Coronavirus Learning Log Week 4: Trust and Networks

Key Challenges:

  • Leaving the door open for people, not backing them into corners
  • Learning to develop a project in real time
  • Trying to maintain a sense of structure and ritual
  • Not jumping to conclusions from the research that we’re doing
  • Working within established networks

Open Doors

Sometimes you have to allow people to make their own mistakes and learn from them’ says Chris Bolton.

“We’ve designed a system around asking, how do we analyse and share learning quickly with people who need to know? Just collecting things is no use if you can’t find a route where it can be effectively used. I don’t think they had thought adequately about that”

Chris received coaching from a friend who advised him that you sometimes have to allow people to make their own mistakes and learn from them. ‘Having evidence to show for your way of working, doesn’t mean you’ll be listened to’

He cites a quote by the character Yoda in Star Wars ‘’Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’’


This may not be the most professional source, in this galaxy anyway. However, illustrated here, is the lesson that backing people into corners provokes bad reactions.

This refers to having trust in ideas outside of your way of thinking. One piece of literature I read in my research this week was ‘Information, networks and the complexity of trust’ by Henry and Dietz. They point out that pre-established ways of thinking ‘’(are) an important motivator for considering the role that individuals’ belief and value systems play in motivating political behaviour and conflicts over policy-relevant information’’. Another term for this ignorance towards new information is Confirmation bias.

Structure and Ritual

‘Ritual’ Definition: ‘a set of fixed actions and sometimes words performed regularly, especially as part of a ceremony’

People often talk about ‘morning rituals’ and routines in a contented way. This week, Sion Owen had more of a ceremonial ritual when he attended a funeral of a relative, which he observed online. ‘I missed the ritualization of the farewell, the communal singing, the meeting up with family’. He says that transitions in someone’s life through religious ritual can allow you to move on, and the same logic applies to day to day ritual.

You’ve heard the term ‘the days blur into one’, and that’s true. Getting on a train, buzzing into work, talking face to face to a colleague…These not only ensure a degree of mental wellbeing, but provide a logic to the way humans act, allowing them to separate their home life from their work life, from their social life. That said, there are ways that we can retain that: ‘Skype meetings are a good point to anchor your day around’ Sion says. I would add that going out for walks at a set time every day and sketching out schedules for yourself, are all rituals which can help us.

This relates to the theme, in that people trust rituals and are suspecting of uncertainty. Having those online meetings and taking part in those Skype calls can create a notion of trust between colleagues. That said, there are instances where putting too much trust in routines can be unnecessary, …

Developing Projects in Real Time

‘Longer term should our role in GPX be about responding to the here and now?’ asks Bethan Smith. She’s referring to our annual programme – a schedule of events, webinars and seminars, attended by those in the council and public sector, and themed around the Audit Wales national studies.

The reason this hasn’t been done is that responding in real time to real world events has been seen as ‘too difficult’

However, as proven by Covid19, ‘business as usual’ can be disrupted. As Chris elaborates: ‘Typically, you start with an idea of what you want to do. We’ve come up with this very quickly. We very rapidly got to a point where we could manage a project in real time’

That’s why we’ve been reviewing our annual plan and seeing which events to move online, and which to delay.

Some are particularly relevant, including the one on domestic violence ‘which is a bigger issue than ever before’, The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls since the lockdown, and the government has pledged to donate an extra £2m to domestic abuse charities. We also had ‘poverty’ on the agenda – even though the issues surrounding poverty have changed, this is still markedly relevant, considering the potential economic effects of the coronavirus.

This relates to trust in processes – often, when you are used to one way of working it can be difficult to divert, even if you realise that unseen factors, such as the coronavirus. could force you to change your plans.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

 ‘Someone saying “we can’t predict what’s going to happen” is different from someone doing back of the envelope calculations’ Sam Williams points out.

We’ll see lots of data flying around about the Coronavirus, and while you can use that to analyse trends, trying and draw conclusions about what will happen is unlikely to paint a full picture.

‘one of the easiest ways to interpret it is scaling something in days – “we’re fourteen days behind Italy” – being x days behind someone applies you’re on the same trajectory’ Sam elucidates. i.e forces such as policy, social distancing, and health systems can alter the spread of a virus. Therefore, while scaling in days is useful for showing where we are in comparison with another country, it does not imply we’re going to be in exactly the same situation as that country, by that time.

One example of this is the reference to ‘flattening the curve’. However, ‘this does not mean the curve is actually flat’. One aspect which can cause a discrepancy is weekend reporting. It is possible for a lack of reporting one weekend, to give the illusion that cases are dropping, and then for the numbers to rocket up the following Monday, as figures from the weekend are included.

Testing is another factor. While its worth pointing out that increased testing and tracing can make an epidemic easier to handle, Sam points out that ‘with increased testing, the number of reported cases will increase’

This is not a dismissal of those who use data to make predictions – used correctly, you can make educated predictions. It would be a mistake however to blindly trust that the virus is going to take one course, due to your observations from an academic graph, without taking into account the different circumstances which determine the way datasets look and the course the virus takes.



For a quick recap, everyone’s abilities being mobilised, means that traditional hierarchies of ‘I say, you do’ can become largely obsolete in a crisis. ‘Best practices’ cant be applicable due to the fact that no one is familiar with the situation. Thus, through experimenting and ‘seeing what works’, we can discover innovative ways of working, which we can carry into the post-coronavirus world.

With that in mind, lets talk about a completely different way of looking at the situation. In any crisis, it is to be expected that the hierarchies in place will regroup and try and find out the ‘best’ way of dealing with the situation. ‘If in doubt you cling to the structure – that’s why the army and police are set up in such a hierarchical way’ posits Sion Owen.

‘There are five stages of grief. Is there an equivalent for an organisation?’ he asks. There might be. A model that was sent to me by Deb Allen last week, is Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing: The process by which teams group into hierarchical structures, have arguments over the ‘best’ way of working and resolve their differences before settling into a compromised normal, which they excel at! This stands in contrast with the experimental model we’re using in GPX.

Ultimately, we need to learn to respect more managerial styles of working, while advancing our own.

  Learning Opportunities:

  • Don’t try and force people to see matters from your perspective, no matter how convinced you are. Peoples experiences and ways of working determine how they see the world. Therefore, you often need to allow people to make their own mistakes and learn the lessons, before lecturing them on alternatives. In that situation, keep an open door so they can seek your help again in the future.
  • Maintain a sense of structure and ritual that allows you flexibility but stops days ‘blurring into one’.
  • Always asses whether your plans are relevant and helpful; If you find you’re doing something out of an abstract sense of obligation or routine, ask how you could be more helpful in the way you spend your time; this may involve abandoning long-term forward planning, and responding to your circumstances and immediate environment.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about anything. The knowledge you have gained from research or analysis into a certain topic is often only as good as the research behind that. Instead look for faults in the data, ask questions of the learning and knowledge you’ve found, and keep an open mind to material that contradicts your own ideas about the world.
  • learn to reach compromise through working with people whose ways of working may not necessarily suit your own. Respect those differences while working to meaningfully reconcile any difficulties or failures in decision making that may arise from them.

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