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Proceedings of the fourth Resilience Engineering Symposium

 | 
Erik Hollnagel
, 
Éric Rigaud
, 
Denis Besnard

An Emergent Means To Assurgent Ends: Community Resilience For Societal Safety And Sustainability

Per Becker, Marcus Abrahamsson et Henrik Tehler

Résumé

Societal safety and sustainability are key challenges in our complex and dynamic world, causing growth in interest of applying the concept of resilience in broader societal contexts. This paper presents a concept of Community Resilience that builds on established theory of Resilience Engineering and operationalises the concept by presenting its purpose, required functions and a way to identify and analyse the complex network of actual forms that together achieve these functions in society. The framework for analysing Community Resilience is then tested in practice with interesting results. Although the framework has challenges and limitations, the Resilience Engineering approach to Community Resilience seems to be a both conceptually and pragmatically fruitful path to follow.

Note de l’auteur

Note portant sur l’auteur1

Note portant sur l’auteur2

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Texte intégral

1 Introduction

1Contemporary society seems preoccupied with the notion of risk and recent examples of calamity have given rise to growing public discontent with the performance of present risk management institutions (Renn 2008:1). The safety and sustainability of society is thus increasingly becoming the centre of attention of policy-makers from various administrative levels and countries around the world (e.g. OECD 2003; Raco 2007). Advancing safety and sustainability is challenging in this context, as there are multiple stakeholders to involve (Haimes 1998:104; Renn 2008:8-9), values to consider (Belton & Stewart 2002) and stresses to include (Kates et al. 2001:641). On top of this lies the multitude of factors and processes contributing to the susceptibility of what stakeholders’ value to the impact of each stress (Wisner et al. 2004:49-84; Coppola 2007:146-161).

2The real challenge of societal safety and sustainability is however not the number of elements to include, but the complexity and non-linearity of relations between these elements (Yates 1978:R201), separating cause and effect in both space and time (Senge 2006:71). Unfortunately, in efforts to promote safety and sustainable development, stakeholders often reduce problems into parts that fit functional sectors, organisational mandates and academic disciplines (Fordham 2007). This is likely to be a major weakness as it clouds the bigger picture of risk (Hale & Heijer 2006:139) and is further complicated by various processes of change increasing the dynamic nature of our world, e.g. globalisation (Beck 1999), demographic and socio-economic processes (Wisner et al.2004), environmental degradation (Geist & Lambin 2004), the increasing complexity of modern society (Perrow 1999b) and climate change (Elsner et al. 2008). It is in this context that Resilience Engineering may offer a conceptual framework to build on for meeting the challenges of societal safety and sustainability in the 21st century and beyond.

3The purpose of this paper is to present a framework for addressing challenges to the safety and sustainability of societies, by defining and operationalising a concept of Community Resilience. The paper also presents examples from an application of the framework in a project in Botswana.

2 A Concept Of Community Resilience

4Resilience Engineering has been paramount in demonstrating that the main challenge for safety is to recognise dynamic complexity and non-linear interdependencies in the system in question (e.g. Hollnagel 2006:14-17). Similarly, Sustainability Science has been equally paramount in demonstrating the same challenge for sustainability (e.g. Kates et al.2001). While Resilience Engineering appears to have generally been focusing on socio-technical systems (Cook & Nemeth 2006:206; e.g. Leveson et al. 2006:96), Sustainability Science has often approached our world as a complex human-environment system (Turner et al. 2003; e.g. Haque & Etkin 2007). Regardless of type of system, destructive courses of events that threaten safety and sustainability are, in both views, not results of linear chains of events, like dominos falling on each other (Hollnagel 2006:10-12), but are instead non-linear phenomena that emerge within the complex systems themselves (Perrow 1999a; Hollnagel 2006:12). Such destructive courses of events are thus not discrete, unfortunate and detached from ordinary societal processes, but intrinsic products of everyday human-environment relations over time (Hewitt 1983:25; Oliver-Smith 1999), and rooted in the same complex system that supplies human beings with opportunities (Haque & Etkin2007).

5To advance societal safety and sustainability, it is crucial to approach society as a complex human-environment system, and its level of safety and sustainability is determined by internal attributes. Community Resilience is in this sense an emergent property of such system in the same way as Pariès’s (2006) organisational resilience of complex organisations. To better grasp this emergent property, Rasmussen (1985) suggests to structure systems in a functional hierarchy from purpose, through increasingly concrete levels of function, to the observable physical forms of the system contributing in the real world to meet its purpose.

6In the context of Community Resilience, the overarching purpose of the human­environment system under study is to protect what human beings value, now and in the future. Hollnagel’s (2009) four cornerstones of resilience form a comprehensive foundation for the functions fulfilling that purpose. Although his framework is compelling, with its focus on anticipation, monitoring, responding and learning (Ibid.), it needs some minor alterations to suit the broader societal context.

7We agree with Hollnagel when stating that methods for risk assessment that focus on linear combinations of discrete events may fail to sufficiently represent risk as they fail to take into account the complexity of our world (Ibid.:125-127). However, this is not a general attribute of risk assessment per se, and there are methods that to a greater extent incorporate such complexity (Haimes 2004; Petersen & Johansson 2008). There is obviously no such thing as a perfect method for risk assessment, but, as Hollnagel admits, “a truly resilient organization realizes the need at least to do something” (Hollnagel 2009:127). A related but perhaps less contentious way of anticipation is forecasting, e.g. weather forecasts, river flow as a result of potential rainfall, ocean waves if a storm grows stronger, etc.

