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The Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 issue 51: making a ‘substantial’ impact

The Manchester Briefing (TMB) has had an “instrumental impact” on the work of its intended audience according to a major evaluation study.

The monthly Briefing, put together by AMBS and the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, was launched at the height of the pandemic and was aimed at informing those planning and implementing Recovery and Renewal from COVID-19. This month its authors reflect on lessons learnt over the past two years, while also giving details of an evaluation report of the series of 51 briefings and more than 600 international lessons for Recovery and Renewal that have been shared over the course of the project.

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The evaluation report found that TMB has been substantially impactful to its intended audience and other users. Some 94% of TMB users said the Briefing had impacted their understanding and thinking around Recovery and Renewal, which is one of the main objectives of TMB. TMB has also been used and referenced by various organisations in their work towards Recovery and Renewal from COVID-19.

Some 88% of respondents said that TMB had significantly impacted their emergency planning and response against COVID-19. The written feedback from respondents indicated that TMB was helpful in prompting discussions especially in tactical and strategic coordination groups as they have an insight on a variety of national perspectives of Recovery and Renewal. Meanwhile some 78% of respondents agreed that TMB significantly impacted their building of professional and/or academic networks, while 84% stated that TMB substantially enhanced their communication and networking in Recovery and Renewal.

The Recovery, Renewal, Resilience (RRR) team, led by Duncan Shaw, Professor of Operational Research and Critical Systems at AMBS, said: “The popularity and wide recognition of TMB makes it important to evaluate the TMB experience and its contribution to the COVID-19 related activities in different organisations (e.g., government, NGOs, private, and academia) in the UK and internationally. This comprehensive report informs stakeholders and partners on how TMB has been, and can be, used to enhance the response, recovery, and renewal during COVID-19 and beyond.

“These results are a representation of enduring connectivity as they demonstrate the existence and strength of people and organisations who can understand and can make use of the research.”

The team demonstrate how integral local, national and international partners have been to the success and reach of their work and outputs. One such partnership, with the Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN), which supports a thriving community of urban resilience practitioners in over 98 cities and 40 countries, led to a curated version of the briefing which was then distributed to their >10,000 members. In February 2021, RCN reported that TMB was their “best performing newsletter….having an amazing impact”.

The TMB team, comprising of over 40 people who have contributed lessons and to its delivery, have received four awards over the course of the project. One of these awards includes an ‘Excellence Award – Team or Organisation’ (December 2021) from the Emergency Planning Society, a testament to the enormous work within and across all of the teams and individuals who have supported their work.

The authors go on to share details of the various activities and outputs of the project, including the programme of >70 webinars and workshops they have organised or participated in that has reached >5,000 people.

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New narrative

The team said the project had established a new international narrative that short-term recovery is insufficient for an experience such as a pandemic. “The devastating impacts have called for a new ambition to renew the foundations of our society because the pandemic has exposed them to be broken, for example in how COVID-19 has exploited inequalities and vulnerabilities.

One of the key learning points emerging from the pandemic, for me, concerns how it has forced a reappraisal of what recovery encompasses, who it is for, and how it can be effectively planned for and implemented. Considering recovery and business continuity planning, for example, it was clear from many of the early interviews conducted with a global community of experts that however well-prepared organisations felt they were, the scale, scope, uneven impacts, and prolonged duration of COVID-19 were not adequately anticipated.

Enhancing preparedness and wider societal resiliency for the complex and unruly challenges ahead thus requires improved capabilities to assess the landscape of systemic risks, develop foresight, and scenario planning with communities.”

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They say that when the TMB team volunteered to collect international experiences of responding to COVID-19 in March 2020, it initially aimed to only support local authorities in the UK during their response to the pandemic.

“We never expected that COVID-19 would evolve into an international crisis of this scale and duration. A few months after the start of the response our systems were overwhelmed and various vulnerabilities in our systems and societies were uncovered. Our team and engagement grew in response and new theoretical and practical insights on Response, Recovery, and Renewal were added to our periodic international lessons, which then formed the current TMB. Concurrently, our engagement with local authorities and international organisations flourished.

For me, two lessons stand out as crucial for resilience and renewal. The first is the need for a holistic approach when building resilience. The pandemic showed the interinfluence and interdependency of all components of societies, i.e., organisations, communities, individuals, and others. The second lesson was the need to think beyond the existing systemic limitations when designing and managing our resilient systems.”

Download this week's Manchester Briefing on COVID-19 (issue 51)

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