Cultivating a new set of core values at IIASA

By Shorouk Elkobros, IIASA Science Communications Fellow

Shorouk Elkobros interviewed Lindsay Radakovits-Smith, Deputy Head of the IIASA Human Resources (HR) Department and HR Operations Officer to discuss the institute’s new shared values.

What attracted you to IIASA?

I grew up internationally – I went to school in Austria, studied in England, and worked in Germany. In 2017, I joined IIASA because I felt I could use my international background as well as my academic qualifications in Austrian employment law and my specialization in Human Resources to the benefit of the organization.

Poster from IIASA mini core values guerilla campaign February 2019

What do you like the most about IIASA?

IIASA has an international workforce that is enthusiastic about cutting-edge research. I have never felt as valued a part of an organization as here. I am proud to be part of an organization where scientists research real life-affecting issues such as the spread of COVID-19 or wildfires around the world. From models and scenarios featured in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports to their participation in UN General Assemblies. That is what I enjoy about my job, being able to support them in their endeavors to make the world a better place.

Can you tell us about the new IIASA core values (ASPIRE)?

When Albert van Jaarsveld became our Director General and CEO in 2018, he quickly realized that we did not have an articulated values set, so in the process of establishing a new HR strategy that will come into play in 2021, ASPIRE fulfills that role. It was not only the core values that we needed to identify but also what they mean. For example, what does it mean to be accountable, or why is having good integrity in your scientific work valuable?

Posters from IIASA mini core values guerilla campaign February 2019

Posters from IIASA mini core values guerilla campaign February 2019

Why is it necessary to have a shared set of values?

A set of values can be a conversation starter, and thus can be useful to promote a culture of belonging. It is useful because when we have core values to stand behind, they are easily reflected in the IIASA strategy.

How did you formulate the IIASA core values?

We said, let’s see what people think. We wanted this to be a bottom-up process rather than top-down from the executive team. We did a mini guerrilla campaign, put up posters with examples of values, and a potential definition to get everyone thinking and talking about it. It got the staff talking, and they came up with hilarious suggestions, which is how we knew that we were getting through to people. We did the campaign without prior notification on purpose because we wanted to get honest reactions to it, and we had positive as well as negative feedback. We then sent out a questionnaire to all staff to give their input on what IIASA values mean to them. All the core values are designed based on this questionnaire’s results, and the clusters of values our staff said resonated with them.

“Have your say” poster from IIASA mini core values guerilla campaign February 2019

Do you think IIASA embodies its core values?

There is always room for improvement, which does not mean that we are not living the values. It just means we could be doing it a little bit more proactively. We could also take a little bit more time to make sure that we stick to the core values or find out what they mean for us on individual levels.

I think it is vital for us to step back, have a look at what the values we are living in the workplace are, how we are behaving, how the institute is progressing, and ask whether we are living up to our values as well as we should be.

How do you foresee IIASA staff adopting these core values?

Values are intrinsic to any human being. For me, the people-centered value is what I try to achieve working in the HR Department. I aspire to help staff members understand the rationale behind all executive decisions. I hope that in the next two years, IIASA core values will be something that everyone knows and that they will be able to say they are proud to work at an institute where integrity, accountability, and respect are part of our identity.

With the new Chief Operations Officer (COO) responsible for operative functions at the organization, we are also working to introduce assessment frameworks in the new performance and development review process. In addition, we are introducing training for our managers and leaders in the organization so they can live by example and thus translate values into behaviors.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Give yourself a nudge and make smarter decisions

by Ralph L. Keeney, IIASA alumnus and Professor Emeritus at Duke University

Ralph L. Keeney is a professor and consultant about decision-making. He was a research scholar at IIASA from 1974-76, where he and Howard Raiffa finished their book Decisions with Multiple Objectives. Here he describes his most recent book, Give Yourself a Nudge: Helping Smart People Make Smarter Personal and Business Decisions, and how it can impact you.

© VectorMine | Dreamstime

Few individuals understand the key role of decisions in one’s life. That is because many things other than decisions can increase the quality of your life. If you improve your professional skills, including your decision-making skills, you will get more job opportunities and end up doing more interesting work with better pay. If you regularly exercise and eat a better diet, your fitness and health will improve. Of course this is true, but none of this could happen without initially making decisions to improve professional skills, to exercise regularly, or to eat a better diet, and then making the routine decisions to follow through to turn your plans into reality. That’s why making decisions is the tool for improving your life. The rest of your life just happens beyond your control.

We all learned to make decisions by trial and error as very few individuals have had any education or training about how to make good decisions. Hence, we each have our own decision-making style composed of habits. Over the last four decades, researchers and scientists in the fields of behavioral economics and psychology have identified numerous biases and shortcomings of the habits used by all decision-makers. A concise summary of these findings is that decisions are often not adequately understood when a choice is made, and the choice of an alternative strongly depends on how the alternatives are presented rather than on their potential impacts.

