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What have we learned from summer?

© Mark Freeston, Newcastle University, October 2020


PART 1

It is now a couple of months since the last workshop in July and I have been thinking about what has changed. At the time of the last workshop, we were coming out of lockdown to different degrees and there were uncertainties: How much and when lockdown would ease? And in the UK, what would July and August be like?

Collectively we have had a mixed summer; some successful staycations, some people gaming the restrictions or breaking rules, some negative impacts of high numbers of people holidaying in unfamiliar ways in places unprepared to receive them for various reasons, some successful overseas trips, some cancelled overseas trips, some mad dashes across the continent to beat quarantine accompanied by frustrations, anger, and disappointment. Others have learned to quietly appreciate what may be available more locally.

Some people have been lucky with their plans; they have taken risks and it has paid off. Others have been less lucky; they have been caught out and missed planned experiences or had to pay out. Some people have played safe and felt content: others have felt cheated that they did not have a holiday.

Experiences of summer will have been affected by personal situations and resources of time and money, but also how people have chosen to manage uncertainty. Some have ignored it and acted as if things are back to normal or certain – and sometimes been caught out. Some have flexibly managed the uncertainties; making decisions later than they normally might, rolling with the changes to take advantage of things opening up, or accepting that things may not work out as they had planned, and gone ahead with a “see what happens” approach. Some have simply decided that things were too uncertain, and paralyzed by the uncertainty, have done nothing. Others have delayed, waiting for things to improve, and missed their window of opportunity as restrictions start to increase again.

There is something for us to reflect on individually, collectively, and more broadly at national, regional, and local levels for next years holiday. What worked? What did not? What can we do differently? Next year will not be the same, but it will be a different version of this year, and not the same as the previous five years. If people want to plan on how they hope things may be under more optimistic scenarios, then they are entitled to and it may well pay-off, and good luck to them. But they also have to accept that sudden changes may happen, and it may not pay off; they then have the responsibility to react to changes and accept any consequences they may personally experience. Any plan has a degree of uncertainty or risk; each person needs to recognize the risk and determine the level of risk they are willing to assume.

There is also a lot more that can be done in communicating both risk (this could happen) and uncertainty (we do not know if it will). Including helping people distinguish between this is what we hope will happen based on the imperfect/incomplete information we currently have (and we have made decisions on this basis) and this is what we hope will not happen (but we know it could, and we have planned for this). The information may change and we can be ready to make hard decisions if and when it does.

No one in the pandemic has all the information they need to make consistently right decisions even for very specific questions. Even if they did, the same information would have different implications for a different question. This has probably always been the case. However, in the pandemic it has become far more obvious because the number of things we do not know enough about has simply increased to an unprecedented level.

Compared to March there are fewer unknown unknowns, a few more partial knowns, and lots of known unknowns. We definitely know that there is no quick end to the pandemic and being “back to normal soon”.

In relation to the ideas we have developed in UniCoRN, nothing has fundamentally changed. In lockdown and the first four months they were:

1) Manage information

2) Build safety

3) Downregulate threat

4) Start to develop tolerance of uncertainty

These ideas still seem relevant for the next six months of the pandemic, although the relative emphasis may change, and ideas about how we target each of these may change as well.

To be continued in part 2 of this blog post . . .

You can follow our research on our website or on Research Gate

Email us on intolerance.uncertainty@newcastle.ac.uk

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