In the times of disruptive crisis - an opinion on societal resilience

Blog post
Kirsi Aaltola
Valokuva VTT:n tutkimustiimin johtajasta Kirsi Aaltola

Spring 2020 has raised the interest in all of us to reconsider our connection to resilience. Our experienced parents and grandparents already have competences and awareness regarding how to cope in disruptive crises. In Finland, as in other European countries, people have experienced war, depression, high child mortality rate and economic downturns. All of us should build our personal and individual toolkit with competences and capacities to survive and stay resilient. At the societal level, countries interlink with the capabilities to work and adapt to meet with the current changes and challenges. 

Complex risk and threat situations will increase and combine within each other that lead to a need for more comprehensive research. Scenarios will likely interlink health, economic, defence and geopolitics more strongly, and therefore the implications may be long-term. There are also individual differences in awareness and our capabilities to stay resilient. 

Will functionality be overly stressed?

The awareness of various levels (individual/community/organizational/societal/globally interconnected) simplifies the understanding of resilience. In terms of time, phases can be identified in several ways, such as understanding the risk/threat, preparing, absorbing or withstanding, responding or recovering, and finally adapting and learning. In observing the critical infrastructures and functionality of actions, the resilience of the system can be demonstrated. More simply, the more stable the resilience curve stays in terms of functionality, the more resilient the action is – or the smaller the loss of functionality is, the more resilient the action is. 

Also in Finland, we must improve our capabilities to be agile and adapt to the circumstances this spring: even our preparedness systems must be co-ordinated. Current system-dynamic modelling and foresight analysis provide evidence-based evaluations for decision-makers about the potential implications and consequences in relation to, e.g. economics, infrastructural developments and local differences. The new level of interconnectedness and ongoing political and socio-economic polarisation are configuring governing structures and the work of institutions towards more problematic systems and processes. Currently, we can observe new actors in crisis management positions. 

States focus with full power on implementation of critical health services and benefitting from competences and knowledge how to decrease the spread of COVID19 disease. The production and access of basic products and materials, like protection gears and medical facemasks, play important role in coping and provide opportunities for local SMEs and industry. The cross-sectoral challenges cannot be tackled by any actor alone. It requires strong leadership and coordinated joint action to ensure we are adapted to respond to the political uncertainty and coherence challenges. Beyond the governance structures and leadership, we need capabilities and fluent civil action by citizens. 
 

We improve the preparedness in ecosystems

At VTT, we believe that through Finnish expertise in collaborative ecosystems we can improve our societal crisis preparedness and resilience. New solutions and productions in value-chains are required in short-term within collaboration of governmental actors, SMEs and industry research, and validation. We work to accelerate and boost collaboration in these environments. VTT specifically provides not only technical or technological expertise and scientific knowledge but also development and validation as well as innovative assignments to support entire ecosystem in the state of emergency. 

Our short-term projects including material and simulation technologies can be directly applied to different acute needs. We harness our technical expertise and capabilities to improve the development of health technologies by the industry. In practice, for example through our examination and validation services for suitable medical protective gears and masks. Another concrete example is the development of rapid test for coronavirus together with the joint vaccine research centre of HUS and University of Helsinki.
 

The importance of resilient communities

One of our R&D project (BuildERSproject.eu) focuses on building the social resilience of the most vulnerable groups in the societies. European research and development collaboration focuses on increasing the social resilience capital of European communities and citizens. VTT's leading scientist in this field, Riitta Molarius, has studied risks and resilience since 1994. She comments current spring 2020 state of emergency situation: 

“Society is prepared for different kinds of situations, but while facing new threats we cannot easily understand the pregnancy of the current situation and the potential implications of it. Societal resilience will be tested by the coronavirus, and hopefully we will learn as a society. One dimension is the resilience of communities. Safety and security must rise from the individuals; information must be given to the people and help them to cope with uncertainty and insecurity." 
 

Different perspectives can be clarified by the systematic modelling

Beyond the technical products, technologies and fluent processes, we need evidence based as well as scientifically proven cross-sectoral analysis and the understanding of good practices for each level. System-dynamic modelling can be used as a method for benefitting variety of needs. It can recognize operations, such as epidemiological or economic developments or identify infrastructural risks. 

VTT’s CityTune system-dynamic data based tools helps to evaluate decisions already done or coming decisions and how they will influence and implicate to e.g. society, communities or organisations from the health, economic or social perspectives. Asset modelling can be integrated to local level risk and threat identification and analyses.  

We need trust-based leading groups to create good practices and lead the example through practicing. We see new contact surfaces between sectors such as health and economics. At the same time, more traditional ways of living, like human and animal walls and barriers will become more significant.

The effectiveness of all levels from individual to communities is very important in this crisis. What lessons will be learned to make nations anti-fragile so that the most vital systems such as health, social, economic, trade, financial, security and defense, etc. do not collapse in case of unexpected shocks?
 

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