Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

The Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 issue 44: exploring 'whole-of-society’ resilience

This month’s Manchester Briefing, which is aimed at those who plan and implement recovery from COVID-19, explores the meaning of ‘whole-of society’ resilience and its implications for emergency planning in the UK.

The term was integral to the government’s recent Integrated Review and featured heavily in the call for evidence for the National Resilience Strategy. But what exactly does it mean and what might be its implications for emergency planning?

an arrow hitting the middle of a bullseye


The briefing offers an early definition of ‘whole-of-society’ resilience to be the ‘capability created by local systems that help people and places to adapt and advance in a changing environment’. In this definition capabilities should work to understand risk, pinpoint vulnerability, enhance preparedness, and leverage agency. For instance, one example of such a capability would be the management of spontaneous volunteers and business continuity in the event of an emergency.

Duncan Shaw, Professor of Operational Research and Critical Systems at Alliance Manchester Business School, said the use of the term has ignited change in the wider resilience narrative across the UK.

“For instance, it suggests that whole-of-society resilience embeds the need to depart from historically government centred approaches to building resilience, towards an integrated approach with whole-of-society. This is characterised by a combination of top-down and bottom-up collaboration.”

Globe icon


He added that whole-of-society resilience reinforces that the world is interconnected so you cannot be resilient on your own.

“Building the resilience of our society should be a strategic endeavour, with national policy being influenced by knowledge and work at the local level and then interpreted and implemented locally, through collaboration between resilience partnerships (government sector), sector partners (voluntary sector and business), and communities (individuals, groups, networks, businesses and organisations).”

Such a partnership is demonstrated through the newly established National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+] (NCSR+) that recognises that resilience must be rooted inside communities. An early activity for NCSR+ will be to develop a shared understanding of whole-of-society resilience. To support this process, the Manchester Briefing team share this early definition which could inform debates and future definitions.

Consortium members include organisations representing the business community, those representing the voluntary sector, and almost every local authority in the UK.

social responsibility icon ambs

Community structures

Professor Shaw, who is co-founder of the Consortium, added: “This includes building on existing community structures and partnerships and establishing new ones, and creating an inclusive, supportive, and enabling environment for the co-production of whole-of-society local resilience capabilities. Over the coming months, the members of NCSR+ aim to tackle this challenge together.

“However, with the backdrop of communities’ responses to COVID-19 and the whole-of-society resilience that was built, we have to move quickly. COVID-19 has shown that there is a place for everybody to have some responsibility when it comes to building resilience.”

Money icon

Climate insurance

Meanwhile this month’s Briefing, which is put together by AMBS and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, also considers climate insurance as a risk transfer process to protect communities and build resilience.

COVID-19 has shown that existing planning and programmes are much more accustomed to respond to immediate, tangible local risks, and consistently struggle to anticipate and respond to global risks such as climate risks. The Briefing cites a recent report that examines how financial tools such as insurance could make vulnerable communities more resilient in the face of escalating climate impacts.

This month’s Briefing also collates and summarises some of the think pieces and case studies covered since it began being published in April 2020, covering 42 topics and themes.

Download this week's Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 (issue 44)

If you would like to contribute your knowledge to the Briefing contact