Preparing for an uncertain future
Current approaches to designing infrastructure makes assumptions about the future and these assumptions often do not adequately acknowledge the uncertainty associated with the future operation of the systems. Our assumptions about “what are the chances” shape our thinking about the future and how we should prepare for it. We should be asking ourselves some deep questions: How do we plan well for a future that we can’t predict? What is our goal for the future and how do we do things differently in how we design for that today? The episode establishes broad definitions of risk, uncertainty and resilience – and how these definitions shape our approach to making decisions. It describes how we need to think about the future beyond placing probabilities on certain events happening.
Global issues, local action
Cities globally face common threats, but action requires local interpretation. Siloed responsibilities and lack of clarity over responsibility to manage various risks limits the capacity for cities to ensure safety of their communities. It also limits the ability to set and meet desired goals for how we’d like to live now and in the future. Resilience requires imagination of the possibilities each city may face across a range of risks and making decisions about how the community chooses to address them. This then influences the focus of policies and investment decisions, and the type of regulation needed to ensure desired outcomes. There is a parallel story in how nations come together to agree international targets that are then adopted into nation state policies.
Don’t wait for a crisis
Disaster recovery provides a “window of opportunity” to embed different development priorities and investment in resilience, but the opportunity is restricted by preparedness for a disaster and focus on the disaster that just happened (not the one that will happen next). It takes significant leadership, stakeholder coordination and funding to prepare for the future and respond when a window of opportunity arises (with or without a disaster prompting it). This episode explores the building of collective purpose and relationships to achieve this preparedness. It highlights the need to take responsibility and act now before a disaster happens, rather than assuming someone else will do it in the future.
Dr Kristen MacAskill, The Resilience Shift, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, hosts the programme. Dr Kristen MacAskill is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Engineering, Environment and Sustainable Development at the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge. She has four engineering-based degrees and before returning to a role in academia, Kristen worked for several years as a consulting engineer in both the water and transport sectors. She now specialises in systems analysis to advance approaches for managing risk and system resilience.
With thanks to Daniel Sharp and Sorcha Bloom Dunphy at SWR Media
This series was funded by The Resilience Shift.
Developed in collaboration with a team from the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge.
About the Project
Resilience Engineered is a three-part series on some of the most pressing challenges associated with 21st Century infrastructure systems development, with the concept of resilience as the underlying theme. The series aims to reach a wide community of stakeholders across systems and sectors to create a stronger, connected professional community for making more resilience a priority. The objectives are to:
- Demystify the concepts associated with resilience so that leaders and policy makers have a clearer understanding and conviction as to why it should be prioritised.
- Encourage individuals to think about how their decisions today impact future outcomes in service delivery, and to share best/emerging practice.
- Provide a learning reference point that is appealing to built environment and infrastructure professionals with varied experience and that is accessible around the world.
- Engage wider stakeholders in conversation about resilient infrastructure systems and to develop new networks of professionals from all stages of their career.
We encourage academics to use this material in teaching courses, industry professionals to engage with this as part of continuing professional development and for executive teams to reflect on the meaning of the content for their organisations and build the business case for resilience.
Do you want to host a screening in your organisation or for your members? Contact [email protected]
- Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand
- Dame Judith Hackitt, Independent Advisor to UK Government on Building Safety, Former Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive
- Don Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- Sir John Kay, Co-author of 'Radical Uncertainty'
- Lewechi Nkata, Master's Student, Engineering for Sustainable Development
- Professor Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, Co-Founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
- Tom Rivett-Carnac, Co-founder of Global Optimism, author of 'The Future We Choose'
- Dr Debra Roberts, Head Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit, eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa
Panellists Episode 1:
- Dr K.N.Gunalan, 2020 President, The American Society of Civil Engineers
- Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, OBE, CEO, The International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC)
- Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CBE, CEO, Royal Academy of Engineering
- Rachel Skinner, President 2020-21 Institution of Civil Engineers, Executive Director, WSP
- Brian Stratton, Head of Distribution Capital Delivery, Lead on Organisation Resilience, UK Power Networks
Panellists Episode 2 and 3:
- Dr. Wee Kean Fong, Deputy China Country Director, World Resources Institute
- Tony Gibbs, CHB FREng, Wind and Earthquake Engineer, Consulting Engineers Partnership Ltd.
- Naeem Hussain FHKEng, FREng, Global Bridge Design Leader, Arup
- Kerry Lunney, President of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE)
- Toni Dominique B. Madulid, Youth Advisory Council Member, WSP USA
- Brendan Moon, Chief Executive Officer, Queensland Reconstruction Authority
- Huda Shaka, City Advisor and Urban Planner