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This is a resilient society

What we need is a resilient society

Resilience can be described as society or an organisation’s ability to adapt to crises and unexpected events and still be able to achieve its purpose. We are often good at this on an individual level but there is still a lot to do at an organisational and societal level.

Resilience has become a bit of a buzzword and interpretations vary, not least because the term covers so many different aspects.

– “I believe that it is the ability of a system, an organisation or society, to adapt and be able to achieve its goals despite varying circumstances, crises and everything else that doesn’t fit within the framework,” says Degerman, Rise researcher on public safety and resilience.

The question is highly relevant. How do we cope with new trials that we have never before faced, not least when it comes to climate change and the consequences it entails? It is not enough to envision different scenarios based on previous experiences and to draw up crisis plans based on these, as we could very well face different events that we had not foreseen.

– “When I conducted interviews after Storm Gudrun in 2005, a local authority safety coordinator said that they had tried to envision the worst thing that could happen but had never been able to imagine the extent of the disaster that occurred. Prior to this, they had prepared for a power outage lasting a maximum of three days, but certain residents experienced power outages that lasted for more than a month,” says Eriksson, RISE researcher on crisis management and volunteering.

Cannot be tied to procedures

Since then, we have also been affected by several major forest fires, flooding and a pandemic that affected all of society. We cannot be too tied to existing procedures in order to manage these types of major challenges, we need to dare to try something new.

– “If we look at the public sector, we can see that the people furthest out in the organisation are extremely talented when it comes to solving the new challenges that arise. But higher up, in management, there are often structures in place to counteract their resilient ability. When there is a crisis or accident, it is common to subsequently go in and say “hey you, you have broken the rules”. This makes people scared. We should therefore investigate in such a way that we recognise the importance of adaptability, permit it and learn from it,” Degerman says.

It can sometimes be necessary to deviate from procedures

As an example, she mentions a study she conducted on the reception of refugees in 2015, when large numbers of refugees from Syria suddenly poured across Sweden’s borders. 

– “The regular registration procedures worked brilliantly when receiving ten unaccompanied children a day. But you have to change the way you work if it is late afternoon and there are queues of 250 children. Otherwise, the children would be forced to sleep outside, which would not be OK. In this situation, the employees solved the problem on their own by creating a simplified temporary system. And these are the sort of adaptations to working procedures that are needed to achieve the purpose despite a pressured situation that constitute resilience,” Degerman says.

Private companies leaps ahead of public sector

Even though it varies from case to case, Helene would generally say that private companies and voluntary organisations are more likely to exhibit resilient behaviour than the public sector.

– “Different companies have different situations. Due process and clear procedures are important within the public sector. But it can sometimes be necessary to deviate from procedures in order to avoid serious consequences. As people, we have great adaptability when it comes to managing surprising scenarios. But we are not as good at it when it comes to our governance and organisational structures. This is why resilience is something we need to increasingly develop going forward,” Degerman concludes. 

Published: 2021-10-19
Helene Degerman

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Helene Degerman


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Kerstin Eriksson


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