January 23, 2013

Resilience Narratives Key to Resilient Systems

The 2013 World Economic Forum Conference that began today in Davos is dedicated this year to resilient dynamism. As Arianna Huffington noted earlier in the day, the key concept that gives rise to the need for resilience is our global interconnectedness. Quoting Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, she cites five attributes that resilient systems characteristically share:

  •  Spare capacity
  • Flexibility — the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
  • Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  • Rapid rebound — the capacity to reestablish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
  • Constant learning, with robust feedback loops.

Huffington adds a sixth, “the will to want to be resilient.”

To that list, I feel we must add a seventh requirement for the present and future, Resilience Narratives: stories that will help disparate and potentially adversarial players see themselves as active participants in collaborative futures.

Today’s global risks, economic and otherwise, are characterized by the displacement of sources and effects. A risk may originate in one place – in a sick traveler, in an ailing economic system, in a polluting factory, in a quickly thinning rainforest – but have impact far from its source, and be unevenly distributed.

That means that both those at the source and those at the other end of a problem will have to find ways to work together to address it. But the uneven distribution of risk and impact will also spawn significantly different interpretations of what is happening, disparate views of who is responsible for the problem, and different solutions—if any.

Resilient systems need open communication lines in existing networks. It should be an indispensable part of the resiliencey toolkit to align stakeholders’ idioms and understandings at the earliest possible stage by building relationships and communications that support collaborative work.

Work toward a resilience narrative should begin with the gathering  of dominant “stories” of major stakeholders– where does the beginning, middle, end of the risk issue begin for them, who are the main characters, what are the key motifs and themes of the narrative? –and continue to find points of intersection and potential alignment. Resilience narratives might one day be a sub-specialty of public relations and governments, forged by networked communications professionals, government agencies and other stakeholders in specific issues.

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