ECS: crisis management and governance issues

International affairs, Public policy, Communications & Marketing issues from an innovative perspective

The geopolitical scenario and global business world is changing so rapidly that the skills we so confidently showcase on our resumes may no longer be as relevant as we think.

What skills should we prioritize in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, and agile world that has been radically reshaped by COVID-19, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations, and a groundswell of demands for social justice?

We should actively manage cross-cutting issues to research, identify solutions and implement product enhancements / fixes while being up for an interesting challenge, so below it is a list of the top 10 skills, both ‘hard skills’ and ‘power skills’, also known as ‘soft skills’, that project professionals probably need to cultivate in the third decade of the 21st century. Caveat: The perennial “iron triangle” – budgeting, scoping, and scheduling – are a given, so they are not on this list.
Image credit: bcm. PMO & Its Role in IT Organizations
Image credit: bcm. PMO & Its Role in IT Organizations

1. Communication
Project / Programme Managers, External Affairs, and International Business Development professionals today are answerable to a wider range of internal and external stakeholders than ever before. This is particularly true on ESG initiatives or on projects where ESG considerations are a factor. Project leaders need strong multilingual written and verbal communication skills to effectively engage stakeholders and the political acumen to navigate a wide range of disparate and often conflicting interests.

2. Leadership
The old saying that “leaders are born, not made” simply is a fallacy. It is now clear that leadership skills can be learned and are essential for successful Project / Programme Management. And leadership is more than the ability to run meetings and generate good leads. Authentic leadership requires self-awareness, humility, empathy, and the ability to rally your team around a vision and a purpose.

3. Risk Management
Like everything else these days, risk management is changing. It is no longer just about weighing immediate project-related risks but assessing potential hazards in the broader enterprise and in society as a whole – think of the Pandemic process. A lot has been said about how we live in a VUCA world – full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Risk Management methodologies provide project leaders new tools for not only identifying and evaluating risks, but for mitigating and managing them.

4. Visualization (WPS methodology)
Did you know that 80 percent of our brain is dedicated to visualization? It is hardly surprising then that visualization is such a powerful tool for problem-solving. In fact, visualization is at the heart of the Wicked Problem Solving (WPS) methodology. In a world of growing complexity, visualization makes it easier to express and clarify ideas, organize information, and collaborate and communicate.

5. Data literacy
Data powers business these days. It underpins nearly all major decisions and is increasingly our most important asset. Project /Programme professionals must have at least a basic understanding of how to access and manipulate data. Even more important, they must be able to extract meaningful insights from data and communicate those insights confidently.

6. Intellectual curiosity
This may be a more surprising one because we do not always think about it as a skill that can be learned. But in a professional framework as fast-paced as ours, intellectual curiosity is a must-have. We not only need the ability to adapt, but the desire to understand how the cross-cutting teams we should be working with are in continuous change. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Zers’ understand this intuitively. They have grown up in a world of rapid and constant technological change and exemplify what it means to be lifelong learners.

7. Crisis Management (seasoned with stress)
I understand of Crisis Management as a two-tier skill: we need to practice it in our own lives and project leaders need to foster it amongst their teams – especially in the wake of COVID-19, which added significantly to worker stress levels. The key is to learn how to de-stress while approaching a crisis management scenario, whether that is through a physical workout, meditation, or just downtime with family.

8. Objectivity
To see the world as others see it is perhaps the most difficult skill of all to master. Project leaders and other professionals must be open and receptive to feedback and especially diligent in gathering and understanding different points of view. Only then can we begin to form a more objective view of our work and how it will affect a diverse set of project / business stakeholders.

9. Flexibility and Adaptability
We knew its importance before, and COVID-19 reinforced it. We need to maintain this same nimbleness of mind and ability to pivot in our day-to-day world. A willingness to embrace new technologies, new methodologies and new ways of working will always leverage a strategic proposal to materialize into a successful project.

