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Commentary

Second National Conference on Societal Resilience: Part 2

Day two in Manchester at the Second National Conference on Societal Resilience, hosted by the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+] has explored the themes of Whole of Society Collaboration, VCSE partnership, the future of resilience and the next steps for the NCSR in collaborating for societal resilience, with guest speakers Duncan Shaw, David Norris, Anna Pashley, Tony Hanson, Mandy Mackenzie, Marcus Oxley F.ISRM, Caroline Field, Jack Snape, Emma Barrett, Robert Bell, Chris Scott, Róisín Jordan David Powell, Andrew McClelland.

 

The role of social value and hyper-local collaboration

We heard some truly fantastic examples of small-scale local initiates that have huge impacts, from the fire service working with GPs in prevention to alleviate system pressures. To the overwhelming impact that charity shops have at the heart of our communities and the enormous social value these return – some £75.3bn to be precise, where every £1 invested generates £7.35 in social value. This led to much discussion on measuring value, return on investment, the dividends of resilience, and new approaches to KPIs. Now, this, for me, was indeed quite shocking as a figure. The figures and facts presented by Anna Pashley in the report are genuinely inspiring! I certainly embrace the idea of charity shops being the keystone of the modern local community, as a hub delivering so much more than second-hand goods; this truly inspires me, given the enormous environmental synergies they also bring.  

 

On social value, an exciting point was made much later in the day by Sandra Hamilton, an expert in government contracts, who raised a critical point that there's an enormous strategic opportunity if the resilience agenda aligns with the social value in public procurement. Initiatives: A £400bn annual spend in this area is waiting to be tapped into, which can help drive more coordinated efforts in societal resilience. Driving value through new intelligence-based approaches is ultimately a synergistic win-win for all parties. I am excited to see how this concept of social value can be aligned with resilience to demonstrate a return on investment over the next year and translate this into mainstream practice.

 

This aligned well with the panel discussion on collaborating for the whole of society's resilience, showcasing some iterative examples from Hartlepool where to use the old mantra – where at first, they didn’t succeed - they stopped, paused, pivoted and adapted to try again – now for me, this shows learning in action, and reflective practices that aren’t afraid to fail, learn and iterate. Demonstrating what humble leadership should look like. 

 

Insights from international practices - getting ahead of risk 

We were also given insights into the international perspective from Marcus Oxley, former head of GNDR, the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction. The transferable lessons from this were on a systems-based approach to strategic risk management.  Using risk-informed planning and development, that takes us upstream of risk creation to facilitate prevention policy and activities.  In the UK, how can we apply this in practice, and what could an LRF or a CRO do to facilitate this? For me, it would be ensuring policy alignment, synergy and coherence, ensuring that Asynergies do not manifest through silo policy-making to perpetuate this cycle of systemic risk creation at the hyper-local level. It brings this back to local-level planning and development, neighbourhood planning, local plan-making, place-making, and community building. I hark on about this a lot because it’s a great passion of mine and a point of frustration as a massively underused capability.

 

Generic approaches to resilience 

Marcus Oxley and numerous others speak again, raising the issue of risk and threat agnostic capabilities, generic resilience of people, places and spaces, generic preparedness, basic needs, capacities, and capabilities that can meet the range of potential shocks and stresses that individuals and communities may experience. Something I would very much like to see more work on, and reflecting now, this point was again made later in the day when discussing consequence management, consequence, and impact-based approaches. A key point was made that most of the time, the impacts will be broadly the same, the effect and consequences to people and the community will be broadly the same, and the basic needs that must be met will be largely generic with that in mind efficiencies may be had in reducing the number of plans and adopting more agile capabilities that are generic based on consequences.

 

Generic approaches and public communications 

On this theme of generic preparedness, the topic of a national website, government leaflets and public risk communications was an area of great debate over the two days, with Mandy Mackenzie at the Cabinet Office Resilience Directorate discussing the government plans for a new national website for warning and informing, which will also host a volunteer index. Quite rightly, this received some pushback about reinventing the wheel and not maximising what already exists. Mandy assured that the Government would work to dock into such existing solutions. I raised the question regarding the national website platform; Lincolnshire LRF used Innovation Funding to develop a new national approach to public comms, developing new standardised branding for LRF for local adaptation, a new national-level website platform that can host all LRF child websites within it. A solution already bought and paid for by the Cabinet Office that has been iteratively designed and informed by local communities. For those interested, please check it out here. Warwickshire LRF is now also being on-boarded into this model. When I chaired the NCSR strategic comms group, there was strong consensus for a standardised approach to warning and informing in preparedness: one brand, one message, locally adapted for maximising resource efficiency. Populations are transient these days, and if LRFs want to be taken credibly by people and communities, they must have a consistent presence and brand. So, when Mrs Miggins moves from Cornwall to Northumberland, she will know and recognise how to engage with local risk issues and receive trusted risk communications. Lincolnshire has received further innovation funding to continue developing this website and enhance its offering to local communities with live mapping capabilities; LRF’s Public Information Map (PIMap) and the Volunteering sign-up connected to the Ready for Anything Scheme, developed with the support of Ready for Anything North Yorkshire. Overall, these are just some examples of excellent innovations that have taken place across LRFs. Everyone in the room is keen to ensure that such efforts are used as effectively and efficiently as possible through a collaborative approach to delivering societal resilience.

