Cybernetic Crisis Resolution in a Federal System – Insights from the Covid Pandemic


  • Markus Schwaninger University of St. Gallen, Switzerland


Crisis Management, Organization, Federal System, Covid Pandemic


This contribution aims to help improving the resolution of pandemic crises from a complexity stance. My focus is on federal systems, as these are particularly powerful in dealing with environmental complexity. Spanning five waves of the pandemic, over two and a half years (2/2020-2/2022), we studied how the Swiss Federation weathered the crisis. This unit of analysis has been chosen for two reasons: First, Switzerland has built an effective response system for coping with the crisis. Second, and more important, the form of state here is the federation, and the form of governance is democracy. Both are classical approaches to enabling the survival of social systems: Federal structure and democratic participation are the two pillars of viability.

This project concentrates on three research questions: (1) How is the management of the Covid-19-Crisis organized in Switzerland? (2) How effective is this organization in coping with the dynamics of emergency? (3) What lessons can be learned for the design of crisis resolution in the future? We apply the Viable System Model (VSM) as a framework for our study, elaborating a diagnosis and a design for coping with epidemic or pandemic crises. The VSM embodies the structural concept with the most rigorous theoretical claim. As a conceptual tool it is particularly strong for analyzing federal systems. The diagnosis and design we ae developing provides insights for mastering pandemic crises in the future.