© Ralph Keeney

My new book, Give Yourself a Nudge presents numerous ways for you to limit the influence of the biases and shortcomings of your natural decision-making habits. It describes and illustrates several different types of personal nudges that guide you to make smarter decisions. These nudges help you clearly define the decision that you face, thoroughly articulate what you want to achieve by making that decision, create better alternatives to consider, and deliberately identify more desirable decisions to face. Personal nudges are applicable to all of your decisions.

My favorite personal nudge concept is called a decision opportunity. To understand this important concept, ask yourself “Who should be making your decisions?” Obviously, you should. So who should be making the decisions about which decisions you should face? This is a more challenging question. My response is that you should be making more of them than you currently are.

You do not choose the decision problems that occur due to the actions of others and circumstances beyond your control, and you must reactively address these decisions. However, you can proactively identify any specific decision that you want to face. I refer to these decisions as decision opportunities.

Pursuing a decision opportunity usually improves your life, whereas solving a decision problem rarely can improve your life. Let me explain. Most decision problems result from something that becomes worse in your life: you become sick, your car is damaged, or you lose your job. Solving such a decision attempts to restore your quality of life to its level before the decision problem occurred. When you create a decision opportunity, nothing in your life becomes worse. Pursuing a decision opportunity should improve circumstances which raises your quality of life.

To create a decision opportunity, all that you initially need to do is think about something you would really like to have or experience for yourself or others. You then define the decision opportunity as ’decide how to make that desired future a reality’. There are no limits to thoughts, so anything you envision can be the basis for a decision opportunity. After you define a decision opportunity, then address it in the same way that you do for a decision problem. Specifically, clarify all of your objectives for that decision opportunity, next create a set of potential alternatives to achieve them, and then select the alternative that best achieves your objectives.

The only reason to make any decision is to achieve something. That something is made clear by identifying the objectives for the decision, which should then guide all effort on that decision. Fully identifying all the objectives for an important policy decision is difficult and often not done. At IIASA, I developed techniques to help stakeholders articulate their objectives, which stimulates the creation of a richer set of alternatives and provides a basis for a more impactful analysis of those alternatives. Fully identifying all of the objectives for any IIASA project today is just as critical as it was in the past.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

The IIASA COVID-19 dashboard

By Tadeusz Bara-Slupski, Artificial Intelligence for Good initiative leader, Appsilon Data Science

Tadeusz Bara-Slupski discusses the Artificial Intelligence for Good initiative’s recent collaboration with IIASA to develop an interactive COVID-19 data visualization tool.

Number of hospital beds per 1000 population © IIASA

Public institutions rely on external data sources and analysis to guide policymaking and intervention. Through our AI for Good initiative, we support organizations that provide such inputs with our technical expertise. We were recently approached by IIASA to create a dashboard to visualize COVID-19 data. This builds on our previous collaboration, which had us deliver a decision-making tool for natural disaster risk planning in Madagascar. In this article, we provide an example of how to help policymakers navigate the ocean of available data with dashboards that turn these data into actionable information.

Data is useful information when it creates value…or saves lives

The current pandemic emergency has put an unprecedented strain on both public health services and policymaking bodies around the world. Government action has been constrained in many cases by limited access to equipment and personnel. Adequate policymaking can help to coordinate the emergency relief effort effectively, make better use of scarce resources, and prevent such shortages in the future. This, however, requires access to secure, timely, and accurate information.

Governments commission various public bodies and research institutes to provide such data both for planning and coordinating the response. For instance, in the UK, the government commissioned the National Health Service (NHS) to build a data platform to consolidate a number of data providers into one single source. However, for the data to be useful it must be presented in a way that is consistent with the demands of an emergency situation. Therefore, the NHS partnered with a number of tech companies to visualize the data in dashboards and to provide deeper insights. Raw data, regardless of its quality, is not useful information until it is understood in a way that creates value – or in this case informs action that could save lives.

IIASA approached us to support them in making their COVID-19 data and indicators more useful to policymakers. The institute’s research is used by policymakers around the world to make critical decisions. We appreciated the opportunity to use our skills to support their efforts by creating an interactive data visualization tool.

IIASA COVID-19 report and mapbook

Research indicates that while all segments of the population are vulnerable to the virus, not all countries are equally vulnerable at the same time. Therefore, there is a need for accurate socioeconomic and demographic data to inform the allocation of scarce resources between countries and even within countries.

