Pandemics as an opportunity for learning? A study of second-order learning in research organizations in the case of SARS & H1N1



Are pandemics opportunities for learning? The outbreak of COVID-19 has been an enormous disruption to our health systems, economies and ways of living. It has raised important questions about the need to transform our underlying principles and structures to respond to future challenges. How could this change take place, and are pandemics opportunities for this transformation to happen? In this research paper, the authors study how two past pandemics have affected research organizations, the Bill & Melinda Foundation in relation to H1N1 and the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) in relation to SARS. They focus on second-order learning, which is a process of learning that promotes changes in underlying beliefs and assumptions. Based on their research, the authors found evidence that these past pandemics have indeed been opportunities for learning and development of new practices in these organizations; however, not yet second order learning, even if these organizations put enormous emphasis on processes of internal learning and reflexivity. This raises an important question about how to promote enduring second order learning in the case of large disruptions such as these pandemics. On the research side, it shows the limitations of conducting second order learning research based only on secondary sources.