Engineering A Safer Future: from disruption to transformation

The Resilience Shift has long recognised that the future is not what we thought it will be and is full of deep uncertainties. Our work has sought to create a global conversation on that challenge, and the importance of embedding resilience into our systems now to prepare for disruption. At our core we believe in fostering collaboration on tackling the problems we will face, known and unknown.

2020 has turbocharged this work. The rapid and global impacts of Covid-19 and its consequences impact every aspect of our work and those of our network. Working with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and their grantees, we have sought to explore and learn from the impact of this disruption. Through the Engineering a Safer Future series, we have examined the consequences of this disruption for stand alone and interconnected systems as well as our ability to rise to the moment with transformative change.

Creating transformation from disruption

Together, LRF and the Resilience Shift have developed and hosted a series of conversations as something of an antidote to the online ‘noise’ that currently exists. Bringing together experts from institutions around the world, from the Royal Academy of Engineers to the National University of Singapore to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the round tables served to create a deeper conversation with emerging insights on the likely scale and permanence of disruption triggered by Covid-19. The format of the Engineering A Safer Future series allowed participants the space to connect, explore ideas and openly reflect on lessons learnt.

With the five sessions respectively focused on safety at work, public understanding of risk, data and information systems, education, and infrastructure, this series explored the impact of disruption and how it can create value through windows of opportunity for change, resulting in insights that can be shared across sectors.

It became clear that across many topics, including the state our preparedness for shocks and horizon-scanning practices, this current moment has shifted thinking and created opportunities as well as new challenges.

The value of diversifying the views heard on tackling those challenges, from within engineering to geographically to make sure the global south’s views are heard from in this moment, was a key takeaway. So too the view that across education, infrastructure, data and safety at work, a shift towards recognizing complexity and systems thinking is taking place on challenges that are here to stay.

Covid has changed behaviors and systems, not always by design. It has shown us that rapid change is possible when there is a collective will, and this is something we need to harvest. 

Covid-19: a dry run for other disruptions

The analogies that are often drawn in the media between Covid-19 and other existential crises are not just soundbites, they are real, and all of us have a responsibility to learn from this and to transform how we work.

For many of our expert participants, Covid-19, and the need for whole systems thinking that it has been clearly demonstrated, is a dry-run for changes we will need to make urgently in the face of the climate change which is testing every country and organisation. Embedding resilience into all systems therefore becomes even more important, so we can learn, build and, where it happens, fail safely without the catastrophic consequences we have seen with Covid-19.

By exploring the impact of disruption caused by Covid-19 beyond just the sectors we operate in, we have begun to shift the conversation from what the disruption is to where there are opportunities to create positive change in thinking and practise.

It remains a key part of our purpose to convene decision makers and policy makers to ensure that a shift in thinking doesn’t just stay in thinking but moves to collaborative action too.

Speaking after moderating the Engineering a Safer Future  series, Resilience Shift Deputy Director and Engineering a Safer Future moderator, Dr Juliet Mian said,

“We are extremely grateful to LRF and all our participants for setting aside the time to be a part of these conversations”

“I was delighted by the path that all of these conversations took, where we reflected on our personal and work-related challenges and lessons learned, but then rapidly pivoted to the opportunities for transformation that were perhaps more difficult to identify at the beginning of 2020.  There is evidence, both hard and anecdotal, that supports the importance of whole systems thinking, of recognizing complexity and of shifting engineering thinking and practice to be collaborative, diverse and inclusive.

My only regret is that we couldn’t meet in person.  However, we would not have achieved the diversity of participants had we tried to do that`’.

We are grateful to the following organisations who participated in Engineering for a Safer Future:

Lloyd’s Register Foundation

Royal College of Art

National Safety Council

Lloyd’s Register Group

Royal Academy of Engineers

The Welding Institute

Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge

eThekwini Municipality, City of Durban, South Africa

Alan Turing Institute

Open Data Institute

BLOC – Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration

University of York

Gallup

National University of Singapore, Institute for Public Understanding of Risk (IPUR)

Sense about Science

Coalition for Urban Transitions

Royal Academy of Engineers – Engineering X

American Society of Civil Engineers

Imperial College

 

 

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