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Commentary

Second National Conference on Societal Resilience: Part 1

A brilliant first day at the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+] Second National Conference on Societal Resilience, exploring the themes of #leadership and #StrongerPartnerships, with excellent guest speakers: Duncan Shaw, Michael Adamson CBE, Lesley Speedie, Nadine Travers, Naz Zaman JP MCMI, Becky Heginbotham-Blount Paul Phipps-Williams, Alex Sutcliffe, Kelly Smith, Joan Mc Caffrey, David Powell.

 

On the first day of the conference, we explored two critical themes: Leadership and stronger partnerships. This helped identify the key thematic trends required to build a more resilient society in the UK.


Setting the scene

The first session on leading in societal resilience was a poignant session that helped contextualise everything we do and why.


Now, something has to be said for context; this event occurred as the issue of stronger Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) is dominating many of the discussions around and outside the room alongside the emerging demand for the role of Chief Resilience Officers. Therefore, it is no wonder these themes were picked as the first and foremost issues for debate. An exciting presentation of perspectives, reflections, and insights was gained from the speakers over the day across a spectrum of scales ranging from hyper-local to regional (LRF).


Leadership

The first morning was a harrowing yet inspiring session that reminded us of the silent everyday crises happening in our streets, communities, and homes and highlighted local-level crises around youth crime and youth leadership interventions. It showcased the power of locally tailored approaches. However, it is clear that these crises have originated from decades of social erosion, inequality, and rising deprivation, which, combined, have undermined local communities and their capacities. Most disruptions and emergencies are always felt at the local level, beyond the four walls of an emergency operations centre. This set us up well over the two days, highlighting the need for a consequence-based approach.


Regarding leadership, several sub-themes emerged as critical to the big-picture framework: authenticity, humility, trust, curiosity, psychological safety, collaboration, partnership, and empowerment. New mindsets that embrace strategic systems-based change are needed, as they can create a safe-to-fail environment of continuous learning and iteration.


Partnership

The theme of strategic partnership was probably one of the most dynamic and controversial. A question commonly asked in the room was, “Whose remit?”. What is in the scope of an LRF, and where does it end? Connecting the dots between ‘hyper-local’ and ‘LRF local’ and how that works in practice. How do we integrate community development and resilience into emergency management, and is that even possible, or should it be the other way around?  How do we get upstream of risk creation and through risk prevention? Whose role is that and why should an LRF care? This brings us back to the local everyday crises and the 80/20, highlighting that the 20 are most exposed, vulnerable, and at risk, as well as those who will suffer disproportionately during an emergency.


And whilst the challenge may seem overwhelming when you take that holistic viewpoint, it’s a reminder that it’s not the job of an LRF to solve these issues directly. Still, there’s a clear strategic role as a partnership facilitator, connector and enabler. At the policy and planning level, this means maximising synergies through a coherent and sustainable risk-informed approach driven by local priorities. This brings the conversation full circle, thinking back to 2010 and the localism agenda as Neighbourhood Planning started to be conceptualised. Our conversations now eerily echo those in the decade before—local empowerment and local decision-making. Perhaps if we had smashed down a few silos previously, then we would be upstream of risk by now, delivering mainstreamed approaches to risk reduction and resilience through a community-based approach.


Many common barriers have also been highlighted, the typical being finance, resources, measuring value and maximising impact. The solutions were presented through the lens of collaboration and collective purpose. Matching needs with capabilities through various working relationships and processes to deliver in alignment for maximum resourcing and efficiency - in a nutshell – doing more with less through intelligent resilience, civic intelligence and socio-ecological approach to KPIs. I am acutely aware of emerging models like the six dividends of resilience and other existing KPI benchmarking tools like the Resilient City’s Scorecards used in Manchester or the Enhanced Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment. I look forward to seeing if and how these tools and methods begin to translate into practice.


Linking leadership and partnership to deliver a strategic approach 

The overall message regarding leadership and partnership is around the journey, the ability of the leader to connect authentically and rally others to build collective action towards a shared vision. Taking that partnership approach to delivery and using methods of co-creation and co-development, ensuring that it’s informed by local needs, leveraging this bridge between top-down and bottom-up approaches through a more horizontal and lateral leadership and management style. We are achieving this through synergy, empowerment and connectivity. Essentially, they need to have unrivalled stakeholder engagement and communications skills. Many might refer to these as soft skills, but perhaps we should now be referring to these as strategic skills.


Tied within this conversation were themes like resilient leadership, organisational resilience, and psychological safety. Conscientious self-care and trusted relationships ensure leaders have the emotional intelligence to know when to look after themselves and their team when exposed to trauma. Embedded within that was a call to action for any statutory partners who can share access to support services with your VCS partner organisations. This new approach to societal resilience is learning a new way of working in partnership with other non-statutory partners. Such partners bring massive front-line capacity and capability, and with it comes a responsibility to backfill their time, treat them as trusted and valued partners, and offer them the social well-being support services that all first responders should be entitled to.


What was also really useful during the day was the issue of being comfortable in discomfort, understanding that change is necessary and needs to be embraced, and being acutely aware that there will be resistance and, at times, a high degree of risk associated. But again, this is where practical stakeholder management skills come to the fore. Understanding who stands to lose and what they stand to lose and reframing the conversation to identify what stands to be gained. Because frankly, as many of us know, the existing model of business as usual is quickly proving to be outdated and no longer fit for purpose in a world of complex, compound and cascading risk. Fundamentally, the need has outstripped traditional capacity and capability; there is a gap, what Professor Duncan Shaw refers to as the resilience implementation gap.  This is where these preventative local initiatives become paramount, and these partnership approaches become essential.

 

Conclusions on leadership and partnership 

Overall, what is fantastic is this new challenge and change in style of thinking, which is translating into an industry that has long been stagnant in the issue of resilience. It is recognising that no one size fits all. This is a long-term collaborative iteration process with no off-the-shelf solutions, a marathon, not a sprint. That being said, if we think back to the 80/20, some key points have been made over the day around generic capabilities, threat-agnostic responses, and all-hazard approaches, all of which tell us there’s still work to be done in certain aspects for standardising and streamlining. Still, in other areas, more agile playbook tactics are required. The hope is that this will achieve a pragmatic solution-orientated approach that delivers coherence, synergy, empowerment, and capacity building to close the resilience implementation gap and build a more fair, equitable, resilient society.


The final takeaways from the day:

·         Be curious

·         Be humble

·         Accept you don’t know and you may not be the best placed to solve this

·         Ask for help

·         Empower those around you

·         Manage expectations, those of others and yourself

·         Remember it is not everything everywhere all at once

·         Partner with purpose

·         Trust and intent are everything


The underlying message is that society will come, society will act, and the goal is to empower and enable them to do so in the most effective ways possible to meet their needs.

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