Innovations for Successful Societies Helps U.N. With Covid-19 Response and Provides Insights from Ebola Outbreak

Apr 20 2020
By B. Rose Huber and Jennifer Widner
Source Woodrow Wilson School

Innovations for Successful Societies (ISS), a research program at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is working with the United Nations Development Programme to help countries hone their Covid-19 response systems.

The project brings together two strands of research: organizing cabinet offices for greater effectiveness and infectious disease response. 

Jennifer Widner, professor of politics and international affairs and director of ISS, notes that the program’s management cases on the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak include takeaways “all too relevant for our times.”

These takeaways include the following, according to Widner:

  • Although officials worried that misinformation would lead people to subject themselves and others to danger, communities acted to protect their members, and efforts to get the word out about safe practices — in song, as well as by community organizers — broke through early mixed messages, bringing infection rates down.
  • Disease surveillance presented a number of challenges, including attacks against contact tracers from distrustful communities to spelling anomalies that helped generate double-counts.
  • Supply chains were disrupted by the lack of prior contracts with manufacturers, dependence on a few suppliers, and competition among health care communities as U.S. facilities tried to stock up and drained materials from the front lines. The experience fueled an international effort to preposition information required to ramp up production and delivery of essential supplies. The lessons generated from this project appear to have had less impact than it should have in our current predicament.

View the full series of cases and read a detailed blog post on the "Lessons Learned from Liberia on Coordinating Its Response to Ebola."

ISS, which began in 2008, chronicles government innovation, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Often the most creative and successful ideas are generated internally, framed by people who have deep knowledge of local conditions. ISS enables practitioners to tell their unique stories and join a knowledge network of reform-minded public servants from around the globe. ISS case studies distill these conversations into a tool for learning, for cross-cutting analysis, and for scholarship.