The announcement of the termination of the Pasteur Institute's main COVID-19 vaccine candidate dismayed the French. At first, it seemed relevant to attribute this failure to the endemic failings of France, a country frequently perceived as sclerosed by its cultural or systemic inability to encourage innovative initiatives and its poor access to project funding. The MEDEF thus evokes the case of two French talents who had to leave France to fulfill their projects abroad: Stéphane Bancel, the creator of Moderna, and Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca.
Then, on February 25, Emilie Lanez published an investigation1 disclosing significant internal problems which would have contributed to the failure of the Pasteur Institute. This investigation highlights a rat race between two researchers, Frédéric Tangy, and Nicolas Escriou. Professor Tangy warned the management that this rivalry was counterproductive, but the management preferred to let the two research teams each lead their own project: the Director of Communication justified the situation in particular by the fact that competitiveness is part of scientific life.
However, Emilie Lanez's investigation describes a situation that seems to go beyond what can be considered as healthy competition. She mentions, for example, stormy meetings or the disappearance of equipment requiring some work to be redone, and causing delays. Worse, the problem goes beyond a simple internal conflict, since Themis, the Austrian partner of the Institute was bought by Merck, which could hesitate to finance the search for a new vaccine as the Institute's image suffered: its internal situation has even been compared abroad to "a civil war in a kindergarten".
This case illustrates precisely one of the reasons that prompted IFREI to develop a cindynical second-order approach2 : in the field of prevention, one could legitimately expect that the actors involved would be able to reach a consensus and share the same vision of the organisation to be put in place in order to be able to achieve the objectives of the prevention operation that they must carry out. Experience shows that this is not always the cases, which has in particular often been observed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An important issue of prevention is that of operational efficiency: this leads to consider friction phenomena, i.e. the difference between what we have planned in theory, and what we manage to achieve in practice. This notion is inspired by Clausewitz, who defines friction as the difference between war on paper, and real war3 . The problem that immediately arises is that there may not be a consensus on "what is planned". In other words, those involved in prevention may not have the same vision of the ideal situation to be achieved, of the organisation to be set up to achieve the objectives of the prevention project: they have different prospectives. And it may even happen that they do not even have the same perception of the initial real situation, in other words that they do not have the same perspectives. These differences will make the prevention project the site of antagonistic transformation operations, which will undermine operational efficiency. This model is also valid for development projects or any type of project or transformation.
An important aspect of any situation is thus conflictuality, defined as its propensity to enable antagonistic operations to emerge: conflictuality is not conflict intensity, it precedes conflicts. The interest of this notion is to act upstream by reducing prospective divergences and disparities of perceptions which are the factors of conflictuality, just as the modeling of deficits and dissonances4 of consensual situations helps to intervene upstream of disasters to reduce vulnerabilities a priori, i.e. to forge resilience.
In the field of prevention, it thus appears that one of the first concerns must be to verify whether a situation is consensual: if this is not the case, there cannot be an efficient vulnerability reduction without prior conflictuality reduction. Conflictuality reduction, just like vulnerability reduction, is a prior war of attrition, requiring daily and relentless efforts. Such an approach would perhaps have enabled the Pasteur Institute to obtain better results and to better protect its reputation.
KERVERN, Georges-Yves. Cindynics: the science of danger. Risk Management. 1995, Vol. 42, nᵒ 3, p. 34