Deloitte Partner and Social Impact Lead, Adithi Pandit, recently attended the OECD 6th World Forum in South Korea. After taking part in the ‘Building Resilience’ panel at the forum, she shares her thoughts on resilience thinking and key wellbeing issues for families.

“If wellbeing is our quality of life, then resilience is how secure that wellbeing is."
- Notes from the panel on 'Building Resilience', at the OECD 6th World Forum, 26 – 29 November 2018.

The panel on ‘Building Resilience’ brought together diverse researchers and practitioners from the field: Walter J Radermacher (Federation of European National Statistical Societies), Sarah Wade-Apicella (Global Education and Training Institute, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction), Igor Linkov (US Army Corps of Enginees, Carnegie Mellon University), and me, in my role as Social Impact Practice Leader, speaking on Deloitte New Zealand’s State of the State 2017 research on household resilience. The panel was moderated by the wry and witty Enrico Giovannini (University of Rome Tor Vergata).

Walter’s opening canvassed the broad field of resilience thinking – from the past 50 years of statistical thinking, through to the modern view of planetary boundaries. The key insight was that sustainability and resilience are inextricably linked. As we look to the future, we must consider sustainability an essential attribute of resilience, because we cannot have long term resilience if the system is in a state of gradual dissolution. Measurement has to take into account this ‘sweet spot’ on the doughnut of social and environmental sustainability.

Sarah focused on one end of the resilience spectrum: disaster risk, and the role of resilience in enabling a system to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from hazards. The globally adopted Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction sets out global targets for reduction of disaster risk and losses, with the emphasis on prevention, mitigation and management. The key insight was ‘resilience is what happens before the disaster, not just after.’ Sarah emphasised that while disaster brings to mind large scale natural or man-made events, in fact the framework encourages systems that are more adaptive to economic, social and cultural shocks.

Igor brought an engineering lens to his presentation, with a discussion on our mental models for resilience, methods of measurement, and applying network theory to understand resilience. He concluded that efficiency, risk and resilience do not always correlate, and that designing for one does not solve for the others. Centring resilience when designing systems, organisations or networks may mean compromising efficiency, and it is likely to require more adaptability to shocks rather than hardening of defences.

Finally, I closed out the panel with a discussion on household resilience. If wellbeing is our quality of life, then resilience is the security of that quality of life. Acknowledging the field of both personal resilience and infrastructural resilience are well canvassed, the Deloitte research focused on the lived experience of resilience for families and households. The key insight was that every shock is a household shock. Whether a large scale disaster, or the loss of a job, the impacts of a shock (positive or negative) will ripple through a household, and that household’s resilience is multi-faceted.

So how might a resilience and wellbeing lens help us create a new policy and design paradigm?

  1. Strengths based: resilience is like the immune system, both the components and interplay between them. Resilience thinking encourages us to invest in communities and connections, as the necessary buffers for households who undergo shocks.
  2. Systems led: resilience is complex and adaptive, more like an organism than a machine. Resilience thinking encourages us to recognise the whole system must be strong, including environmental, social, cultural and economic capitals. We cannot approach social and economic resilience without recognising the long term threats of climate change and ecological destruction.
  3. Preventative: too often the role of government is to be the safety net, and while this can be a trampoline, it’s often too late. Investing in preventative mechanisms that reduce the likelihood of shock is the proactive component of resilience thinking. Government agencies need to have stated resilience objectives that span well beyond electoral cycles, and can take an intergenerational prevention approach.
  4. Transparent and accountable: we do not have a shared language around resilience, and there is no accepted resilience index. Without measurability, it becomes impossible to hold institutions to account. A clear policy narrative and a definitional index would create the foundation for this accountability, and establish the social licence for resilience based design.

We had a fantastic question at the end of the session from Alan Kirman (New Approaches to Economic Challenges, OECD), who said: “The elephant in the room is the economic system we have accepted as given. Many of the shocks we are describing as exogenous (and therefore mitigating or managing), are in fact endogenous to the system – take for example the incentives of the financial markets which led to the last global financial crisis. How does resilience thinking deal with that?”

Each of the panelists responded in agreement to this challenge, and I closed off with the statement:

“Resilience encourages us to plan for the long run, to create 200 year plans with wellbeing and resilience as core principles. On that time scale, nearly all variables become endogenous, and we have the mandate to redesign the system as we see it. They say in the long run we are all dead, well maybe with resilience, in the long run we are all alive.”

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