During and directly after a crisis, one may come with new insights. Change can come from the interior need for a new organisation and maybe a more practical approach. Or it can come from an exterior perspective to have a better view on the outside world. In the old town of Lucca, Italy, we walked along this piece of art.
Anno 2020, after and during the Covid-19, the need for change is obvious, in public, civic and business organisations. This is driven by internal incentives, related to:
Business continuity (for all products and services to citizen and clients).
Human resource management (towards a more vital, agile and flexible organisation, new roles or functions are needed).
Finance (finding new resilience and balance, tax and budget rescheduling, control priorities).
Information management (secure the new cyber world with home and on distance protocols).
Procurement (recheck suppliers and contracts in effectivity and continuity).
Cooperation (the need for co-creation and for new value driven alliances).
Strategy and policy (from ‘be better prepared’, ex post and risk approach towards a more ex ante, resilience, value and scenario driven way of thinking and acting).
Leadership and the C-suite (from delegation and top-down styles to true ownership of value and risk approaches, stewardship and serving styles focused on delivery).
Interface politics, elected council, governing council and management (from segmentation and fragmentation towards a more holistic approach of matters concerning citizens, groups and social issues).
Lucca has this beautiful house where new insights, reorientation and rebuilding actually meet perfectly. It is metaphor for resilience management. The house of public governance is expected to follow the owners of this house.
The world – in thinking in terms of resilience and considering society as a social-ecological system, is at drift. At least for public leaders and their civil servants it is the new buzzword. Resilience is in discovery and the status of exploration now. Resilience in itself is a deep and fundamental concept. It exists as mechanism long before mankind populated the earth. But for the most of us now it is a completely new concept. Maybe it is a psychological reaction, a gut-feeling, that back to basics is key and the search for arguments to improve present public governance is something elementary. There is something elementary about resilience, isn’t it?
Maybe it is wise to consider – to not start all over again and come in the sandbox of what resilience is and what it is not – to bring it close to the existing frame of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). This is actually about resilience. The first principles for these were defined in the 1987 Brundtland Report Our Common Future, developed from there via the Millennium Development Goals (Battersby et al., 2017) and agreed as a set of goals (17) and targets (169) for 2030.
Agreed though is very relative, because every city today is allowed to take his own route, with its own defined scenario pace and policy planning, with own personal perspectives of its public and business leaders. Every city is in principal free to act, without legislation, without obligation, without formal contract or agreement, without consequences, without accountability, without defined responsibilities related to final leadership.
The resilience as the total sum of feed-back mechanisms may potentially be embedded in the present social-ecological system of society, but the fact that all the SDG goals and targets in their actual status are structurally way out of balance (personal formulation, based on United Nations, 2019), showing significant deviations from the desired equilibrium, i.e. the optimum public value, suggests that it is not functioning as assumed.
Today’s society seem to be in a lower ecosystem status than we have declared ourselves as the ‘Belle Epoque’. It seems for many of us a far away over the mystic horizon picture, a dream scenario, a fata morgana. Nice but unreachable. We know (and see on the daily news) that we are not resilient – let us be honest – to tackle daily declines to lesser states of the ecosystem city and not be able to prevent, in some societies, to fall back to even the zero-state. Of course we may dream about, put hope in and give all our optimism (‘a moral duty’, Kant (1795)) in resilience. But the facts speak otherwise. The ‘ability to bounce back’ is relative or even absent.
Resilience is a nice word, suitable for politicians, policy makers and dreamers of far horizons. For those who have no food, no water, no freedom, for those who live in fear, in poverty or are completely lost in a war, it is an empty word. Less than that. It is a hole, in their heart. A missing link.
Jack P. Kruf
The SDG’s are best defined in my view as a call for implementing collective ‘clear conscience’ for our children and grandchildren It is intentional, a frame for good governance, a manifest for respect and a caring-for-the-earth-attitude and for true stewardship. Noble and pure. It is styled, but also highly segmented. How can 1 city manage 17 goals and 169 targets with governmental councils that have an average of 27 political responsibilities and with a constantly shifting accountability city landscape?
The network of cities do cooperate in all kind of ways. Necessary to come to results. No city can do this on its own. This have lead to a rich palette of excellent and above all inspiring initiatives and projects. But, there is one big but, the political landscape of cooperation in the city network of total 195 countries – with on average of 4 years between elections – changes every week. With the election frequency per country, state or province taken into account, this means that the overall landscape of cooperations changes every day!
Well, who will receive the Nobel Prize for Public Governance in 2030 to link 1 to 17 to 169 into one coherent approach? Since March 2020 there is the dashboard launched by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) for following the SDG’s with 232 indicators. That is a lot. It will be necessary to more and more play the holistic card. How? Interesting!
Battersby, J. (2017) MDGs to SDGs – new goals, same gaps: the continued absence of urban food security in the post-2015 global development agenda. African Geographical Review, 13(1), 115-129.
Kant, Immanuel (1795, republished 2003) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.
The Brundtland Report: World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987) Our common future. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
United Nations General Assembly (2015) Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A/RES/70/1.
United Nations (2019) The Sustainable Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
What is resilience? Well, there is no simple answer to this. The concept is in development in different sciences and recently entered the public governance domain related to the social-ecological system of society. Resilience is the new buzzword. Millions of years it played an essential role in natural ecosystems, now it has been launched as new concept for thinking and acting from government perspective. But where is it about? The ability to endure stress and still be able to perform or the capacity to recover after a catastrophe? Maybe both?
The question can not be answered or even is meaningless without putting it in the context resilience of what to what? In our approach we focus on the resilience of the ecosystem city to specific external (abiotic, climate change)) or internal (biotic, virus attack) caused disturbances.
“Resilience has multiple levels of meaning: as a metaphor related to sustainability, as a property of dynamic models, and as a measurable quantity that can be assessed in field studies of socioecological system (SES). The operational indicators of resilience have, however, received little attention in the literature. To assess a system’s resilience, one must specify which system configuration and which disturbances are of interest.”
Carpenter et al. (2001)
C. S. Holling (1973) introduced the word resilience into the ecological literature as a way of helping to understand the non-linear dynamics observed in ecosystems. Since then the concept diversified in all directions. Resilience is wide interpreted and used, it is difficult to understand and therefor possibly of limited use for precise governance. Likeaccountability, new normal, alignment, roadmap, risk, streamline and sustainability it can become a container concept and a buzzword.
“Resilience,” like love, is difficult to define, yet everyone – from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to government agencies, company boards, and community groups – is talking about how to build or maintain it. So, is resilience a useful concept or a meaningless buzzword?
Brian Walker (2015)
For the core definition of resilience we go back to the forest. It is a simple and therefor generally applicable definition.
‘Resilience is the ability to bounce back, basically in the face of disturbance, maintaining functions and structures of the system and recovering from the disturbance.”
Rupert Seidl (2019)
The resilience of the ecosystem city is telling the story of the balancing act of the population in the present habitat of the city. Of course there are many layers of habitats within the city and some justify to zoom in and consider resilience on a lower level. In general it is like when you have plans to investing your money in stocks and funds: results in the past are no guarantee for the future.
It is with resilience like looking into the mirror: you know where you are and where you come from, not so much about where you are going and what will happen. It is hard to predict how future external developments influence the habitat of communities and whether they will exceed the resilience of the system and whether the system is able to tackle change properly.
To let resilience successfully – and Brian Walker (2017) from Resilience Alliance underlines the (urgent) need for this – enter the stage of public governance it is wise to start with using it always in the context resilience of what to what (Carpenter et al., 2001).