10. Corporate and IT transformation
I should end on a very specific skill, but one that I think is emblematic of the kind of change we will see and skills we are progressively. The citizen development movement – the ability of non-IT-professionals to use ‘low-code/no-code’ tools to develop apps and software to solve everyday problems – is a democratizing force in our world. It is empowering not just project professionals, but professionals of all kinds to accelerate change, drive business results and make their lives just a little bit easier. It does create challenges, of course, and the companies and organizations that are adopting this form of “hyper-agility” need to be ready for an enterprise-wide cultural transformation.

Once the new decade has recently been released, it is time to do a quick 'follow-up' to Rio+20, specifically the bridge which engages the sustainable development goals (SDGs) established by the European Commission (EC) and the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) to smartly implement the new global sustainable development agenda (2030 Agenda).

Report of the expert group 'Follow up to Rio+20, notably the SDGs'. Source: European Commission
Report of the expert group 'Follow up to Rio+20, notably the SDGs'. Source: European Commission
On January 2019 an independent expert group shared some recommendations -both in terms of general policy orientations and concrete areas of engagement- for EU STI policy to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Europe and beyond, as well as for possible engagement in international initiatives concerning STI. It recommended the EU to capitalise on its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which is seeking to invest more than 60% of its budget for sustainable development and is fully open to international participation.

STI policies are fundamental to take economies and societies onto a sustainable path. Given the expected high costs of transition, policies need to be carefully designed, using available scientific evidence. The use of evidence for policy making is often taken for granted, but the practice is often far from this principle. To increase accountability of European institutions vis-à-vis stakeholders and citizens, we consider a must for the European Commission to practice such a principle, improving existing tools, also with the help of new available technologies -i.e. expanding the coverage of the newly developed 'Knowledge Centres'. Moreover, the EC should push other countries, especially developing countries, to adopt a similar approach. (1)


To ensure remaining on the right track, once the objectives on aligned policies are set, an efficient and effective evaluation framework is required. The framework should be elaborated considering indicators on both STI4SD earmarking or expenditures, as well as on non-financial/budgetary aspects. An evaluation scheme should be inclusively designed rather than top down, building on good practices that demonstrate how the evaluation process might benefit from the adjunction of the civil society to the “experts”, especially in order to select the indicators needed to evaluate progress made towards agreed goals.

Given the SDGs’ general frame and timescale, we have a fresh opportunity to elaborate in 2020 a truly ex-ante evaluation methodology that would make each stakeholder fully aware of the rules before taking any action. The process of elaborating, discussing and adopting the evaluation methodology of STI4SD policies should be, according to President Junker’s priorities, democratic,
transparent, fact-oriented, easily translated, relying on the integrity of data, fully accountable and open to improvements. Therefore, an evaluation scheme should not be limited or understood as a reporting scheme for accountability and transparency. Public policy evaluations are neither audits
nor inspections and control of a monitoring system of expenses. They are made to close the public policies feedback loop by issuing recommendations for success based on a multi-factor analysis, including qualitative aspects and management evaluation. Therefore, the evaluation process of STI4SD policies may deliver constructive outcomes under two conditions: a) elaborating on the hypothesis that a mechanism for conflict management between contradictory policies is set and efficiently implemented in due time within the EU institutions, and within the EC missions themselves as well; b) promoting the rise of a set of non-financial indicators coherent with stakeholders’ expectations (if and when expressed). (2)

As regards STI4SD policies evaluation, three main options might be considered:

Option 1: classical earmarking with a set of financial indicators for the entire duration of the programme (2020-2030);
Option 2: classical earmarking with a review on mid-term, for incremental improvements only, made by experts in budgetary matters;
Option 3: considering the evaluation methodology as an ongoing systemic assessment, dedicated to raising awareness and strengthening readiness for impact, including the mandatory earmarking of expenses, but not limited to it.

Option 3 is the only methodology open to be built with civil society. Considering the quickly evolving STI solutions in goods, process and services for SDGs, it would be wise to adopt a systemic approach along the third option, fact-based on a robust and long lasting dedicated observatory. This option implies an adaptation of the nature and quality of governance for STI4SD policies, instead of a classic, hierarchical governance. The implications of this choice are the acceptance of a double circle of expertise including lay but concerned people, and adapting indicators to citizens’ requirements.

