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The Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 issue 47: Defining whole-of-society resilience

This month’s Manchester Briefing focuses on the government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy which outlined the need for effective and trusted governance, government capabilities, social cohesion, and individual and business resilience, among other needs.

The review also used the term ‘whole-of-society resilience’ which challenged the resilience community to take an integrated approach to build national resilience. As such, in the ten months since the review was published there has been much discussion of what its call to action on whole-of-society resilience could mean, and how this could be operationalised by the resilience community.

This is the very subject of this month’s Briefing, which is aimed at those who plan and implement recovery and renewal from the pandemic and is put together by Alliance Manchester Business School and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute.

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National Consortium

One activity that grew out of the discussion around whole-of-society resilience was the National Consortium for Societal Resilience [UK+], NCSR+, which was initiated to pursue and amplify the local ambitions on whole-of-society resilience.

Duncan Shaw, co-founder of NSCR+ and Professor of Operational Research and Critical Systems at AMBS, says the latest Briefing explains what NCSR+ means in the context of whole-of-society resilience, and outlines an initial definition of what whole-of-society resilience could mean for NCSR+ members.

“NCSR+ members, which include organisations from across the voluntary, business and higher education sectors as well as local authorities, believe that whole-of-society resilience must be built from inside communities, utilising available partnerships and establishing new ones, to offer important support, facilitation, and intervention within a national framework of guidance and good practices.

“This explains why building whole-of-society resilience is not top-down from national or local government, because society is not controlled by them. However, resilience building cannot only be bottom-up by society, because then those communities that lack agency can be further left behind as they fail to mobilise around this challenge.”

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This month’s Briefing aims to open up discussions on what is precisely meant by the term whole-of-society resilience.

As he adds: “We expect that one definition will not satisfy different actors because different parties will want to accentuate the aspects that they prioritise and attenuate those that sit elsewhere. The University of Manchester, working with the collection of 61 other partners in NCSR+, has been exploring what whole-of-society resilience could mean for members of NCSR+.”

To produce a working definition, an initial literature review identified how the term is used in a variety of contexts. A number of interviews were also conducted with resilience professionals to understand what the term could mean for them, while a number of workshops and seminars were held on the topic.

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Shared view

Professor Shaw added that the purpose of the NCSR+ working definition is to help NCSR+ partners to coalesce around a shared view for the common pursuit that unites the consortium.

“The purpose is to begin to work with the concept and uncover more about what whole-of-society resilience means in order to understand how it can be communicated, developed, and operationalised across society. The working definition helps NCSR+ to explore its nature, opportunities, and challenges and to understand what should be added or removed to make the definition more useful.”

Next month’s Manchester Briefing will explore the concept of co-production and the opportunities, challenges, various modes and techniques, and core considerations when embarking on co-production as collaborative method for developing plans to deliver local societal resilience.

Download this month’s Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 (issue 47)

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