Arrietta Chakos of Urban Resilience Strategies asked the final panel to discuss the main themes that came out of the leadership forum and community workshop and to talk about future directions for resilience.
Gerald Galloway, Jr., Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, spoke about several issues from the 2 days. First, he emphasized the tendency to focus on infrastructure resilience because it is easy to conceptualize the resilience of something tangible; either the bridge is working or it is not. He also noted the increased importance of green infrastructure in building resilience, particularly in terms of the role it can play to mitigate flooding in cities. A second theme he emphasized was the need for a “culture of resilience.” Eduardo Martinez of the UPS Foundation called resilience a “state of mind” while Paul Nicolas of Microsoft stated that resilience comes out of “people and culture.” Galloway stated that the entire country requires a cultural shift in order to move toward a more complete, holistic understanding of resilience, and emphasized that resilience is needed at both the individual level and through effective leadership. Galloway called on leaders to include all relevant parties at the discussion table, including those populations and stakeholders who are often overlooked.
Regarding indicators and metrics, communities need to make sure that resilience indicators are useable and useful. Galloway advocated for limiting the number of indicators to just a few that work at both a high-level and for on-the-ground practitioners. He acknowledged the challenge of competing
metrics, what is useful to large federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be very different than what is useable by cities or small towns. Lastly, he encouraged stakeholders at all levels to make the data generated as part of the metrics process available to communities.
Lori Peek, professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, prefaced her observations by noting that the workshop was not an example of preaching to the choir, but rather an example of a group of people playing different instruments and, at times, creating disharmony, striking entirely different notes. The different notes represent different values and worldviews that come with different policy prescriptions. Peek went on to describe five topic areas where she heard differing views from participants and encouraged listeners to think about where they identified themselves along the spectrum of issues.
The first topic is the difference between an individualist versus a structuralism approach. Some participants described resilience as a state of mind that came from individual empowerment while others held a structural or systems perspective. Peek suggested that participants think about whether their perspective was nearer the personal responsibility and accountability end of the spectrum or closer to collective accountability, noting that differing values and worldviews may lead to very different policy prescriptions. The second topic area is the difference between bottom-up versus top-down approaches to resilience. Some speakers spoke of resilience as grassroots, inclusive, and led by communities. Others spoke of efforts at the international, national, state, or local level where decision makers try to incentivize or mandate resilience. The third topic area was what Peek called “the sunshine versus the storm cloud.” On one hand, the “resilience is everything” advocates spoke about health, well-being, sustainability, sustainable living, equality, and access for all. On the other hand, the “resilience is disasters” advocates argue for taking advantage of the momentum caused by disasters and other extreme events. The fourth topic focused on leadership for resilience. Peek noted the differing views of decision makers; some may hesitate to engage in resilience because of the consequences for prioritizing a seemingly unpopular topic, while other leaders might use it as a platform to engage with their communities. Finally, she discussed the difference between short-term and long-term goals. Should resilience efforts focus on the pressing and immediate needs in communities across the country and the need for targeted actions to help our most vulnerable populations and
our most vulnerable places? Or should resilience efforts focus on long-term goals and achieving a vision of the future? Peek closed by recognizing the dichotomies of resilience, saying that they do not have to be either/or; rather resilience requires moving forward with a both/and.
Linda Langston, director of strategic relations at the National Association of Counties, talked about collective action and political accomplishment. From her perspective, politics was an undercurrent of the entire event. According to Langston, resilience works best when it comes from the grassroots, community-level and is therefore community-driven. As a former elected official, Langston observed that a fundamental problem politicians have when seeking to do resilience work is coming to terms with the fact that their communities do not want to think deeply about risks and disasters. Thus, the goals of working toward resilience, planning for disaster, and anticipating events are at odds with a community that does not want to face these risks. The question is how to inspire local leaders to have “courageous conversations” around investing in a community that people want to live in, including disasters and other difficult topics such as race and social equity. Langston reminded the audience that each of them has the opportunity to vote for their local leaders, and concluded, “It’s the only way we’re going to change. It’s the only way we’re going to invest in building the communities that we want—healthy, thriving, safe, and resilient communities.”
An audience member asked Langston to elaborate on the cultural and social changes she has seen in academia or among political leaders, and asked what her expectations would be to increase resilience in communities. Langston cited work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on boundary-spanning leadership that focuses on creating direction, alignment, and commitment across boundaries. Langston described this concept as a multi-step approach that builds community-wide commitment and trust in order to align goals and move toward a common direction. This kind of collaborative work in a community takes a great deal of time and persistence. Galloway added that people are starting to understand the cross-benefits of resilience across sectors.
Audience members offered final suggestions for further action. One participant expressed a need to pay more attention to international models of resilience, noting that without a broader context some resilience challenges may be unsolvable. Another participant encouraged a follow-up workshop to continue to explore solutions, strategies, and tactics that were
actionable for communities. In response, an audience member suggested looking more thoughtfully into how to integrate the human and natural environments to promote resilience. Finally, an audience member noted that resilience is not just disaster preparedness, but a mindset and culture that weaves across multiple community goals, challenges, and priorities.