IIASA responded to this need with a regularly updated website and data report: “COVID-19: Visualizing regional socioeconomic indicators for Europe”. The reader is introduced to a range of demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related indicators for European Union member countries and sub-regions in five categories:

  • Current COVID-19 trends – information about the number of cases and effectiveness of policy response measures
  • Demographic indicators – age, population density, migration
  • Economic indicators – GDP, income, share of workers who work from home
  • Health-related indicators – information about healthcare system capacity
  • Tourism – number of visitors, including foreign

The indicators and data were chosen for their value in assisting epidemiological analysis and balanced policy formulation. Policymakers often face the challenge of prioritizing pandemic mitigation efforts over long-term impacts like unemployment, production losses, and supply-chain disruptions. IIASA’s series of maps and graphs facilitates understanding of these impacts while maintaining the focus on containing the spread of the virus.

Our collaboration – a dashboard for policymakers

Having taken the first step to disseminate the data as information in the form of a mapbook, Asjad Naqvi decided to make these data even more accessible by turning the maps into an interactive and visually appealing tool.

IIASA has previously approached Appsilon Data Science with a data visualization project, which had us improve the features and design of Visualize, a decision support tool for policymakers in natural disaster risk management. Building on this experience, we set out to assist Naqvi with creating a dashboard to deliver the data to end-users even faster.

The application allows for browsing through a list of 32 indicators and visualizing them on an interactive map. The list is not final with indicators being regularly reviewed, added, and retired on a weekly basis.

White circles indicate the number of cases per 1 million citizens.

The application will continue to provide the latest and most relevant information to track regional performance in Europe also in the post-pandemic phase:

The pandemic has a disproportionate impact on women’s employment and revealed some of the systemic inequalities.

Social distancing measures, for instance, have a large impact on sectors with high female employment rates. The closure of schools and daycare facilities particularly affects working mothers. Indicators such as female unemployment rate can inform appropriate remedial action in the post-COVID world and highlight regions of special concern like Castilla-La-Mancha in Spain.

Given the urgency of the pandemic emergency, we managed to develop and deploy this application within five days. We believe such partnerships between data science consultancies and research institutes can transform the way policymakers utilize data. We are looking forward to future collaborations with IIASA and other partners to help transform data into accessible and useful information.

This project was conducted as part of our Artificial Intelligence for Good initiative. The application is available to explore here.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

IIASA, East and West Germany, and the Cold War: Researching IIASA’s History

By Liza Soutschek, doctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, Germany

Liza Soutschek shares her journey in researching the institute’s history relating to the Cold War for her PhD dissertation.

© Liza Soutschek

IIASA, Schloss Laxenburg, November 1975

Howard Raiffa, the founding director of IIASA, was about to leave Schloss Laxenburg in November 1975 to return to the USA. In his farewell address, he reflected on the institute’s first three years as an East-West research institute during the Cold War and concluded:

“My most exhilarating moments at IIASA, the times when I feel most rewarded by all our efforts, occur whenever I am present at a scientific meeting and scientists from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds argue with each other, on substantive issues, without being conscious of their roles as mathematicians or economists or management scientists or of their national identities. I will never forget those times, when [Wolf] Haefele of F.R.G. [West Germany] and [Hans] Knop of G.D.R. [East Germany] would argue heatedly on a scientific point – sometimes on the same side and at other times on opposite sides.”

As Howard Raiffa pointed out, IIASA, founded in 1972 in the wake of Cold War détente, provided an exceptional platform for scientific dialogue and exchange across borders – in particular for East and West Germans.

Intrigued by IIASA’s history

Looking back from the present day, knowing how difficult interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists from different nations and cultures can be, one question that comes up right away is: what was it like working at IIASA in the 1970s and 1980s in the context of the Cold War?

I asked myself this question when I first came across IIASA in the fall of 2017, and the spring of 2018, when I started working on a dissertation project on the institute’s East and West German history. It is done as part of a research group that examined “Cooperation and Competition in the Sciences” in case studies from a historical perspective. In my dissertation, I analyzed the relations between scientific and political actors from East and West Germany in the context of IIASA, with a focus on mechanisms of collaboration and competition at the local site as well as on wider effects in the entangled Cold War German history.

Historical research: books, dust, and coffee

Historians write books, but in order to do that we have to read hundreds of other books, look for traces in (sometimes more, sometimes less) dusty archives, and drink a lot of coffee with interesting people.

Initially my research led me to several German state and scientific archives. In the Federal Archives, for example, I found evidence of close interconnections between German science and politics during the Cold War regarding IIASA – not only in the case of the GDR, but also the FRG. Besides the intention to build a bridge between East and West, IIASA was also an arena for Cold War rivalry in the eyes of both German states. My favorite archival find were the documents of  the Max Plank Society, which was the former West German National Member Organization of IIASA.

