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Commentary

#UKADR2024 Day 2 Part 2

The final afternoon of the #UKADR2024 Conference was the part I was most looking forward to. I enjoy learning labs and find them inspirational due to their emphasis on thought production, knowledge exchange, and interactive workshop format. As a participant, I prefer these over flash talks because they are active, engaging, and solution-focused. Learning labs also foster collective active learning. For example, the UKADR Funding workshop conducted in 2023 resulted in a white paper, ‘International Development And Disaster Risk Reduction Research: A UK Research Practitioner Stocktake,’ published in the International Journal for Disaster Risk and Reduction (Pelling et al., 2023). I am excited to see the white paper from these sessions and look forward to supporting UKADR and contributing to this again.

 

A Learning Lab for National Resilience Policy

 

I recently attended a Learning Lab session facilitated by Andrew Collins. The session focused on the priorities for a new resilience policy in the UK, explicitly considering future risks and minimising national and global disaster impacts.

Before delving into the session, it's important to consider my background and reasons for attending. I am a UK native, making this an inherently personal issue. As a researcher in multi-hazard disaster risk management, I have specialised experience in disaster risk reduction and resilience and UK policy. Additionally, I have practical experience as a former practitioner in community resilience. I am driven by practical solutions and focused on implantation-oriented outcomes. My goal is to address real-world problems and challenges pragmatically.


I found the session incredibly interesting. We discussed various themes, such as what we need to be resilient to, who needs to be resilient, and what resilience means at different spatial and temporal scales and levels of governance. We gained insights from international members who shared their reflections on what works and what doesn't in their national approach to disaster management and resilience.


Specifically, we discussed the need for the right architectural system to enhance maturity in the UK's disaster risk management and response capabilities. We also identified a need to apply business continuity planning to the civil contingencies system to reduce negative feedback loops undermining the system. To delve deeper into this concept, I recommend reading Terzi et al. (2022), which discusses negative feedback loops in the contemporary emergency management system, particularly regarding insights gained from the COVID-19 pandemic. This ties into an earlier point from the keynote session about the mature civil contingency systems and established governance structures in the West that were performing less effectively in the initial phases of the pandemic.


During our group discussion, it became clear that there is a need to incorporate international best practices and expertise into the UK context rather than simply paying lip service to the Sendai Framework. This point has also been highlighted in key publications by Pelling et al. (2023) and in the Independent Review of the Civil Contingencies Act published by the National Preparedness Commission. Notably, the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+] and Communities Prepared are organisations in the UK that effectively disseminate and translate international practices and learning into the UK context.

 

We must ensure that research is more accessible and implementation-focused at the UK level, reaching the right people to achieve the desired impact. This will lead to more collaborative, longer-term policy-research partnerships for policy/practice refinement. Additionally, we should make greater use of new and existing networks, including establishing new Resilience Hubs by organisations such as Groundwork and the British Red Cross in partnership with Aviva. Furthermore, thematic research hubs, such as the 'building a secure and resilient world research and coordination hub' called SALIENT, are also valuable resources.

The table touched on the boundaries of grand challenges, emphasising that resilience alone is not a complete solution. It could exacerbate existing disparities and reinforce broken systems. It raises the important question of whom and what we are trying to make resilient and for what purpose. It's crucial to ensure that efforts to build resilience are aimed at reducing risk and preventing the creation of systemic risks rather than maintaining the status quo or the current 'way of life' as defined by the government's resilience framework.  This discussion also highlighted concerns about roles, responsibility, accountability, and transparency, emphasising the need to ensure that burdens are not shifted without providing the necessary power and resources.


We also acknowledged the need for a comprehensive approach involving the entire system, cycle, and society to build a more resilient nation. However, we recognised significant barriers to achieving this, including a lack of strategic leadership and resources and the absence of a governing architecture for strategic resilience and disaster management. It was noted that emergency management and civil contingencies are often seen as only one part of the larger strategic picture and a lower level of disaster management maturity. The fundamental barriers to achieving this comprehensive approach are the perception of risk, awareness, and short-term thinking. This is connected to the concept of resilience, grand challenges, the difference between civil contingencies risk and resilience, and everyday civil society risk and resilience, and the need to align these two different worlds and their competing priorities in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment of poly-crisis and existential risk, where policy-making often appears nihilistic at best and maladaptive in terms of outcomes.


