Fluctuat et Mergitur

Your voice of reason at the Plateau de Saclay

Handling the Corona Crisis
France is currently shaken by the Coronavirus crisis. More than a hundred thousand people are infected, tens of thousands have died, and the country is under confinement. Every serious newspaper has to fill at least 80% of its content with Corona news. This applies naturally also to Fluctuat et Mergitur. The problem is just that our journalists are themselves impacted by the confinement, and thus cannot venture out to collect new stories.

Therefore, we had to resort to the following solution: We re-use an interview that we conducted with Dr. Naibaf, a researcher at Télécom Paris, about the organization of Institut Polytechnique de Paris (IP Paris). Since this interview is not about the Corona crisis, we cannot publish it currently. Instead, we keep the original answers of Dr. Naibaf, but replace the questions by something about the Corona crisis. In this way, our readers can follow the burning questions of the Corona virus — even if, for technical reasons, the answers are about IP Paris.

Fluctuat & Mergitur: Dr. Naibaf, the French government is doing its best to contain the crisis. Nevertheless, it has been accused of miscommunication, and of sending contradictory messages. Some questions have no answers, and so everyone seems to be making up their own. How can this be avoided?

Dr. Naibaf: The instances do indeed the best they can. The problem lies in the dissemination of the information. Decisions have to be communicated clearly, and in writing, and they have to be disseminated without delay to all the people. If this does not happen, everyone starts making their own interpretations of what has been said. The result is confusion and inefficiency. After a meeting, there should be a single written summary of the meeting — and not as many summaries as there are participants.

F&M: The government has expressed its sincere appreciation of the work of the medical staff. And yet, its appreciation of the excellence of the work is being criticised as empty words without any corresponding actions.

Dr. Naibaf: Indeed, just insisting on the concept of “excellence” is not sufficient. It has to be supported by concrete improvements of the underlying structures. If there is no change to the structures themselves, the insistence on excellence will ring hollow.

F&M: The government tries its best to actively involve the scientists in the matter. Nevertheless, it has been accused of acting against the recommendations of the scientists. What are we to think of this?

Dr. Naibaf: Of course, we cannot always take into account the opinion of everyone. However, in matters that touch upon the expertise of scientists, their view has to be heard.

F&M: The government has decided to proceed by department, so that different departments have different calendars for the end of the confinement. This has led to criticism and frictions.

Dr. Naibaf: It is understandable if not all involved entities can follow the same calendar form the start. However, there has to be an awareness of the problem, and an institutional will to coordinate the calendars where they can be coordinated — even already for the next milestone of September 2020. Otherwise, there will be frictions and inefficiencies.

F&M: In its handling of crisis, the government has been accused of an estrangement between the decision makers and the lower councils and the population. As they put it, Macron does not have to go shopping. Is there a truth in this?

Dr. Naibaf: There is indeed the danger that decisions are being taken without hearing those who are affected by it. If decisions are taken top-down, without hearing the opinions of the lower councils, then (a) the decisions cannot take into account the expertise on the ground and (b) people are less convinced by them. This impression of exclusion is reinforced if decisions are not communicated, if requests are made to react in a matter of days or hours, and if vice versa, requests from below are not taken into account or delayed.

F&M: Some commentators suggest that France should learn from the other countries. How could this be done?

Dr. Naibaf: It is always good to see how other countries are dealing with the situation — and this is even one of the declared goals. Of course, we should not blindly copy what they are doing, but we can take inspiration. The important thing here is to not just subscribe to the goals of the other countries (in terms of the outcome), but to also learn from how they arrived there: How they organise, how transparent they are, and how they make their administration efficient.

F&M: In handling the economic crisis, the government can draw on experience from the 2008 financial crisis. And yet, it stands accused of not learning from previous occasions.

Dr. Naibaf: It is indeed important to critically analyse the errors of the past, so as to avoid making the same errors in the future. Only when we have identified the main problems of the last occurrence, and only when we have found good solutions to them, we should venture into new projects.

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