In Germany, I also had the opportunity to talk to former West German members of the IIASA energy group in the 1970s and 1980s. Among them was Rudolf Avenhaus, who started working in the energy project under the leadership of Wolf Häfele in the summer of 1973. Over several cups of coffee, he told me about his life, what it was like to work at IIASA in those years, and about his collaboration with Willi Hätscher, one of the few East Germans in the group at that time.

A visit to IIASA and an inquiry

I finally had the chance to visit IIASA in the summer of 2019. With the help of several IIASA colleagues, I explored the IIASA archive for insights into the institute’s East-West German history. I also had the opportunity to discover more by talking to former and current IIASA employees. Two conversations I want to mention in particular, were with long-term staff members Martha Wohlwendt and Ruth Steiner, who provided an alternative view of IIASA to that of the scientists. I enjoyed my visit to the beautiful Schloss Laxenburg immensely and hope to return.

After collecting all these sources, from archival records to personal interviews, I can now begin writing an account on how cooperation and competition formed the relations between East and West Germans in the context of IIASA and thus, make IIASA’s history even better known.

© Liza Soutschek

After sharing this insight into my research, I would like to end with an inquiry. If you read this and think, “I could add something to this story!”, I would be happy to hear from you. Whether you are a former German IIASA staff member or have another connection to all of this, maybe we can add another piece to the puzzle together.

Contact:
Liza Soutschek
Institut für Zeitgeschichte München – Berlin
Leonrodstr. 46b, 80636 München, Germany
soutschek@ifz-muenchen.de

 

 

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

More on the history of IIASA.

Explaining the COVID-19 outbreak and mitigation measures

Raya Muttarak, Deputy Program Director, IIASA World Population Program

Raya Muttarak writes about what we have learnt about the COVID-19 outbreak so far, and how collective mitigation measures could influence the spread of the disease.

© Konstantinos A | Dreamstime.com

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China back in January, we have learnt a lot about the virus: we know how to detect the symptoms, and a vaccination is currently being developed. However, there are still many uncertainties:

We for example don’t know enough about the disease’s fatality rate – mainly because we don’t precisely know how many people are infected, which is the denominator. We also don’t know exactly how the virus spreads. Generally, it is assumed that the virus spreads from person-to-person through close contact (within about 1 meter) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also thought that COVID-19 can spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

In addition, knowledge about the timing of infectiousness is still uncertain. There is evidence that the transmission can happen before the onset of symptoms, although it is commonly thought that people are most contagious when they are most symptomatic. This information is crucial, because if we know the timing patterns of the transmission, we could adopt better measures around when to quarantine an infected person.

Lastly, we don’t yet know whether the spread of the disease will slow down once the weather gets warmer.

What is currently happening in Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea may be unique to these countries, but it is more than likely that most countries will eventually experience the spread of COVID-19. In this regard, epidemiologists have estimated that in the absence of mitigation measures, in the worst-case scenario, approximately 60% of the population would become infected. In February, Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in the US, warned that “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen.”

We learnt from an epidemiological transmission model that public efforts to curb the transmission of the disease should be directed towards flattening the epidemic curve. This is crucial, since the treatment of severe lung failure caused by COVID-19 requires ventilators to help patients breathe in intensive care units (ICUs). Not a single country in the world has the capacity to absorb the large number of people who would need intensive care at the same time. Experience from Italy shows that about 10% of all patients who test positive for COVID-19 require intensive care. Although efforts have been made to increase ICU capacity, the rapidly growing number of infected patients is overloading the healthcare system. Measures to reduce transmission in order to slow down the epidemic over the course of the year will therefore significantly mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

A transmission model with and without intervention.
Source: CDC. (2007). Interim Pre-pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States—. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The figure above shows the distribution of infectious cases with and without intervention. If the outbreak peak can be delayed, this allows the health system and healthcare professionals to bring the number of persons that require hospitalization and intensive care in line with the nation’s capacity to provide medical care. To flatten the epidemic curve and lower peak morbidity and mortality, calls for both government response and individual actions.

We will have to follow the protocol of the Austrian Health Ministry, but certain practices such as social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding gathering in crowded places, can help reduce the transmission of the disease. While it is true that young and healthy people are less likely to get sick and die from COVID-19, they can still be a virus carrier and thus transmit the disease to other vulnerable subgroups of the population, such as older people and those with underlying health conditions. An article recently published in The Lancet provides helpful information to better understand the current situation and explains why fighting against COVID-19 will take collective action.

Reference:

Anderson R, Heesterbeek H, Klinkenberg D, & Hollingsworth T (2020). How will country-based mitigation measures influence the course of the COVID-19 epidemic? The Lancet 0(0) DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30567-5

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.