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Is the system Resilient?

How can you see the difference between a Good Practice that is eminently suited for the system it is practiced within, and a resilient system that can adapt to new situations when they occur?

That was one of the questions that arose with me when I worked together with practicioners with deep knowledge about emergency response in the  DARWIN Community of Practitioners workshop in Linköping, sweden, last week. And in one of the work sessions my group worked on the deceptively simple question: «Is the system Resilient?». I was tasked with presenting the groups view in plenum, and this is my recap of this presentation.

In «my» group there were representatives from the Homefront and Ministry of Health in Israel, Aviation agencies from several european countries, a representative from Spain who had led the response to two tragic train crashes, and practitioners from emergency health response in UK and Sweden, and representatives from the military intelligence in Sweden.

Needless to say I was all ears and tried to resemble the mental equivalent of a sponge when hard won experience and knowledge was pooled into the discussion regarding the simple question «Is the system Resilient?».

After the session I was given the task of trying to summarize the wildly veering discussion into a semi-coherent presentation and present it to the plenum session. The following is the notes that I made for the presentation with 10 minutes to prepare:

Is the system resilient?

Resilience relies on the individual and how the individual reacts to an event in cooperation with others.

Resilience is dependent on which threats that are perceived as real.

Resilience can be built up to into, and across, a system- and organizational level through continous small-scale training in the scenarios that are thought of as likely in the context of the geographical and/or organizational environment of the individual.

For example in Israel, there is a high likelihood of rocket attacks. Which means that the Israeli institutions and communities are well prepared and able to respond effectively to mitigate the effects of rocket attacks, but are probably less able to respond with resilience in the event of a tsunami. An event that is statisticly speaking overdue to happen, but are outside what is considered relevant and likely by the communities at large.

Resilience disappears if the individuals lack trust in the institutions that are set up to supposedly have the capability to respond and handle a crisis.

If however the institutions are able to do their function well, trust is not only maintained, but will grow.

This growth in trust can lead to an increase in resilience. Because when you can trust in that other actors can do their job well, you can focus on your own part in the response, instead of worrying about the capabilities, or lack of, of actors you must rely on to be effective.

This creates space for the individual and small teams to be adaptable to the on the ground situation, which compensates for possible brittleness in the system when something unexpected happens.

Resilience is thus about building a community of trust.

Trust in that «I» as an individual are and feel capable of doing «my job».

Trust in that other cooperating organizations can do theirs.

Trust is built through cooperation and training over time.

Lose the trust, and you lose the resilience.


To read more about the Darwin project and its work on creating a guideline on how to build resilience in organizations, please visit their website: https://www.h2020darwin.eu/

For more about the workshop: https://www.h2020darwin.eu/news/project-news/84-darwin-workshop-march-2017

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