of information. This gap can be covered by data collected directly from individuals: they can provide more quickly information on any symptoms; they can even be used to monitor the implementation of policies. More interestingly the information can be bi-directional: when one individual is found positive to the test, all individuals who crossed her or his path may be informed.
There are, of course, issues in terms of privacy. However, it is worthwhile to notice here that the privacy issue is to be approached considering three specific factors: : the first is that this is an extraordinary circumstance where citizens have already been asked to forgo even more fundamental rights (like the one to move); the second is that the question here would be to provide to the State data which are already controlled by companies to conduct business; the third is that the trade off between privacy and individual health may be left to the voluntary determination of the citizen and on a strict temporary basis.

c) Engagement of citizens via a civil service.
The citizens are the core of the new paradigm example of this has been Emilia Romagna where volunteers have been essential to improve the home care and domestic assistance. The idea for a more resilient EUROPE is a civilian service which can be the trigger to obtain at least two goals at the same time:
- to supply the STATE, health systems, public service provision and businesses with a permanent reserve of citizens who are able to guarantee its operation where an emergency creates a demand that cannot be met by (administrative or market) supply (e.g. doctors, nurses, technicians capable of ensuring the production and maintenance of equipment needed for intensive care);
- to provide all citiziens with the minimum expertise that can make us stronger members of our community and can boost social cohesion.


We are facing new challenges, and we cannot approach it with conventional methods. The only way to master the new challenges is knowledge. A knowledge based on data, intelligible and valid, supplied by the direct stakeholders (citizens) and analysed coherently by governments. BIG DATA, predictive intelligence and citizens are the vehicles that, if properly implemented, will bring the crisis to an end and transform a huge tragedy into an opportunity to make our societies resilient. Finally, the polar star of the next approaches must be experimentation. Which in turn must be tailored, where possible by region, in order to use the best available approach to meet the challenges of the 21st century.





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