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What science and tech can teach us about how to deal with a crisis like coronavirus – ABC News


Changing in a time of crisis is what makes us resilient — in fact, it’s what gets us through.

That’s the lesson ecologist Brian Walker says we can look to as we come to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Walker, from the CSIRO, has spent a lifetime studying natural ecosystems including in Africa, Canada and the Australian outback.

Each in their own way has brought him to the same conclusion: change in crisis is necessary. Resilience doesn’t equal resistance.

“And then reorganise as a result of that disturbance in such a way that the next time a disturbance of that kind comes along, they can cope with it better.”

These ideas, Dr Walker has found, can be applied to human nature. He says they are something for society to consider as we deal with the broad, ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Nature and technology agree: there’s strength in flexibility

Monash University’s Rashina Hoda says observing environmental ecosystems has formed part of the software development process for a while now.

“Some of the research has looked at social networks in ant colonies: how they organise and reorganise around challenges,” she said.

When it comes to the coronavirus context, the associate professor at Monash University’s Department of Software Systems and Cybersecurity told The Drum that being “agile” is essential. It is a concept traditionally reserved for software engineering teams.

“You’ve got a swift response, clear policies through consultation with the right experts and at the same time, a very human spirit to all of it.”

Dr Hoda believes “agile nations” have been more effective dealing with COVID-19 — Australia included.

“I think Australia’s done really well.”

She applauded the government’s swift response to the outbreak but says a big part of the relative success has been the community’s cooperation and willingness to adapt.

“If both aren’t on board with being agile, it’s not going to happenn” she said.

Much as with Dr Walker’s ecosystems, Dr Hoda says change is a necessary part of the equation.

“You see countries such as the United States; people who have very strongly resisted this saying we’re not going to change, this is the way we live. That kind of response is not the right response to a crisis.

People protest in Austin, Texas carrying placards for the reopening of the country.
Protesters rally at the Texas State Capitol to speak out against Texas’ handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.(AP: Eric Gay)

“Even if it’s just lifestyle choices for a temporary period of time.”

Are we already seeing this resilience?

The Drum looked at the idea of resilience earlier this week and heard how different sections of the community might relate during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Country people are some of the best ones at changing and adapting to new circumstances,” National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson said.

Ms Simson said now is the “perfect time” to have conversations about change, as the immediate COVID-19 threat appears to be subsiding.

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Ecologist Dr Brian Walker on resilience

However, Sydney Morning Herald political editor Peter Hartcher warned Australia’s decades of economic success may have left us less open to change and we’re dealing with the results of that now.

“The consequence was great complacency to the point where there was serious decay in our political system and failure in our ability to adapt to climate change.

“We get to a pointless decade of wasted time.”

Now, he believes, we might be in the midst of real change.

“You’re hearing statements like ‘we need to think about our global supply chain arrangements’ and ‘need to rethink the way the medical profession and our hospitals are set up and funded,” he said

“Those light bulbs are going on.”

He does warn that statements are no good without real action.



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