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Narratives of Resilience: The 7th Attribute of Resilient Systems

The value of resilience in our world is undisputed and increasingly well-characterized by resiliency experts. Former Rockefeller Foundation president, Judith Rodin, has offered this important checklist:

  1. Spare capacity
  2. Flexibility: the ability to change, evolve and adapt in the face of disaster
  3. Limited or “safe” failure modes, to prevent failures from rippling across systems
  4. Rebound capacity – the ability to avoid long-term disruption and re-establish functioning
  5. Learning -the ability to learn and incorporate learning into system feedback loops

Arianna Huffington once added a sixth to this list of resilience characteristics: The will to want to be resilient.

To this list, we feel a seventh characteristic must be added: Resilience narratives.

Resilient narratives are characterized by open and aligned communications among diverse stakeholders

Resilience Narratives are stories that will help disparate and potentially adversarial players see themselves as active participants in collaborative futures.

As we well know, today’s global risks, economic and otherwise, are characterized by the displacement of sources and effects. A risk may originate in one place – in a sick traveler, in an ailing economic system, in a polluting factory, in a quickly thinning rainforest – but have impact far from its source, and be unevenly distributed. That means that both those at the source and those at the other end of a problem will have to find ways to work together to address it.

But the uneven distribution of risk and impact will also spawn significantly different interpretations of what is happening, disparate views of who is responsible for the problem, and different solutions—if any.

Resilient systems need open communication lines in existing networks. It should be an indispensable part of the resiliencey toolkit to align stakeholders’ idioms and understandings at the earliest possible stage by building relationships and communications that support collaborative work.

Work toward a resilience narrative should begin with the gathering  of dominant “stories” of major stakeholders– where does the beginning, middle, end of the risk issue begin for them, who are the main characters, what are the key motifs and themes of the narrative? These threads are opportunities to find points of intersection and potential alignment.

Resilience narratives might one day be a sub-specialty of public relations and governments, forged by networked communications professionals, government agencies and other stakeholders in specific issues.

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