The little-known key to successful pandemic response: knowledge management
As the region builds back from the pandemic, now is the time to invest in knowledge management. The investment will pay off with interest over the long term.
The pandemic has caused more than 2.8 million deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. An estimated 255 million full time jobs were lost, most by women. Around 1 billion children are at risk of falling behind due to school closures. And in Asia and the Pacific, 162 million people will be pushed back into poverty, according to a recent ADB report.
These shocking numbers made many governments realize that the negative impact on people’s lives and livelihoods could have been lessened by improved decision-making processes achieved through better knowledge management.
What is knowledge management? Simply put, it is the systematic generation and sharing of information. It is the art of combining, facilitating, and connecting expertise to solve a problem using a process that is constantly evolving and improving. The pandemic showed that our body of knowledge about the crisis needs to be continually updated, corrected, and refined, and that facts, information and evidence need to be seen in context.
Governments that responded well to the pandemic did three things right when it comes to knowledge management.
They learned from the past and the future. The Republic of Korea’s swift response at the beginning of the pandemic was in part due to building on lessons from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002 and the Middle East Respiratory System (MERS) outbreak in 2015.
Based on these experiences, the government already had in place clear decision-making processes and scenarios on public health emergency preparedness and responses, which were data-driven and informed by both the public and private sector. In addition, close relationships between key institutions—such as the president’s office, the ministries of health, education, and foreign affairs, as well as the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency enabled a swift and largely successful response.
The pandemic showed us that an organization is only as effective and a country and its people only as prepared as the knowledge they harness and share.
They leveraged digitalization. Despite concerns on user privacy as well as on design and functionality, the Government of India, together with the private sector, effectively used technology to design an app called Aarogya Setu, for mandatory contact tracing to control the spread of the virus. By July 2020, the app was downloaded 127.6 million times from the Apple and Google Play app stores.
Malaysia used a similar strategy, promoting an innovative app, MySejahtera, for users to assess their health data and help with early detection and hotspot tracking of the virus. The app was developed jointly by multiple government agencies including the Ministry of Health.
They broke silos and enabled multi-disciplinary problem solving: Viet Nam shifted to real-time web-based systems in collecting and aggregating data to track epidemiological developments across the country. They involved new partners and implemented an innovative “event-based” surveillance program in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allowed the public, including teachers, pharmacists, religious leaders to report public health events.
These examples show how the pandemic has accelerated and diversified trends in knowledge management. The pandemic showed us that an organization is only as effective and a country and its people only as prepared as the knowledge they harness and share. A combination of culture, systems, and process change was needed for knowledge management to help address the pandemic and the same is needed to solve complex development challenges over the long term.
COVID continues to be an economic threat and it is uncertain when this pandemic will end. As the region builds back to a “better normal,” we must leverage knowledge management to its best advantage. Now is the time to invest in knowledge management. The pandemic has shown us that investing in knowledge pays off, with interest.