‘Resilience’: A supersized idea for complicated places

I am preparing two new next practice synopsis papers for local practitioners of ‘resilience.’  The papers draw upon my involvements since 2002 with organizational strategies, programs, and businesses that have been establishing this new practice area. The first paper is posted here. RZ paper sept2016

In 2002, when some of us met to instigate what became the Resilient Cities Campaign of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the idea of resilience was pretty straightforward: how to better design and manage cities, and how to better support and organize communities to reduce exposure to catastrophic events, and to recover from them. The hazards of concern were of direct and immediate consequence —earthquakes, for instance. Their probabilities were understood, as were their associated risks, such as shoddy building practices, as in the Izmit earthquake of 1999.

Then, by the mid-2000s, the same hazards-focused approach was adapted to address lesser understood risk exposures, such as climate change risk, under the banner of resilience. A few years later, the scope of the resilience agenda was expanded further, altogether beyond that of disaster risk reduction, to place focus on the capacity of communities to adapt and bounce back from a wider range of challenges, such as the local decline of an anchor industry.

Even more recently, the scope of resilience has been expanded to consider the broad ability of communities to thrive. This ‘whole of systems’ framing is perhaps most influentially represented by the City Resilience Framework (CRF) prepared by Arup for the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program. Resilience, they propose, has to be understood as the enhancement of the overall performance of a system or city in the face of the full range of hazards and their compounding effects. In other words, the entry point into resilience has switched fundamentally from a focus on hazards and disaster risk reduction to a focus on performance. The CRF raises resilience to the stature of a new development paradigm in the tradition of modern city planning.

Such a supersizing of the resilience concept risks a loss to its practicability. Within this context, the first paper presents the logic of what I call a performance risk management approach to resilience. The approach addresses the practice challenges associated with the conventional, hazards-focused approach (e.g., as used for climate adaptation planning) and I hope also addresses challenges with the normative developmental approach as advanced, for instance, by Arup/100 Resilient Cities.

The second paper will address the issue of business case development for resilience strategies, with particular reference to the whole-of-systems approach. Perhaps the greatest challenge confronting both hazards-focused and normative (i.e., CRF) approaches to resilience/risk management is creating a case for rational economic actors to assume the added costs associated with managing:

i) long-term exposures (e.g., sea level rise)
ii) systemic risks (e.g., population health)
iii) collective risk exposures, say at the scale of a district, for which there is no corporate or even institutional liability (e.g., roadway flooding or currency exchange risks)

Many needed risk management measures will only attract resources if they increase the ability of enterprises and institutions to manage their current, often short-term risk management priorities — in other words, to increase their current business performance. The idea of ‘co-benefits’ from resilience investments is being used as a proxy for actual business case development, but the two are hardly the same. The second paper will summarize contributions by others to define the elements of a business case, and also draw upon TNP’s research to highlight some of the requirements for a real business case.

More soon.