Ten essential insights for resilience

From analysis of our learning to date, The Resilience Shift has identified 10 insights as being what really matters in creating a shift towards more resilient infrastructure. These interrelated ideas, captured from research, industry interviews and convening activities, inform every aspect of our work. We know what resilience looks like – the characteristics of resilient systems such as redundancy, resourcefulness, flexibility etc. These insights are about what matters to create a shift in practice.

Managing deep uncertainty

Managing deep uncertainty - mitigating known risks and being able to respond to and recover from those risks we cannot predict or avoid.

Why it matters?

Resilience encompasses the need to mitigate those risks we know about, but also to be able to respond to and recover from those that we can’t predict or avoid. With climate change increasing the potential for tipping points, alongside increasing systemic complexity and vulnerabilities, we are learning that the past is no longer a good predictor of the future.

There is a need for ‘dynamic, resilience-based design approaches’, that are a response to deep uncertainty. From our work, we have learnt that emphasising the importance of recognising and managing deep uncertainty is a clearer and higher-level way to articulate these concepts. A similar message, about the dynamic nature of resilience, as challenges and objectives shift, is picked up in the National Infrastructure Commission’s resilience scoping study (NIC, 2019).

Deep uncertainty underpins the move from traditional risk management to resilience. In order to model and mitigate risks, they need to be able to be assessed and modelled. This is not always the case in our complex and uncertain future. It is really important to articulate this clearly for practitioners, from government to finance to design, operation and management. Using stories and case studies to support it can help to transfer some of the theory into practice – deep uncertainty can be a difficult concept to communicate.

The challenges of leadership during a time of deep uncertainty have been captured through our work on Resilient Leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Transfer knowledge between sectors

Transferring knowledge between sectors - there are many benefits to sharing lessons widely between sectors and countries to help achieve a positive impact faster.

Why it matters?

Many Resilience Shift activities to date have focused on one sector, or one geography, but lessons emerging (including these 10 insights) are not generally sector-specific. There are multiple benefits to sharing these lessons widely between sectors and countries, not least that we avoid reinventing the wheel as we move more deeply into other sectors, which should help us achieve impact more quickly.

More importantly, we know that a common understanding, of what matters for resilience, within and between sectors, is important for whole system thinking.

If every sector and every country approaches its resilience challenges in isolation, then fragmentation will continue to be a barrier. The Cape Town Day Zero learning resources, although emerging from a water crisis, has lessons for all those dealing with resilience challenges across sectors and different scenarios. Similarly the Covid-19 crisis is demonstrating how interconnected our infrastructure is with the humans in the systems, and that a cross-sector response is required.

Whole-system thinking

Encouraging whole-systems thinking – looking beyond the boundaries of any system where external factors may also have a negative impact on its function.

Why it matters?

Resilience needs the whole system to function, not just individual assets within the system. This means thinking about not only different technical components of interconnected systems, but the humans in the system, the decisions they take and its natural environment. This thinking takes into account the complex nature of a multi-modal transportation system rather than simply a road network.

‘Safe failure’ of individual assets may be acceptable when a whole system approach is taken. Investment decisions are typically made for individual assets, which is a barrier to taking a wider view that the loss of one asset may be acceptable in the short term for the continued function of the overall system. We note the inception of the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (CCRI), where the role of an asset within national system level policies has been identified as relevant, as well as the resilience of the asset itself. One challenge is that very few organisations have a remit to take a whole system view. As we learned in our initial agenda setting research, boundaries are there for a reason, and more work is needed to demonstrate the value of a whole systems approach for everyone, not only for the end users of a system.

Safe, resilient and sustainable

Becoming safer, resilient and more sustainable - the Resilience Shift focuses on holistic solutions that will enhance safety, are resilient to known and unknown hazards, and align with the principles of sustainable development, for example in terms of resource use and emissions.

Why it matters?

A lot of our engagement to date tells us that whilst many different people are interested in resilience, they are often coming to it from different routes. This is explored in one of our early blogs about the journey to resilience. There are solutions that can enhance safety and resilience, such as those employed in safety-critical industries, that are not driven by sustainable development principles. Conversely, focusing on the long-term outcomes for the planet and society, does not automatically enhance the safety of our infrastructure systems today. At the Lloyd’s Register Foundation international conference in 2019, a representative from the UK’s Health and Safety Executive noted that safety pioneers don’t yet have a Greta Thunberg equivalent, which left the feeling that the two issues are in conflict.

We believe there is a sweet spot, and some compelling case studies (see our resilience 'success stories' on ICRG India, Washington, Itaipu Dam) that demonstrate that all three can be delivered, and these are the interventions that the Resilience Shift should be promoting. The climate crisis is one of the most visible ‘entry points’ to the need for resilient infrastructure, and we should be promoting solutions that not only enhance resilience to the effects of climate change, but also do not contribute further to its causes (blue-green infrastructure rather than ‘grey’, and all forms of 'nature-based solutions').

We note the publication 'Sustainability and resilience for transformation in the urban century. Nature sustainability' by Elmquist et al., 2019, that highlights the intersect between sustainability and resilience, showing that not all solutions achieve both attributes.

Engage the whole value chain

Engaging the whole value chain – increased resilience at every step of the value chain clearly shows what matters to whom, and that resilience is important to everyone, but for different reasons.

Why it matters?

In our engagement to date, we have talked about how it is essential to work across the value chain and this is articulated on our website. It has become an important element of how we communicate and plan and deliver our work.

