Corona’s lesson to the world: the need for resilience
The climate crisis, resource shortages, social fracturing, economic disparities, natural disasters, and other events have given us plenty of reasons to want to steer society in a different direction. For years, we’ve seen different theories on how to best do this. Climate adaptation, the circular economy, transition theory, the bio-based economy, and other approaches compete for the same space and attention. Despite their important role and message, they are only part of the solution. As a virus outbreak suddenly brings the world to its knees, our priorities have become clear, and one approach stands out like a lighthouse in the mist: resilience.
We live in an increasingly fragile world, with growing inter-dependencies, and blooming uncertainties. In a time where uncertainty reigns, resilience focuses on our capacity to deal with the unexpected. It should be underpinning everything we do, from policymaking to city planning, from industrial production to healthcare management. The next big challenge may blindside us as much as this virus did; we simply do not know what the future holds. Only increased resilience — in our cities, countries, and global society — helps us face our uncertain future. We could be 100% circular, or climate-adapted, but if we’re not resilient to the unexpected, the next systemic global event will topple us over just as well.
Resilience isn’t a new concept. It’s not a branded ideology, not an AI software tool, or a guru-driven belief. It is a scientific, analytical concept, that determines the ‘survivability’ of a system. The concept of societal resilience has been around since the ’60s and is a well-proven and documented field. In the last decade, it has taken off. Here we’re talking specifically about ‘societal resilience’, and the best way to understand it is through complex systems analysis.
Resilience can be broken down into sub-components — such as connectivity, transparency, efficiency, and diversity — to better understand how parts of a system affect and interact with each other. There are experts all over the world devoted to complex systems thinking. Their tools, such as systems, networks, and causal loop mapping, can be applied to measure resilience. The open-source framework Symbiosis in Development (SiD) is a good starting point to work with the concept, as explained below.
Resilience is broken down into 9 core parameters in the Symbiosis in Development (SiD) framework. Documentation on these parameters can be found in the (free) SiD book on thinksid.org.
Understanding the different layers of resilience may be intimidating at first, but the truth is that it is used every day by architects, managers, policymakers, scientists, and engineers around the world. In fact, by looking at exponential curves on COVID-19 cases every day, and diagrams on intensive care bed distribution and such, we are all now more familiar with the level of abstraction where resilience plays out. For better or worse, corona provides the perfect exemplary case for planning for resilience.
For example, Germany has 32 IC beds per 100,000 inhabitants. The Netherlands has 8. While Germany was criticized by the OECD last year for being ‘inefficient’, this is now an enormous blessing for Germany and the Netherlands. More than 100 Dutch people were treated in an IC in Germany at the peak of the outbreak. A wonderful case that exposes one of the core fallacies of neo-liberal management that dominated the last 30 years. It does not take societal resilience into account but mostly focuses on efficiency. ‘Efficiency’ is a systemic network parameter of resilience that seeks an optimum, not a maximum. Maximize efficiency, and your resilience collapses. This is what happened in the Dutch healthcare system (and others). The Dutch drive for ‘efficiency’ at the expense of its total resilience has failed its healthcare system and the citizens that depend on it.
Examples like this are everywhere you look, from how we plan our cities, to food production, energy, essential supply chains, education, health, and related policies. The interesting thing about integrating resilience as a key measure is that aspects such as the circular economy and climate adaptation come in through a side door in the process of resilience analysis. However, this time, they are placed in relation to each other, and it is possible to indicate priorities between them. This means that resilience is a higher-level, overarching concept that can be used to manage layers beneath it, analyze, relate and evaluate them, and figure out concrete steps towards improvement.
It now becomes our challenge to start integrating the concept of resilience into our societal ambitions. And of course, as others have said many times already in the last few weeks, this systemic upheaval is the perfect opportunity to get our foundations straight. Adding resilience as the main KPI to all our major societal systems would be one of the best changes we could implement, for the sake of humanity (and our ability to thrive long-term). There is still a lot to develop, learn, and experiment within that department, but we already have existing tools to get us moving in the right direction.
Applied to your specific field, the Symbiosis in Development (SiD) framework helps you understand, manage, design, and integrate resilience. The SiD framework is free, open-source, and ready for implementation in governance, design, management, and planning. It also combines and helps to integrate aspects such as the circular economy, climate adaptation, and social justice. SiD places these in relation to each other, and the overall system’s resilience. While SiD extends beyond resilience, you can start by investigating its take on resilience specifically, and follow your interests from there. The main body of SiD is a free digital book to dive in deep, about 460-pages deep. There is also a quick guide that provides a birds-eye view.
There’s plenty there to get you started on your own, but contact us if you are in need of guidance. All SiD materials, books, and learning materials are freely available in digital form from the thinksid.org website. If we can together integrate resilience into all of our societal systems, be it in companies, institutions, or governance, we’ll be one major step closer to a truly sustainable, livable, and thriving world that can last in the reality we live in.