COVID-19 & Government: Data-Powered Governments Are More Agile and Successful in Tackling All Aspects of the virus

15 June 2020

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Governments have a strong role to play in lessening the profound negative psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people around the globe, and they can do it through data.

These were the topics of discussion during two recent webinars, as part of the online series organized by the World Government Summit Foundation until June 26. The series aims to enhance the role of governments in responding to the new aspects that have been set with Coronavirus and creating the future of governments for post-coronavirus by analyzing the latest developments and effects of the virus on governments worldwide.

Dr. Arie Kruglanski, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of Maryland, addressed a webinar on how the world is going through the pandemic psychologically, dealing with the uncertainty and how it can emerge from it. Entitled ‘State of Global Emergency: Rising Social Tensions During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, the virtual session was moderated by Mina Al Oraibi, Editor in Chief of The National.

Dr. Arie Kruglanski said that besides the devastating human death toll of about 400,000 globally, the United States alone reached 21 million unemployed which affect harshly negative in the economic and psychological aspects around the globe.

“The bad things that could happen to people in the pandemic are varied – some have to do with physical survival, others have to do with economics and finances, yet others with loneliness and isolation. However, and you might be surprised to know it, at the bottom, they tap the same fundamental threat. What is this underlying threat, you might wonder? It’s the threat to people’s sense of mattering and personal significance,” Dr. Kruglanski said.

 “This need to matter, have significance, be recognized, have respect, is a major human motivation discussed by major social philosophers from Aristotle to Sartre. Losing loved ones to the pandemic, losing one’s job, one’s ability to provide for one’s family, losing one’s own life – they all represent a threat to one’s significance and mattering. They represent the threat of being disempowered, divested of our dignity, deprived of our humanity.”

Asked about the role of governments in these very trying circumstances, Dr. Kruglanski said: “Indeed, in times like these, the role of governments could not be more important. It’s times like these that people clamor for strong, wise, and empathetic leaders that would assure them that they matter, their lives matter, their suffering matters, and that governments will not let them perish.”

“These findings define two important tasks for governments in the corona crisis – one is to provide love and care empowerment to the people, the sense of being supported by the government in the time of crises; and the second is to confront and counteract the negative trends, the way of hate, and channel people’s universal quest for significance in the positive direction.”

Asked to what extent are public health concerns, such as the Coronavirus, deadlier and destabilizing that human acts of terror, he said: “The human psyche is malleable; we pay attention to one thing at a time. At this point, the salient threat comes from the pandemic, and we do not think that much about terrorism. Even though our attention is diverted from terrorism, the terrorist threat is, if anything, growing, because the far-right and other types of terrorism are intensifying their propaganda, their recruitment efforts, even their attacks. So, we are not as concerned; subjectively, our attention is diverted elsewhere. Governments and societies have to remain vigilant because this thing is not going away while the pandemic is obscuring its presence.”

On the role of international organizations, Dr. Kruglanski said: “international organizations should have a very prominent voice in asserting the concern about the world as a whole and enhancing solidarity and mutual help should be rampant, obvious, and salient. I think this is a great role for internationalism, for global forums such as this one [World Government Summit] and other organizations that are responsible for the human population as a whole.”


The webinar featured David Craig, CEO of Refinitiv, one of the world’s largest providers of financial markets data and infrastructure, and Saeed Al Awar, Head of Middle East – Rothschild & Co, a leading independent financial advisory group, addressed the webinar entitled ‘Post-COVID-19: How Data Will Shape Resilient & Agile Financial Ecosystems’. The online session was moderated by Axel Threlfall, Editor-at-Large, at Thomson Reuters.

David Craig, pointed to what he said was a massive rise in data collection today, adding that essentially every company and government has to become data-focused.

 “Fifteen or so years ago, someone coined the phrase that data will become the new oil. I think, in the new world, data is the new energy, and it’s gone from analog to digital. The velocity and frequency and veracity of data have increased 10 times since that first statement was made, and we see that every day in everything that we’re doing.

“So, I think some of the big trends are the ability for any company to consume, absorb, interpret, and act on the data. To do it in a way that is bridging the silos in their own departments, be it governments or large corporations, and their ability to interpret that and react on it on a daily basis, is going to set winners and losers aside.

“Every company really has to become a data company, and those that do that well and do that of scale in an agile way, will succeed, and the same goes for governments as well. I think this conversation around transparency was incredibly important because actually, the more transparent you are, the more investment you’ll attract and the more trust you’ll create.”

Craig also discussed the importance of transparency and disclosure, especially with regard to COVID-19 data and statistics.

“If the transparency has been decreased, the confidence will go, and the debt problem increases. I think there are multiple places where actually transparency and trust in country-level data is incredibly important at the moment. In a way, having the bad news out is better than trying to hide the bad news, because trust will be reduced even more.”

Saeed Al Awar, said making more data and information available was fundamental.

“When someone doesn’t give you enough disclosure or transparency on data, naturally, the human reaction is – you become a bit suspicious. What governments need to realize is that if you don’t disclose, people tend to become more conservative, and then they tend to disbelieve. No matter what you say, people will always take the more conservative view. This is how we do things from an investment perspective.

He added: “There’s a lot of things you could do [to improve data availability] if you start from a regulatory perspective – we look at simple things like our equities markets in the region, the depth level of reporting that is available in these markets does not enable you at all times. Different companies have different practices, there’s no consistency in the availability of data, even with listed companies. I think governments need to be better at disclosing data more broadly about the activity within the economy.”

“changing countries systems is not an easy thing. I think we have leadership in the region that is quite determined to make a change positively, and it’s not always easy. What countries in the region need to do is use the change in mindset, the willingness to adapt to the changing reality, as an opportunity to bring, at a government level, people aligned and information gathering easier.”

“Silo mentality prevents the information from being shared – we see that sometimes. I think that becomes a big hurdle for governments to make the right decision. So, I do think it’s an opportunity to make a lot out of it, and I think the months and the few years coming will show us whether they’ve done that or not.”

The webinar also touched on the rising importance of alternative data, or information gathered from non-traditional information sources, vis-à-vis fundamental data. “Gathering and analyzing such alt data which can tell investors what’s ahead, and can yield insights beyond those gleaned from regular fundamental data sources, which are mostly backward looking” Craig said.

He added: “I think part of the revolution that’s happening around alternative data now is the internet of things, and mobile devices, and the way that you can actually gather information on human and machine activity, and satellite data, which is now becoming a far quicker and easier way basically to ignore the regulatory and governmental constraints sometimes.”

Craig said the boundary between alternative and fundamental data was shifting, and what’s alt today may become fundamental at a later point.

The World Government Summit Foundation launched an online series, "COVID-19 & Government", discussing the global impact of COVID-19 in 7 vital sectors: Education, healthcare, economy, security, infrastructure, governance and leadership hosting 30 global speakers, experts, and government leaders.