Communicating across the value chain for an infrastructure asset or system lifecycle helps to clearly show what matters to whom, and that resilience is important to everyone, but for different reasons. It also helps us to focus when communicating the importance of resilience, on the resilience value for any particular audience group. By talking about resilience value, we are able to present resilience as a positive attribute. This paper curated by Dr Igor Linkov highlights the concept of resilience value.

Fragmented governance

Overcoming fragmented governance – this is a specific, tangible, barrier to a system being resilient, particularly in times of chronic stress or acute shock.

Why it matters?

This insight relates closely to whole system thinking, but merits its own section, because it is a specific, tangible, barrier to a system being resilient, particularly in times of chronic stress or acute shock.

The importance of overcoming fragmented governance is raised for example in the National Infrastructure Commission’s (2019) Resilience Scoping Study and the literature review and field studies for the City Water Resilience Approach. That it continues to exist in practice was confirmed for example in our engagement with the Ports Sector in 2018. Whether it is a simulated crisis (as in EARTH EX) or a real one (as in Cape Town: Day Zero), we have learned that shared scenarios can highlight where fragmentation exists.

Technology that enhances, rather than compromises, resilience

Adopting technology that enhances, rather than compromises, resilience - in adopting digital technologies in infrastructure systems, it’s essential to consider its broadest possible impacts to ensure that new vulnerabilities are not created.

Why it matters?

Technological or ‘smart’ solutions are visible in every aspect of critical infrastructure, from how organisations monitor and manage their assets, to how those responsible in an emergency event communicate with each other. This is illustrated through the 'Informs/Creates/Compromises' nexus for smart infrastructure solutions and resilience (after Cousins et al., 2017).

Our ‘lens’ for talking about technology should be to emphasise the importance of whole systems thinking and interdependencies in planning technological interventions. Often the driver behind the adoption of technology is not resilience, but efficiency, productivity or safety.

It is essential to ensure that these solutions do not inadvertently create new vulnerabilities, through for example increasing tight coupling, and that we do not create problems for future generations as we introduce ever more digital solutions into our infrastructure systems.  Our recent work on Resilient Leadership highlighted in the 'emerging insights' how critical the clever use of date and technology is during a crisis, particularly in providing real-time situation analysis.

Outcome-led approaches

Focusing on outcome-led approaches – thinking about ‘what the system does, not what it is’ will create the shift in practice that’s needed for an increased focus on outcome-led design, or performance-based design.

Why it matters?

Looping back to the first insight around whole system thinking, one of the important shifts in thinking for resilience is to consider the ability of the system to continue to function, rather than preventing failure of individual components within a system. This can be described as the need to focus on ‘what they system is for, not what it is’.

Traditional engineering design is typically reductionist, focusing on individual elements, and designing these for fixed thresholds. However, there is a movement now towards ‘outcome-led’ design, or performance-based design, which shifts thinking towards the ultimate goals for society, the environment or the economy. Outcome-led approaches are not new, but they are still emerging as a concept for infrastructure provision, see this or this example. The Institute for Asset Management adopts a ‘line of sight’ approach which is consistent with this.

Demonstrate the value of resilience

Demonstrating the value of resilience - improved safety and environmental benefits, along with positive outcomes for communities and the wider economy will help to underline the importance of long-term, holistic investment in resilience

Why it matters?

Building on the value chain concept, we need to do more than simply talk about the value at a high level for those who are planning, financing, designing, delivering and operating critical infrastructure. More work is needed to clearly demonstrate this value, through evidence, modelling, scenarios, and other tools and approaches.

There is emerging recognition of the importance of resilience (particularly to climate change) by those who are investing in infrastructure. The EBRD for example, launched the first $700m ‘resilience bond’ in 2019. A better understanding of the risks to their investments related to the changing climate is essential in order to unlock funding for more resilient infrastructure. In parallel with understanding these risks, a robust demonstration of the value of sustainable and resilient infrastructure is essential, because simply driving investment away from infrastructure, or away from the most vulnerable countries, is not our desired outcome.

Any articulation of resilience value needs to recognise deep uncertainty, and in fact, deep uncertainty is one reason why traditional cost-benefit analyses are not helpful in demonstrating the value of resilient solutions. ‘Threat agnostic’ investments can be demonstrated, through scenario modelling for example, to meet a ‘no regrets’ criteria.

The recent launch of the City Finance Gap Fund aims to bring resilience into funding decisions for infrastructure projects by clearly capturing this value early in the decision making and project specification process.

Guidance and standards

Developing guidance and standards - guidance and standards are urgently needed to put resilience into practice. There is a value proposition for curating standards, ratings and guidance and clearly articulating who these are for, and how they will help.

Why it matters?

This insight is intentionally described last, because the preceding nine insights need to be defined, articulated, and demonstrated to create the ‘right’ guidance and standards, and to understand the motivations of the end users.

From the early days of Resilience Shift it has been clear that guidance and standards are urgently needed to put resilience into practice. On the other hand, we have learned that a lot exists already, whether this is ISO standards for organisational resilience and city resilience (in preparation) or voluntary rating tools from REDi (highly analytical and quantitative) to the ISCA rating tool resilience module - see the ISCA journey captured on film.

Building on the work we have done in tools and approaches, we believe there is a value proposition for curating standards, ratings and guidance and clearly articulating who these are for, and how they will help. We are now working on a related Action Track as part of the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure.

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