8The second cornerstone emphasises needs to monitor specific predefined indicators of potential problems (Ibid.:124-125), e.g. actual river flow, number of cholera cases in the area, etc. Hollnagel’s concept of monitoring covers in other words what “is or could be a threat in the near term” (Ibid.:120), but not functions that are vital when the system is already in a specific disastrous event. In such a situation the system needs a function to recognise what impact that event has on the system. It is thus suggested that the second cornerstone of resilience is modified and called recognising, covering the functions of monitoring and impact assessment.

9The third cornerstone accentuates the importance to be able to adapt the system in different ways based on what is anticipated to have a potential to become a problem in the future, what is recognised as critical or soon to be critical in the current situation, or what is learnt to be a problem from experience. Hollnagel (2009) calls this responding, but includes adaptations to respond to and recover from specific events, as well as different ways to prevent/mitigate or prepare for an adverse event. As responding in the broader societal context connotes only the reactive response to a disaster situation, the name of the cornerstone is altered to adapting.

10Hollnagel’s forth cornerstone is learning, as he clearly states that a “resilient system must be able to learn from experience” (Ibid.:127). What failed in a specific disastrous event, as well as who is to blame for it, is not the focus here. Learning should instead be a continuous planned process focused on how the system functions, links between causes and effects, its interdependencies, etc (Ibid.:129-130).

11Community Resilience is thus an emergent property determined by society’s ability to anticipate, recognise, adapt to and learn from variations, changes, disturbances, disruptions and surprises that might cause harm to what human beings value.

3 Operationalising Community Resilience

12To meet the stated purpose of Community Resilience, the system under study must have sufficient capacities for the abstract functions of anticipation, recognising, adapting and learning, which can be further specified by the generalised functions of risk assessment, forecasting, monitoring, impact assessment, prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and evaluation (Figure 1). However, it is important to note that there are dependencies between these functions making the functioning of one dependent on the output of the functioning of others, e.g. to respond by warning the public to take shelter for a coming cyclone necessitates information from forecasting or monitoring the weather (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The abstract and generalised functions of Community Resilience

13To analyse Community Resilience in a particular context, it is not enough to establish what functions that are needed to meet the purpose of protecting what human beings value. For that we need to focus on what Rasmussen (1985) calls form, on the observable aspects of the real world that together constitute the required functions of the system. These forms include (A) legal and institutional frameworks, (B) systems of organisations, (C) organisations, and (D) human and material resources, but may be presented under other headings (Schulz et al. 2005:32-50; e.g. CADRI 2011). Analysing Community Resilience is in other words about identifying and analysing the aspects, on these multiple levels, that together determine the performance of the functions of Community Resilience.

14These ideas have been applied with interesting results in a capacity assessment of the system for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation of Botswana. The study was done for MSB, a Swedish governmental humanitarian-and development cooperation agency, and together with the Botswana National Disaster Management Office (NDMO). To be able to identify and analyse vital aspects for the Community Resilience of Botswana, a set of 22 guiding questions was developed that needed to be answered for each of the nine generalised functions. The questions extend over all four levels (A-D), e.g. “Are there any legislation or policy requiring [function]?”, “Are interfaces for dissemination, communication, and integration of the output of [function] to stakeholders involved in other functions that depend on the output?”, “What parts of each organisation are involved in [function]?”, “What knowledge and skills on individual level does each involved organisation have for [function]?”, etc. To find answers on these guiding questions the research team conducted focus groups with stakeholders involved in disaster risk management on national, district and local level, as well as interviews with a number of key stakeholders. 36 stakeholders were involved in the process, spanning from the Botswana Defence Force to a Village Development Committee, and from a Deputy Paramount Chief to the Department of Water Affairs. The research team also studied legislation and policy documents relevant for disaster risk management in Botswana.

15The scope of this paper does not allow for presenting the result of the study per se, but focus instead on presenting some brief reflections on the utility of the proposed framework. Firstly, feedback from the study indicates that the use of the framework facilitates increased awareness among the participating stakeholders regarding dependencies and couplings between different functions as well as between different actors, sectors and administrative levels. Secondly, the comprehensive assessment of the capacities to perform the nine functions, on the basis of the four levels (A-D) of observable aspects or form, prove to be of great value as it provided important input on how and where to target capacity development activities. This since it provides a good understanding of the most important challenges to the system for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Botswana. Its main challenges are however to balance the need for detail in the analysis with the need for grasping the system as a whole, as well as to manage and present the rapidly growing amount of data that is generated when utilising the framework in practice.

4 Conclusion

16The concept of Community Resilience presented in this paper builds on established theory of Resilience Engineering and operationalises the concept by presenting its purpose, required functions and a way to identify and analyse the complex network of actual forms that together achieve these functions in society. Although this framework for analysing Community Resilience has challenges and limitations, the Resilience Engineering approach to Community Resilience seems to be a both conceptually and pragmatically fruitful path to follow. The framework itself is also still in the making and more applications of it are on their way and necessary to develop it further. In short, to meet the rising focus on societal safety and sustainability in a time of increasing complexity and dynamic change in our world, Resilience Engineering approaches to Community Resilience constitute a way forward. Community Resilience is in other words an emergent means to reach assurgent ends.

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Notes

1 Training Regions Research Centre / Lund University Centre for Risk Assessment and Management (LUCRAM), P.O.Box 118, 22100 LUND, Sweden
per.becker@lucram.lu.se

2 Training Regions Research Centre / Lund University Centre for Risk Assessment and Management (LUCRAM), P.O.Box 118, 22100 LUND, Sweden
marcus.abrahamsson@lucram.lu.se

3 Training Regions Research Centre / Lund University Centre for Risk Assessment and Management (LUCRAM), P.O.Box 118, 22100 LUND, Sweden
henrik.tehler@lucram.lu.se

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1. The abstract and generalised functions of Community Resilience
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