The main objective of a planned multi-year series of round-tables is to engage with senior-level practitioners, with expertise in the built environment, on the concept of critical infrastructure resilience. This first round-table with the Arup Fellows served as a pilot for testing the methodology for engagement. It explored how infrastructure systems might be impacted by a range of possible shocks and stresses, how various decision-makers will respond, and what the consequential cascading effects of those decisions will be.
The overarching objective of the round-table series is to provide the basis for cross-sector learning and collaboration. This will create a more informed understanding of interdependency, what is missing in governance frameworks and standards, and also seeks to identify measures that can embed resilient design into modern infrastructure systems.
Pilot event designers and facilitators
Dr Kristen MacAskill
Kristen is a civil engineer with experience in the water and transport sectors, and a PhD in resilience of infrastructure. Kristen now runs Cambridge's Masters Programme in Construction Engineering.
Professor Peter Guthrie
Peter is the first Professor in Engineering for Sustainable Development in the United Kingdom. Having held this post since 2000 after a career in industry, he now focuses on research.
Francesca is a civil engineer with experience in humanitarian aid and engineering for international development. Her PhD research looks at infrastructure and community resilience to climate-related disasters.
Marcus is an Associate with Arup's Foresight group. He is responsible for helping clients to manage future uncertainty by exploring medium to long term futures with a focus on strategy, foresight and innovation.
Catalysing the shift in resilience thinking
The funding for the Resilience Shift was established to respond to the absence of community cohesion in the business sector. This was with a view that currently infrastructure service providers are not communicating sufficiently between the sectors.
This round-table event made the concept of resilience accessible. It helped the participants to articulate resilience. It fostered practical suggestions of what might be done and what could be done to achieve the Resilience Shift and encouraged participants to reflect on the complexity within which infrastructure systems are planned, designed and managed. Practical examples were shared regarding issues of governance and design standards that form barriers to the adoption of resilience thinking.
There is currently little evidence of conversation happening in the private infrastructure sector about community cohesion. There is a need to get the right people in the room together to have a different conversation. This requires wider involvement of asset owners and policymakers, alongside planners and designers. The first Resilience Shift round-table provided a platform to facilitate more proactive discussions about the drivers and barriers of resilience.
Emerging thoughts from the pilot round-table
The round-table generated thought-provoking discussion that helped participants unpack the meaning of resilience in relation to critical infrastructure. A breakdown of some of the discussion includes:
How do we define critical infrastructure?
- Groups generally defined critical infrastructure as infrastructure that has the potential to impact life or death.
- Many believed that the level of connectivity of a system impacted how resilient that system would be.
- Others thought that critical systems were those that, if they fail, cannot be replaced.
- Critical infrastructure was deemed to include services that underpin society which, in their absence, mean society cannot continue at a normal level of functionality.
- Discussion revealed a tension in drawing boundaries around ‘physical’ infrastructure.
- One argument put forward was that the approach to governance of the systems and society is what is critical, not the physical infrastructure itself.
How do we design with resilience in mind?
As engineers, we could do more to consider a range of possible futures in the design process. By embracing a range of futures, the process of engineering design can be developed to improve resilience. Resilience-thinking was described as a means of planning for a much longer design life (or being smarter about design life of different components).
How do we bounce back from shocks and stresses?
It was suggested that it could become an industry norm to complete ‘stress tests’ to understand how systems react, and interact, in times of uncertainty. This could be supported by an industry-wide set of protocols on how to ‘bounce back’ from shock events (and just as importantly, plan more explicitly for a range of possible futures).
Next steps - further round-tables planned:
The round-table concept is an exciting and effective way to facilitate cross-sector collaboration. The forthcoming round-table series will provide an international platform for collective sharing and learning about the role resilience can play in the future of infrastructure. Subscribe to our blog to find out more.