I just listened to The Signal’s episode on Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. The Australian media has been discussing the slow rate of our rollout for days, and this episode of The Signal was the most concise and cohesive explanation I have heard so far. By the standards of Australian media, The Signal is always thoughtful, inquisitive, and engaging, but in this case they didn’t get to the heart of the matter
The Signal – Is Australia botching the vaccine rollout?
As my job is to assist people to assess and respond to complex problems, I’m going to quickly assess Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout from a problem solving perspective, so that the discussion can move to a tangible level that can be actioned.
The Federal Government has succumbed to the Planning Fallacy, which is very normal. The Planning Fallacy states that people will over-estimate their ability, resulting in a belief that their project will be completed on time, under budget, and with the resources that have been made available. Human’s regularly make this mistake, but there are methods that can be employed to resist the Planning Fallacy, none of which are apparent in relation to the vaccine rollout.
The first thing that needs to be done to avoid the Planning Fallacy is to look for similar projects, to see how they have been done. This is called Reference Class Forecasting, and it is a must when you are doing something that someone else has done before you. Israel and the UK appear to have had the most successful vaccine rollouts, and there is no evidence that Australia has learned from how they approached the task.
If you want to ignore Reference Class Forecasting, then you should at least do a Pre-Mortem. A Pre-Mortem starts from the assumption that your plan has failed. You list every reason why your plan could fail and then build strategies to manage as many of these risks as possible into your plan. Pre-Mortems are useful for getting planners beyond their egos and previous successes. A Pre-Mortem on the Australian vaccine rollout would have shown that the Commonwealth is not prepared for a massive logistical task, and that GP clinics cannot manage such a large burden.
If we take a comparative, historical view of such a large logistical task, we see that Australia has not had the capability or capacity to do something so large for decades. We don’t have the technological depth of capability to quickly organise the necessary information systems, and we don’t have the spare capacity to ensure appropriate levels of logistical outcomes. For decades Australia has outsourced everything it can to reduce costs, and logistics run on a just in time model that just about functioned until the pandemic hit.
Until Australia has a significant debate about what level of Sovereign Capability we are willing to fund and practice, we will not have the capability, or capacity, to manage a massive project like the COVID-19 vaccination programme in the way that Australians expect.
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