An interesting concept that arose from the adjacent table was the "polluter pays" principle, which ensures that new developments are held responsible and accountable for any risk they create. This principle leverages the planning and development process for impact analysis, risk prevention, and data collection on local risk factors.


The discussion also covered the role of decentralisation, responsibilities, funding, power, and capabilities at different scales and various models, methods, and approaches. Additionally, there were discussions on pilot innovations through the Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) and how to engage with them to facilitate learning, iteration, and upscaling.


I gave the question some further thought and settled on the following recommendations.


  1. Delve into the principles of the Sendai Framework rather than solely focusing on the targets. This approach will provide a clear understanding of the necessary competencies, capacities, and capabilities required.

  2. Assess the Sendai Framework's targets and critically evaluate the UK's performance in meeting these targets against the UK Governments National Resilience Framework and the National Resilience Standards. This assessment will facilitate the identification of areas of strength and opportunities for improvement through comprehensive mapping of maturity, capacity, competency, capability, and vulnerability.

  3. Consider the 2022 Independent Review of the Civil Contingencies Act released by the National Preparedness Commission. The recommendations provided in this review directly address the subject of this learning lab and offer an actionable roadmap based on substantial evidence drawn from literature and cross-sector engagement with a wide array of policy and practice experts.

  4. Reflect on the insights paper on DRG/UKADR released last year by Pelling et al. (2023) and determine which outstanding recommendations are pertinent to furthering UK national resilience. Additionally, assess how these recommendations can be advanced within the UK's resilience research context.

  5. Develop information capabilities for assessing risks at all levels within the UK. While significant progress has been made in advancing strategic risk insights at the governmental level through the Strategic National Risk Register, there is a need to enhance the dissemination and utilisation of this information, competencies, and capacities locally. Without addressing this issue, it remains challenging to ascertain what aspects require resilience and which entities are equipped with resilience. Information serves as the foundational element underpinning any future resilience agenda.

  6. Foster synergies and mitigate (A)synergies to facilitate mutually compatible policy-making and incorporate a comprehensive understanding of political trade-offs, mitigations, and consequences. Innovations in multi-criteria decision-making analysis and dynamic adaptive policy-making pathways provide novel scientific approaches to support evidence-based decision-making and enhance policy outcomes. Leveraging these methods represents a promising starting point.

  7. Identify existing policy levers that were previously overlooked and explore new mechanisms through interdisciplinary deep dives. Unexplored policy mechanisms, such as the national planning policy framework, local plan-making and neighbourhood planning, and expanding the scope of strategic environmental impact assessments or policy impact assessments, could serve as initial examples of existing policy mechanisms that could be leveraged to deliver on the ambitions of the UKGRF.

  8. Ensure robust contingency plans and arrangements exist, subjecting critical goods and services and their supporting infrastructure systems to rigorous stress testing. Guaranteeing dependable resourcing for emergency management and response, encompassing both physical and digital aspects, is vital to ensuring continuity without disruption.

 

 

Afternoon Oral Presentations and Flash Talks

 

After the break, these were followed by oral presentations and flash talks. The complete list of speakers can be found online on the conference page for Thursday Breakout Sessions: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/risk-disaster-reduction/ukadr-2024-thursday-breakout-sessions



 

The team delivered the presentation that stood out to me the most from the Government Office of Science. They focused on the role of Social Science in Crisis and Emergencies within the UK Government. The discussion highlighted the challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned from recent events. The team emphasised a shift in government trends from traditional, quantitative-driven scientific approaches to greater recognition of the importance of social science in providing deep scientific insights into complex problems. The government now supports this shift through a strengthened scientific research architecture that facilitates social and behavioural science to support government policy and decision-making. The team also presented recent breakthrough projects and work resulting from this new collaborative approach to science and policy, leading to the publication of various materials. I frequently use the following publications in my work:


 

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