How trial management can lead to better solutions for pandemics

There are many real-life problems that could be solved using modern systems and processes. To crisis management practitioners, these real-life problems that need solving are known as ‘gaps’, and ‘solutions’ are the processes formed to bridge these gaps. This blog looks at some of these modern solutions the problems they could solve and demonstrates how this will be implemented in the STAMINA trials.

Currently, introducing modern solutions into existing pandemic and crisis management processes often proves to be rather difficult due to time and resource constraints, in addition to the fact that no defined method that would make this task easier is defined across Europe. Within the DRIVER+ project, a method has been defined, which aims to solve exactly this issue and it is embodied in the Trial Guidance Methodology (TGM). This methodology describes a trial as a means to overcome these issues, taking into account time and resource constraints.

What is a trial?

A trial is an organised and systematic process of searching for innovation in pandemic and crisis management. A trial should be tailored for finding innovations that show potential to limit or cover identified pandemic and crisis management gaps related to crisis management functions. However, to achieve this ambitious goal in a manner which enables relevant and representative results, it is important to organise a trial in conditions as realistic as possible in order to minimise research biases.

The TGM, as a systematic and research-based method, assists trial-organising organisations in this challenge. As described by the methodology, a trial owner, as the main responsible person, is actively supported by a trial committee which consists of experts supporting the TGM implementation, coordination of solution providers, and practitioners. The trial committee is permanently working with the trial owner through the entire process of the trial organisation.

Therefore, a trial aims to actively involve crisis management practitioners in the search for innovation which meets their expectations. Gaps are revealed and defined by practitioners on the basis of their experiences and problems they face in the realisation of their missions. These expectations and gaps are to be met and covered (partially or completely) by solution providers.

Through this inclusive approach to trial organisation, it is possible to reach out to external organisations (solution providers and CM practitioners) to enhance external cooperation and shared understanding. Broad involvement of these two groups at a relatively early stage of trial organisation facilitates building a common platform. Furthermore, it enhances the understanding between those groups, which provides positive prospects for fulfilling their expectations, as well as achieving the main aim, to find and adopt innovation in pandemic and crisis management.

Why organise trials?

Addressing and evaluating solutions in realistic environments

The described approach takes as a starting point the fact that there is a strong innovation momentum present in the pandemic and crisis management community. At the same time, there is inertia to change, which can prevent this momentum from resulting in sustainable improvement. This points to the need for a better evidence base for crisis management capability investment decisions. Innovation is critical but will only be successful if it is relevant and accessible to practitioners and operators.

Many crises involve interfacing diverse crisis management systems and solutions. Major crises can also frequently involve more than one country or region, which may have differing crisis management infrastructures and cultures. It is also highly likely that this will necessitate interfacing different systems and combining different solutions. Crisis management innovation must therefore be capable of meeting these multifaceted challenges and delivering solutions that are modular, flexible and adaptable. These solutions must be tested and validated in realistic environments; they must be evaluated to assess their true benefits and for their overall suitability, before being adopted by end-users.

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Figure 1: Trial execution as demonstrated in DRIVER+

Why adopt a Trial Guidance Methodology?

Current capability gaps in crisis management

The Trial Guidance Methodology is designed for crisis management practitioners as it facilitates the investigation of innovative solutions. The TGM provides step-by-step guidelines on how to assess solutions in non-operational contexts (such as a trial) through a structured approach. The methodology consists of three phases: preparation, execution and evaluation. The preparation phase results in a trial design with multiple elements that are meant to be applied and executed in the second phase. The execution phase terminates with the running of the actual trial through the simulation of the pre-defined scenario, the deployment of potential innovative solutions and the collection of relevant data. During the third phase, the gathered data is processed in order to assess and analyse the real impact of the innovative solutions.

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Figure 2: Trial phases and their steps

Trials for STAMINA

The defined trialling phases have proven to be valid to investigate innovative solutions under simulated crisis conditions, by gradually adapting them to operational constraints. The process has also created acceptance among users through their active involvement and decision-makers have seen that they are cost-effective. It was therefore decided to use the Trial Guidance Methodology as the foundation for improving pandemic and crisis management within STAMINA. The knowledge accumulated will be used to design realistic trials which are to be performed within the project.