This is a brief report on our Bristol Knowledge Cafe on ‘Reslience’, kindly introduced by Phillipa Bayley, keenly discussed by about 30 of us, space kindly lent by the ever effervescent Pervasive Media Studio.
Ciaran, Tim, Michael and Philippa kindly wrote up some of their reflections which I include along with my own.
Phillipa gave an excellent presentation on the subject, considering some different definitions, the context (from personal to eco-system), whether we can ‘build’ it, what the properties of a resilient system could be, and a few further thoughts.
You can see the presentation here:
Write up from Phillipa:
Ciaran on the tension between building resilient systems that have redundancy, and “efficient” systems – e.g. for power generation. The argument goes that although micro-generating, distributed systems might be more resilient, they cost twice as much. But is the real question how you cost these things appropriately? As with the banking crisis, the cost of fixing everything after the disaster is absolutely enormous. There’s also the question of the real environmental costs of building massive power plants, as well as the toll on people’s lives who live near them etc.
Write up from Ciaran:
We discussed how resilience is an emergent property of well balanced communicative systems and this can be viewed on different levels:
On a personal level resilience requires balance between the conscious will to achieve or act in a certain way and the reflective state of just being and so able to be receptive and allow creative flow.
This second way of being requires inner confidence and/or supportive surroundings where explicit goals or other directive and judgement thinking are not at play. It is this space that allows for the creativity and innovation to emerge.
These two ways of being are reflected at community, organisational and societal levels, but often run counter to the pressure to be more efficient and productive. Similar to the individual, a balanced community for example would include some individuals allowed more time to be reflective whilst others more directive. A balanced society looks for reflective thinking in academic institutions and by supporting diverse artistic communities (the example of Ireland allowing poor artists to pay zero tax was cited). Striking the balance is key to resilience. Too much of one or the other can lead to problems. These different aspects to ourselves and communities etc. need also to be communicating well with each other.
Our group discussed how currently organisations and society generally seems particularly focused on the drive for efficiency and the education system has become increasingly directive, with too little room for more reflection and genuine creativity and diversity. Combined with a narrowing of cultural perspectives due to globalisation of the western socio-economic paradigm, we have been left very rigid and so vulnerable to changes. Examples of how Australian aboriginal culture approaches ‘problem solving’ reminded us how there are in fact many other ways to be that we have little or no experience of and we carry many assumptions about what is possible and what will be in the future. We discussed how these assumptions along with our aspirations are looking very shaky if not plain stupid! Paradoxically the times of plenty we have been through that might have offered the greater redundancy for more reflective states of being at all levels, has been somewhat swept aside by a consumer culture which fosters anxiety and lack of self confidence, so not conducive to development of personal or societal resilience.
Write up from Michael:
Resilience is linked to the esprit de corps (used in the sense of – common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause among the members of a group) of the community. EDC comes from a lot of things including the ideology, the “community code” (which dictates how community members treat each other, how they help each other, how they behave, etc), and the ongoing interactions that keep the community alive.
So I think forging a powerful community code is a thing that community leaders need to do (by example, by fiat or whatever) and ensuring that community members have community minded interactions with each other.
Write up from Tim:
Breakout group discussion
For resilience you need slack in any system, otherwise it’s fragile. There needs to be room and time for experimentation so that adaptability and flexibility can happen.
Robust doesn’t equal resilient. Robust suggests something won’t fail. Resilient suggests it can fail and bounce back – sometimes failure can be good, for development.
Working targets, which are an ubiquitous method now, are about cutting out slack from the system, hence they tend towards eliminating resilience.
Can a system break down and then be rebuilt? Is that resilience?
That’s not resilience for the system, but could be resilience for a higher level of system containing it.
So we have to be clear what level is our focus within the hierarchy of systems.
Personal resilience is the struggle of Will (or Intention) and Emotion. When we pursue something we use our will to keep our intention and action continuing. When we meet obstacles and failures we often feel discouragement. If our feelings get too negative that drains our energy and saps our will to continue. Philippa’s slide showed Positivity as a component of resilience.
The word will may suggest a drive towards a goal. If so, intention may be a better word. We always have some intention, even if only to keep behaving according to our own values, which isn’t goal-focused or active behaviour.
