COVID-19 and Governance: This is not a test

5 min readMar 11, 2020

I drove to Italy and back yesterday. Quiet border crossings.

Between the time I left for Italy and the time I got back, the Slovenian government had changed the border crossing policy, but it takes some time to mobilize, so there was a lone officer watching traffic coming from Italy into Slovenia, scowling.

The new policy, by the way, is to measure people’s temperatures as they come into the country. I was visiting my pain specialist and I also grabbed a coffee, so even if I had time to catch a virus, my immune system wouldn’t have had time to bring my temperature above normal.

Who makes these policies? And Why?

“Who makes these policies?” I thought, and how? And even if they have authority over all of us, they can’t enforce much with a couple of cop cars and a thermometer.

Here are some of the reasons cited:

Am I sensitive or does this sound more like a pissing contest or a mountain-climbing venture than a public health decision?

Have you seen the statistics about the projected increase in mental health issues and suicides because of isolation, failed businesses and bankrupcy? Me neither.

Have you seen actual numbers comparing the projected costs to society of three scenarios: no containment, partial containment and actual containment? Have you seen those broken down by region? Neither have I.

The fact is, these decisions can’t be forced on individuals.

The fact is, most people who are carrying the virus have no symptoms and many never will have more than a mild sniffle.

The fact is, we don’t know if we can contain the virus but maybe we can. Maybe it’s even a good idea. I don’t know. I don’t have the information and neither do you.

The first amendment

It’s a crime to meet with your friends in Italy now. You can get up to 3 months in jail.

When I got to my pain therapist across the border, she was extremely excited to see me. I was the only one who showed up. The people from 2 towns over were afraid to leave their homes.

They were afraid to leave their homes to go to the health professional who can help them prevent and treat disease. OK, maybe that’s a good idea. People with diseases go there. I went. I go once a month. I wasn’t about to cancel my appointment because the police might go after me with a thermometer.

Her son was there. That’s 3 people. Phew, glad I made it back home without getting arrested.

Freedom of assembly.

Sports events in Slovenia will take place with no audience.

Who is cancelling the events? And why

All of the conferences I have scheduled between now and May have been cancelled or postponed. I know who makes those decisions. The organizers make those decisions. Mostly, I get to hear first-hand about why they cancelled the events, and it breaks down like this:

Everyone will ultimately make their own decision. Two weeks ago none of us trusted the government or the media. Two weeks ago, we didn’t trust institutional science or statistical projections either, just in case you want to say it’s scientifically proven. This week everyone is just doing whatever the government and media are telling us to do.

Personally, I have absolutely no tools to tell anyone what’s correct or incorrect in this situation — but I do find it worrying how quickly we all sat down, shut up and obeyed.

This is a test.

Or not. Maybe it will change the way we live and work in the long-term. Maybe less travel is good.

What’s next?

We should all do what we can do. For my part, in the coming days and weeks, I will be:

  • Co-authoring a blog (or maybe a series) with people on how distributed governance and information systems could help communities, nations and individuals make better decisions in these types of situations
  • Holding the regular dGov weekly call (today at 2 pm CET) discussing these types of solutions.
  • Offering a few free crash-courses in managing remote workforce. I’ve been managing virtual companies for 23 years and I wrote the book on distributed leadership, so these will be valuable interactive workshops for leaders and team coordinators who suddenly find themselves needing to manage a remote workforce.

What else is next? A friend of mine said “this will all blow over in a few weeks when the next hot news story appears.” Somehow, that doesn’t comfort me.