For this purpose, the establishment of a permanent observatory of changes and trends in new, emerging and enabling technologies for SDGs is needed to help translating the STI implications for SDGs to decision-makers and the widest possible audience, with a specific focus on technology, as science and innovation already benefit from international evaluation schemes. (3)

In addition, recognising that the current structure of Horizon 2020 cannot be changed, it could be effective to:

a) Expand the Horizon 2020 ethical framework to EU international STI4SD initiatives. While, according to the Regulation for participation in Horizon 2020 (4), the Commission systematically carries out ethics reviews for proposals raising ethical issues in order to verify the respect of ethical principles and legislation. In the case of research carried out outside the UE, such review is meant to verify that the same research would have been allowed within the EU. In addition to that, alignment of the Horizon 2020 tracking system as regards STI4SD should provide that also research proposed to support, strengthen and accelerate the positive impact on SDGs is subject to ethical reviews when EU initiatives are undertaken under the Horizon 2020 STI partnerships with non EU countries, in particular non-OECD emerging and LDC countries. Also, it was recommended to expand the mandate of the European Group of Ethics (EGE) (5) to cover STI4SD policies implementation and include the EGE in the new mechanism for independent scientific advice to the Commission;

b) Set up a grassroot surveillance framework for ongoing, systemic evaluation of STI4SD policies, implementing a reporting system based on agreed indicators and establishing a network of external watchdogs/whistle blowers for STI, to avoid missing important opportunities for Horizon 2020 and other existing tools;

c) Promote the establishment of non-financial Ratings Agencies in the field of STI4SD, similarly to what has been done in the Carbon Disclosure Project. (6) Some Agencies within the EU (known as Environmental, Social and Governance – ESG – Agencies) (7) have already implemented or proposed non-financial data and ratings, but this practice could be expanded, also using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as entry point. The 2011 Commission Communication on CSR (8) led to some initiatives that could be reinforced in the context of the 2030 Agenda, especially as the world of businesses largely contributed to its preparation and is working already on the adjustment of business reporting to make companies more accountable vis-à-vis the SDGs. Existing frameworks represent a good starting point for further development. (9)

In this context, it was also recommended to undertake a review of European standards agencies (10) as relevant stakeholders in the STI4SD European policies;

d) Include the Common Defence and Security Policy in the evaluation scheme of STI4SD success, establishing a link with the Consultation Forum for Energy in the Defence and Security Sector, which provides a platform for energy experts to discuss and advise energy policies in defence. (11)
Opportunity now: Europe’s mission to innovate. Source: European Commission
Opportunity now: Europe’s mission to innovate. Source: European Commission

1 Report of the Expert Group “Follow-up to Rio+20, notably the SDGs”, The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation Policies to Foster the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Brussels, 2015. Kindly check Section 4.2 General policy orientations, pages 27-28.

2 These indicators could be adapted to the four sets of SDGs chosen by the IAWG -i.e. “Global Commons”, “Sectoral”, “Cross-Cutting” and ”Overarching”.

3 Such as the OECD STI Outlook, which could be enhanced by a special chapter on STI4SDG policies, results and impacts, beyond the traditional “Patent and Publication” indicators.

4 Regulation (EU) n° 1290/2013 of 11 December 2013 laying down the rules for participation and dissemination in "Horizon 2020 - the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)" and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1906/2006.

5 Link

6 The Carbon Disclosure Project network and reports by sector: link

7 A list of ESG Rating Agencies worldwide was released by Novethics: link

8 A renewed EU strategy 2011-14 for Corporate Social Responsibility (COM(2011) 681 final): link

9 For example, the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), the UN Global Compact’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights implementing the UN 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' Framework, the proposals of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for integrated reporting, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the International Organisation for Standardisation's ISO 26000, the International Labour Organisation's Tripartite Declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy.

10 For example, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC).

11 Its aim is the provision of specific guidance for the military authorities on existing EU legislation and programs governing energy efficiency and renewables, and of proposals for improving the protection of critical energy infrastructures.

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