Can resilience be lost? If things are too easy, complacency can lead to loss of responsiveness, like lack of exercise leads to loss of muscle tone.
Action must be balanced by review and reflection – this is the slack. So there’s a need for people to ponder and experiment, perhaps even dedicated people for those tasks. The Irish government recognised the value of this to the whole of society and they said so when they stopped artistic vocations being liable for income tax.
Targets and league tables in effect claim to define perfection and how to get there. Setting them implies that reaching or exceeding the targets means reaching the ideal. But having an ideal of perfection leaves no room for innovation and creativity to improve the ideal. So if everyone’s energies are taken up in meeting targets the system can’t evolve.
The harder you strive to extend yourself to achieve a hard goal, the less resilient and more vulnerable/fragile you are. The last straw can break your back.
Whole Group Discussion
When a thing is resilient it implies that it continues despite obstacles. But what continues? It’s not always obvious, especially if there is evolution and adaptation that changes a lot of the original. So there has to be some essence that does continue and is the thing that is resilient.
Castro has been a very resilient dictator. Has that been helped by the tension and opposition from the USA? That very opposition has created activity and strength, like resistance exercises a muscle. Muscles are resilient, but through actively using that resilience they grow more and more resilient. Unused resilience leads to weakness, using it repeatedly leads to strength.
So tension is perhaps a key to resilience. Muscles have tone, which is an optimal level of tension even when relaxed. A cat is the epitome of relaxation yet is ready to spring. A tennis ball is very resilient and can take a lot of challenge yet return to its form and function undamaged – it’s the tension inherent in its construction that gives that ability. Perhaps resilience requires plenty of latent ‘potential energy’. Elasticity is resilience.
Ideas and religions can be resilient. They (or some) do compete, evolve and adapt. So they are in tension and face resistance. The idea of memes put ideas into a context of being objects that compete for survival.
Too settled a state leads to loss of resilience, like loss of muscle tone. e.g. Woolworths was once very strong and presumably resilient, enough to fend off all threats. But then its settled state led eventually to it becoming something else – flabby, rigid, stagnant? – until it was very vulnerable and collapsed.
Efficiency seems opposite to resilience.
How do you measure resilience?
Write up from Ed (that’s me by the way):
It was fascinating all the way through, with huge amounts to reflect on and consider. Among many things, what stuck out the most for me was a question raised about the relationship between personal and communal resilience. As well as its relevance to Transition initiatives, I suspect that this is an important point for David Wilcox and the work around Local Communities.
With my facilitator hat on, the balance between individual and group dynamics is a core issue for event design, and something I deal with when helping groups identify and achieve their goals. Every event I design tries to take into account that we are all human and not perfect ‘expressors’, indeed that many of us don’t like being in groups, and find the now ubiquitous ‘sharing’ something of a tyranny. In light of this I try to make space for different behaviours; not expecting everyone to behave in the same way. But this isn’t necessarily about ‘resilience’ per se; more a background to the following questions.
A knowledge café attendee once told me that she felt intimidated before coming to a café as she thought that she might look stupid. She is not stupid at all. This response is partly her responsibility about her confidence (as responsible for her self) and mine (as responsible for the group reputation, language and dynamics). This is difficult for her, an issue for me (who wants everyone to be happy all the time – one of my personal issues), and possibly a reflection on this individual/group crossover, and possibly a learning point for the café model and the language used.
This individual confidence issue is touched upon in a recent post from Rob about Transition Oxford’s story; among other things about people feeling a lack of confidence, and the language used, and I reckon a jump off point for the following questions in my head:
- Is personal resilience a necessary pre-condition for resilient relationships with others (intimately, friendship-ly, and in groups and beyond)?
- How can we assess our own personal resilience, and be aware of our strengths and weaknesses when relating to others?
- How can we understand the effect we have on our relationships?
- Does success as a group rely on each group member being personally resilient?
- Or can a group’s structure and dynamics be designed (or emerge) to overcome our individual issues and bring out the best of us?
- Is it necessary for a group to have a clear purpose in order to overcome our personal issues?
So more questions than anything else from me then!
So good work all and particular thanks to Phillipa for speaking, and the contributors for their thoughts above