An Introduction to Covid-19 & Second-Order Learning for Transformative Innovation

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Can Covid-19 be an opportunity to foster second-order learning among innovation agencies and research institutions professionals? This has been the main investigative question of a research project conducted with 15 participants from 8 countries working in experiments related to TIPC.

From May 2020 to February 2021, through two rounds of interviews and two online workshops, the participants interacted and reflected about changes derived from the pandemic and their implications. Second-order learning (SOL) can be understood as a change in beliefs, assumptions, points of view and behaviours relevant for transformation.

The following ideas stem from this research:

In a personal sphere, COVID-19 has been a landscape shock that has affected every aspect of life and work and has severely modified daily activities. Most participants are working from their homes and having online meetings. They report daily or weekly check-ups, townhall meetings and other new arrangements to interact with colleagues.

Moreover, it takes time to adapt to the new normality even for those who have not experienced direct repercussions such as being ill or having a family member who has been sick. Taking personal time to deal with the extra stress has been common.

In organisations, it is relevant to consider every person’s living and working conditions. Many people have to take care of children or elders while working. Others need to invest a lot of time in feeling well enough to function. Adapting to particular needs and situations has been important to continue with work.

The importance of engaging in a different type of leadership has also been highlighted. The pandemic may open up the space to push for alternative wellbeing, community, environmental and inclusion agendas and indicators. Traditional leaderships are being challenged to promote better work at a distance, and communication remains an organisational challenge.

Reflexivity is paramount. It is essential to discuss the role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) systems in transitions after the pandemic. While a lot of attention has been brought to STI, sometimes the conversations need to go beyond the emergency and health issues and into deeper considerations about the future. Critical reflection as a result of unexpected situations, may be crucial to SOL.  Trust and flexibility are needed so that participants may engage.

Incorporating uncertainty as a catalyser for change and transformation is essential. Habits of fear of something going wrong tend to be an obstacle for positive changes. Experimentation is important to address short-term and longer-term challenges.

Promoting stronger social networks that allow for a better version of the technological shift is also relevant. While most people are adapted to working online, the new stress about certain interactions and availabilities may be reduced if teams are better communicated.

Also, the importance of multidisciplinary approaches was pointed out, with a sense of what transitions mean in different subsystems. Having ideas about what the limits of the skills and knowledge that each team has is a step towards opening up to working with different teams.

From a regional perspective,  Global South challenges may become more visible amid the current context. Most researchers and practitioners revealed concerns about an increase in inequality due to the pandemic as some people are more able to benefit from health access, technological changes and online services than others.

Opportunities emerge as a significant number of projects have resulted directly or indirectly from the current circumstance. Many involve a set of different actors and perspectives.  In conclusion, COVID-19 has surely modified behaviours and it can trigger significant changes in assumptions, points of view and beliefs. This will not happen automatically, the process requires time, critical reflection, inquiries and the capacity to restructure previous frames.

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