Cabot Institute blog

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Monday, 24 August 2015

‘The Resilience Dividend’ – and the kind of thinking required to realise it

Way back in January I attended Judith Rodin’s lecture on resilience at the Festival of Ideas. I remember rushing through the door of a large lecturing theatre at Social Sciences Complex with my folding bike to hand and five minutes to go. Catching my breath, I came across a packed auditorium and thought that it might be impossible to seat anywhere but the steps, but thankfully I got seated somewhere at the front. I had heard of Judith, but never seen her speaking in person or read her work in detail, as it is not strictly speaking within my field of expertise. But Judith started conversing with the chair of the session and realised that everything she talked about made perfect sense for a computer scientist like me working on projects about future cities.

Judith apologised for ‘being a bit incoherent’ because of jet lag, as she had only arrived in the UK the previous few hours and had travelled to Bristol straight from London, but oh my, I can’t imagine how much more composed and sharp she is normally, if that was the case. I can’t even begin to recount the many different points that made perfect sense to me that she made that evening. But there are a few key messages that really stuck with me - taking stock of them below:

  1. Quoting Churchill (‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’), she emphasised on the learning that needs to take place after a crisis; an honest assessment of what worked and what not, accountability and preparation for the future. This is particularly important for dealing effectively with climate change as the experiences of large scale disasters, such as New Orleans and the Boxing Day tsunami among others, demonstrated.
  2. However, we must avoid the kind of bias introduced by the short-termism, usually associated with contemporary policies. Lack of funding, unwillingness to commit for the long-term to resolving climatic change and knee jerk reactions, mostly for securing short term political capital, have a biasing effect of usually responding only to issues concerning the last crisis. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for example a lot of people started avoiding having computer rooms and data centres in tall buildings and put them increasingly in basements; the results for such companies were obviously disastrous in New Orleans.
  3. Lastly, but by no means least, not only did she emphasise Systems thinking as a way of understanding and tackling complexity, but as a key way of thinking for realising the ‘resilience dividend’. However we define resilience, preparing for the future does pay back. In an era of efficiency drives and economic tightness, it is difficult to commit to funding the spare capacity, long termism and foresight that are required to build resilience. However, spare capacity does not necessarily mean idle wastage; the lessons from the sharing economy platforms show us how value can be realised from spare capacity anyway. But to understand this we need more study of the interactions and the interrelations, hence the Systems element in her argument.

For the interested reader, Judith’s book can be found on all on-line and high street book retailers. It’s fully titled ‘The resilience dividend: Managing disruption, avoiding disaster and growing stronger in an unpredictable world’, and you can find it at http://resiliencedividend.org/. There you’ll also find a collection of key stories from the book, about how cities around the world coped with and learned from recent crises (including. fascinating accounts from Christchurch, San Francisco, New Orleans etc.).

Listen again to Judith Rodin's talk below.




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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Dr Theo Tryfonas from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol. Theo's research focuses around cybersecurity and smart cities.
Theo Tryfonas

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