South Korean Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Apr 26

This study investigates how a complex social system can accomplish ongoing adaptation amid an unfolding crisis. While the existing literature on crisis management largely focused on designing systems that are robust to sudden jolts in an otherwise stable environment, we know little about the systems adapting to far-from-equilibrium conditions, where cascades of disruptions constantly play out. Research has found that systems can remain robust to sudden jolts by keeping small deviations from escalating and quickly restoring the system’s pre-crisis state. In far-from-equilibrium conditions, however, systems must continuously achieve adaptive reorganization, rather than restoration, because the environment is constantly changing in hardly predictable ways. Yet the current literature informs little on how this can be achieved. We address this shortcoming by unpacking the process whereby the South Korean public health system rapidly reorganized itself to effectively mitigate the initial COVID-19 surge. Our analysis reveals a process we call “negotiated enactment,” where actors in a complex system heedfully negotiate with one another to enable the system to act as a whole on emerging cues of the crisis. Such system-wide coordinated actions then deepen a shared understanding of the crisis and facilitate development of novel capabilities, ultimately leading to the system’s adaptive changes.

Kim, S., Lee, H., Yun, S., & Pak, Y. Unpacking South Korean Government’s Early-stage Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Preparing Manuscript.

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