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What Can COVID-19 Tell Us About Evidence-Based Management?


Author: Kaifeng Yang

Abstract: People worry that many COVID-19 decisions are not evidence based, but applying typical evidence-based management (EBM) in a pandemic seems difficult. A pandemic is characterized by uncertainty, high potential loss, time pressure, and competing values, all posing challenges to EBM. Drawing on events in government responses to COVID-19, this essay focuses on three issues: What should be considered as evidence in pandemic-like situations? How can we make evidence more accessible to decision makers in such situations? And, does evidence have a role in ethical judgments in a pandemic? The essay argues that EBM must be extended to address pandemic-like situations. The evidentiary standard should take into consideration “appropriateness,” “reasonableness,” and “intuition,” paying attention to the stages of a pandemic and the type of errors we want to avoid. In addition, the essay calls for building policy capacity in terms of coproducing and applying evidence in and outside government, as well as strengthening public managers’ capacity in evidence-based ethical analysis.