 

Collaborating through the VCSE partnership 

Our table discussion on the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Partnership raised some fascinating discussions about the fear of phantom capacity. What we mean by this is the reliability of the VCS. This is a legitimate fear from statutory responders who are acutely aware of the voluntary sector's pressures regarding resourcing, funding, and the general workforce, specifically as the cost-of-living crises persist.

 

Our table raised the point around ‘match teaming’ – in systems thinking, this is about continuously re-evaluating the existing system and its components and restructuring it to meet current needs. We know our sector is good at this dynamic and agile approach during response times. It’s an embedded skill to identify and activate the right partners to collectively problem-solve specific issues as they emerge in response and recovery. The issue is how we apply this to BAU to deliver societal resilience, ensuring we partner with purpose and zoom in on specific issues while maintaining that strategic overview of the system and its interrelated parts.

 

Building adaptive capacity to future complex risk

A key point raised by the VCS was how many LRFs are developing capability matrices and how we ensure that capability insights remain dynamic and not static on an asset register. How does such an ‘asset’ register reflect the broader capabilities that partners can bring regarding skills, knowledge, networks, and capacity? One day, I hope to see an interactive live dashboard of capabilities that offers real-time insights that can be used in day-to-day resilience operations and emergencies.

 

Combined, what all of this has done is bring it back to the theme of building adaptive capacity for all shock and stress, a subject of the afternoon panel discussion where we also heard from Caroline Field on what is needed to deliver WoSR and what will be expected from a CRO, the key takeaways being the need for:

 

1.       Effective leadership

2.       A shared community vision

3.       Empowered communities

4.       A culture of resilience

5.       Systems approach


This led nicely into a presentation by Jack Snape, Head of Foresight at the Government Office for Science. He outlined the new approach to chronic risk management and how it will relate to the acute risks within the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) and its public-facing National Risk Register (NRR). Both of which are developed from a likelihood/impact-based assessment approach. The contrast here is that chronic risk must be treated differently as it's pervasive and persistent. It uses a scenario-based development pathway and policy impact-based approach, commonly called DAPP ‘dynamic adaptive policy pathways’. This is something I am a real fan of and brings in some exciting other novel approaches like serious gaming. If anyone wants to know more about this, I suggest reading Proposing DAPP-MR as a disaster risk management pathways framework for complex, dynamic multi-risk. For me, these have the potential for leveraging real-time impacts in decision-making when capturing complex interactions, trade-offs, and synergies. Several Horizon 2020 projects are working in this space, most notably MEDIATE EU, which is developing decision support systems for multi-hazard risk management. A critical testbed for this is Essex County Council here in the UK.


Overall, I am excited to see what comes from adding this chronic risk-based approach and its practical, pragmatic, and proportionate application to local risk management. The critical questions here are: to what extent will this capture the local systemic issues that everyday people are dealing with and be able to address the root cause of these; how well will the national version of chronic risk align with local chronic risks, like rising youth crime and violence, inequality, local environmental degradation or the erosion of social services. Questions I wonder are how well these approaches can be used to assure policy coherence at local and national levels and to what extent these technologies can account for thinking the unthinkable and exploring the use of digital twins for running counterfactual scenarios.

 

What’s next for societal resilience 

On the final day, we discussed the next steps for the NCSR and Societal Resilience. Here, themes like equality and diversity came to the forefront, getting to the heart of the 20% and ensuring that everything we do ultimately benefits our end users, target audience, and the communities we wish to empower. A suggestion was to create a focus group of representatives to use as a basis for RED-teaming, stress-testing, insight and accountability to ensure the outcomes match the needs.


Another key theme was future workforce succession planning and organisational and sector resilience. The ongoing development of the resilience academy offers an enormous opportunity for future skills development; how can the sector influence this, and how can we give communities a voice in shaping this if it is to serve the whole of society's resilience? Alongside the emerging Resilience Academy, there was a lot of buzz in the room about the new resilience and emergencies degree apprenticeship and its role in standardising, professionalising, upskilling and securing future talent.


The final point was around the theme of partnership and representation: Who is still not present in the room, who needs to be, and how can we close these gaps by strengthening relations with other sectors like business?


This event has brought people together and facilitated knowledge exchange, peer-to-peer learning, idea creation, and partnership formation. Something we have all been saying is essential to delivering this shared vision for societal resilience. For me, this annual conference has become a cornerstone for enabling those in the sector to do this collaboration. So, fingers crossed for 2025!

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