Here is a summary of the roundtable organised by the National Preparedness Commission (NPC) to discuss the the report “Building Confidence in the Future” which was commissioned by the NPC from Marsh McLellan and published on 30th August 2023.   At the roundtable on 12th October 2023,  lead author Richard Smith-Bingham led the discussion on the framework for measuring national resilience outlined in the paper.  The meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule and chaired by Lord Toby Harris.

 

BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE

The Chair introduced the National Preparedness Commission and the context for the topic under discussion – developing a framework for measuring national resilience, which would help answer perennial questions such as ‘what does resilience look like?’, ‘how resilient do we need to be?’ and ‘how do we know that we are doing enough?’. As a nation, we need to be aware of all kinds of risk – acute and chronic – and prepare to face them.

Richard Smith-Bingham introduced the paper highlighting the key concepts behind the paper:

  • Evolving challenges to UK have implications for how the UK organises itself to respond
  • These challenges include fast-onset shocks, slow-burning risks degrading capacity over time, and large-scale transformation agendas affecting both vulnerabilities and response capabilities
  • A need to prioritise investment spend wisely and proportionately and to introduce clear accountability.

The report was designed to advance discussion on the analyses that would be most strategically useful at national level. Measuring resilience is hard because: the risks are many, varied and complex, with long-term spillover effects; resilience takes many forms; and because the baseline context is not fixed. Measuring resilience is as much about measuring what is not there, as it is about assessing what does exist. Measurement is too often reductive, or retrospective and incomplete.

The research surfaced five areas of enquiry routinely used by national and city governments:

1.   Detecting the presence of core resilience characteristics

2.   Examining capacities – economic or otherwise – to absorb impact and adapt

3.   Analysing the adequacy of response capabiltiies

4.   Monitoring progress towards strategic goals

5.   Consciously evaluating expected benefits of resilience investments.

 

From this analysis four lenses were derived that would form the basis for a measurement framework. These lenses are:

  • Powers and Governance. The ambition of government to address critical risks, the powers available to it and how they are exercised and resourced, and the governance arrangements that scrutinise decision-making and implementation.
  • Assets and Capabilities. The reliability of the arrangements that underpin daily national life and the resources that can be brought to bear on critical challenges to deliver preparedness, crisis response, and recovery.
  • Coordination and Mobilisation. Collaboration within government, harnessing private sector strengths, leveraging the science and technology base, and encouragement and support for the voluntary sector and communities.
  • Outcomes and Realities. Societal capacities to absorb contingencies, the reliability of critical ecosystems, and progress towards long-term strategic imperatives.

 

The framework offers issues to be explored under each lens to enable measurement and assessment of performance. Noting that the framework was not intended to be implemented wholesale and immediately, but rather offered a way into the big questions that needed to be addressed, comments and contributions were invited to further the debate, including examples of how the analysis tools could be used and combined.

 

The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule and focussed on three core areas:

 

What are we looking for a framework for measuring national resilience to deliver?  It was agreed that a measurement framework such as this one was useful in enabling a cross-cutting view that ‘makes the case’ about connectivity and complexity. These are not necessarily well-understood, including across government, and open discussions are needed about trade-offs and responsibilities.  As well as being illuminating in itself, the framework offers a point of validation and triangulation for other work, and helps to provide a focus for longer-term issues and the changing nature of the risks they pose. It also provides a means to assess changing levels of national resilience to those risks, which would help to make the future more tangible and inform inter-generational investment decisions on future capacity and capability.

Other areas of resilience could be drawn into the framework – for example, information resilience (for example, in merger and acquisition activity), though there would need to be sensitivity here, separating information that needs to be protected from that which is better shared. Knowing which data lie in which category is a separate challenge.  It was noted that stakeholders will have different measurement needs – for some, a simple index will suffice; others might need detailed measurements. A framework should support both.

A well-designed framework measuring national resilience should influence:

  • Money (securing funding, including funds from or within government)
  • Appetite (linking resilience to the existing ambitions and priorities of decision-makers, and not as a separate concern that, perceived as a distraction, is unlikely to gain the requisite attention)
  • Culture change (helping to support mature dialogue and better decisions).

 

What else needs to be addressed to benefit from a measurement framework like this one?  Having a clear and agreed understanding of what is included in national resilience would be helpful. With no agreed scope, measurement efforts could become too expansive to be meaningful. For example, a quantification of vulnerability needs to be boundaried if it is to
be used in identifying and justifying resilience investment opportunities, particularly in the context of government departmental budgets.

Conversely, it is important to keep broader issues in focus that act as drivers or exacerbators of both risk and resilience. Growing social inequalities will affect both tolerance and the capacity to absorb shocks, for example.  A map of dependencies and influences on those factors that influence key societal needs (water, food, shelter, energy, health, rule of law) could be helpful in pinpointing the nexus vulnerabilities that would benefit most from measurement and investment.

 

What related challenges are there?  Knowing national resilience levels is key, but there is also a need for investment in skills to address strategic gaps, especially in industries that are already operating to capacity.  A better understanding of risks and mitigation measures beyond government activity is also needed, to provide a full picture of resilience.A new narrative around preparing for (and/or reconfiguring balance sheets to mitigate against) fiscal shocks and economic loss is needed. It is not sustainable to rely on government responses.  Citing the Competition Act, it was noted that a relaxation of competition law in certain circumstances would allow competitors to collaborate ahead of a crisis, not just after the event. Pooling intelligence in areas of common concern would be beneficial, and further thought should be given as to what was possible even within the Act.

Mis- and disinformation are key challenges to resilience, increasing the likelihood of bad outcomes and impeding response and recovery capability. AI acts as an exacerbator here. For this reason a diversity of experts should be involved in appraising risk and gauging resilience, including non-traditional experts with local knowledge.  AI and its regulation is an example of a wider question about national appetite for impacts we are willing as a society to tolerate. Whilst it is hard politically to make decisions on behalf of society, a first step is to be transparent about responsibilities and expected responses to crises. Service standards for critical infrastructures could help enable that.

Tolerances (and therefore resilience goals) could be made more explicit by differentiating between inconvenience, manageable impacts and non-tolerable impacts. This will have the benefit of enabling spending priorities against measurement benchmarks.

In summary, the framework was well-received and acknowledged as a significant contribution to the challenge of measuring resilience. There was broad agreement that bottom-up issues like inequality, poverty, rule of law, and health should be included as critical capacity factors. It was also clear that tests needed to be calibrated against future risks, not just those that are current or on the near horizon. This is especially true for long-term investments and prioritising expenditure.

 

 

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