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NCSR conference one week on, my final reflections

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Timely, topical and critically relevant. As many of us will be aware the 2023 IPCC ARG 6 synthesis report for climate change came out last week. Never has the message been clearer - Act now, before it is too late.

But hang on you might be wondering - what’s that got to do with this conference! Well for me it’s context and urgency. When we consider resilience the message from the conference was clear; whole system, whole cycle, whole of society - it is the sum of the many parts. It’s a complex solution, to a complex problem.

At the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+] Conference last week, many in the room were drawing the connections between local sustainable development, climate change, risk and resilience. Considering how their agencies could work with others, to reduce risk alongside their own system pressures. Demonstrating the ongoing paradigm shift on how we think about UK emergency management, disaster risk reduction and societal resilience. Moving the UK further into alignment, with global policy agendas for Disaster Risk Reduction.

For some these may have been new ideas, for others a point of frustration, and for others a case of new wine old skin - we have heard this before, it’s nothing new, it’s been done before! That’s entirely true. Just look at the ‘Big Society’ initiative back in 2010 and neighbourhood planning. A similar ambition - empower local communities to have greater control over development in their area. I lament, if only risk and resilience had been integrated then, imagine where we could be now!

But regardless, this is the first time I have been at an event, where there has been such diverse representation from the emergency management and response organisations. Where people are in full agreement with the purpose and vision of societal resilience.

For me, the conference gave me hope. Hope that this was the pivotal, long overdue turning point for UK resilience. Where we may be moving towards that point of achieving critical mass for momentum, across a variety of contexts and scales nationally to locally. However, concerns were raised over the course of the final day, that the NCSR work plan is due to come to an end this summer, as funds draw to an end. My concern would be that if the NCSR were to vanish in August this momentum could just as easily be lost again. Because for me, it’s the much-needed platform for collaboration. It is the glue that binds, inspires and enables. Additionally, the outputs will invaluably help shine the light on key areas and facilitate collective problem solving.

Reflecting on discussions made me think back to an earlier comment on the final day by Caroline Field that resilience is just a big exercise in coordination. But, doing this in reality - is about stepping back and taking a systems-based approach to see the sum of all the parts. In the context of whole system, whole cycle, whole of society, and using those principles - to take a holistic overview.

We can do this by broadening the scope of what we do now by finding synergies within the existing structures of policy and practise. By building an advanced understanding of stakeholders through in-depth mapping and analysis, and seek ways of matching needs and capabilities to fill gaps. Gaps that will directly contribute to resilience across the spectrum of community development. To the end goal of strengthening our social, human, economic and environmental capital. As Marcus Oxley pointed out socio-economic gains are there to be had in abundance. If we look beyond the rhetoric of ‘emergencies’ and ‘duties’ and begin to approach with communities through the lens of; a risk informed local sustainable development challenge. Then, we can affect change. Change, that can potentially tackle the root causes of risk, in a meaningful and effective way.

But the question is - on whose shoulders does this sit? A key point raised by Robyn Knox in the article of VCSEP reflections of the conference. I noted there was unanimous agreement from attendees in support of LRF’s having a chief resilience officer at the strategic level. But many discussions over the two days highlighted the need for LRFs to have a resilience coordinator, to create to enable delivery. But to go back to the question - on whose shoulders does this sit? The answer is all of us. We are, each and every one of us, outside of the job, members of ‘whole of society’ - too often we are quick to forget that, as we dissociate work life from home life.

At the conference I noted that the UK Resilience Forum continues to be promoted by central government as the intended ‘whole of society’ focus group on how we take forward national resilience. But in fact, as a sector, many would openly challenge that format. For example, the vast majority of participants at the conference, do not have any representation at that forum alongside concerns and criticisms to its lack of transparency. Formats like the NCSR+ on the other hand, offer a more meaningful and inclusive method of engagement and transparency. Where through its members disseminating, implementing and amplifying the key learning across partnerships, maybe then we can transition towards risk informed sustainable development.

Overall, I thoroughly enormously enjoyed this conference. I want to take the time to say a personal thank you, personally and on behalf of everyone there and everyone who will benefit from the outcomes of this. Thank you UOM and Duncan Shaw and everyone who was involved in putting this together and the guest speakers. What you have achieved here speaks volumes, I am certain this will have impact, in how we collectively, and individually take forwards the delivery of our national ambition, at the local level.

But I also want to add how truly very grateful I am to the Cabinet Office and the Resilience Directorate for attending and engaging with the NCSR formally - this to me clearly an unambiguously articulates and demonstrates what Colin Payne said – “central government wants to enable and facilitate sector led, local driven solutions”. The fact that you came, stayed, engaged, participated and spoke to as many of us as possible, has not gone unnoticed. This has done much to improve relations, and begin to re-build trust with central government.

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