A “Resilience Garage” – Where Resilience Mechanics Tinker with Complex Problems

An early exercise in the Resilience Garage. (Christine Morris)

A dispatch from Christine Morris, our newly appointed CRO from Norfolk, VA:

I had the opportunity to visit a different type of working garage this month in Amsterdam—“A Resilience Garage.” In this garage, resilience “mechanics” (experts from private industry, government, nonprofits and academia), got down and dirty, addressing the dilemma that Norfolk posed to them —in the face of sea level rise that causes persistent flooding, how can you motivate people to invest collectively in strategies that result in better water management practices?

First, I want to emphasize that Norfolk has always lived with— and thrived on— water. The City’s economy depends on our proximity to the ocean. Norfolk is home to the largest naval station in the world. The city hosts the third-highest volume port on the East Coast. And tourism to our historic sites and natural setting brings in thousands of visitors each year. So, we asked the Resilience Garage to consider what Norfolk can do to continue to thrive in our changing water-based environment.

Two experts, Maike Böggeman and Roland Kupers, brought incredible knowledge and tools to the table for this exercise, and used them to evaluate our dilemma from several perspectives. In the first session, they focused on Norfolk’s structural and integrative resilience, meaning characteristics like system redundancy and diversity, multi-scale interactions and social capital. We found that while our systems have some valuable modularity, in general they rely on a tree-like network which may lack the flexibility to bounce back quickly should critical functions, such as transportation or power delivery networks, come under stress. One tool we found particularly useful was the Resilience Action Initiative (RAI) framework, outlined in the book Turbulence: a Corporate Perspective of Collaborating for Resilience, edited by Mr. Kupers. RAI uses a series of lenses through which to consider a system’s or a city’s ability to be resilience in the face of complex stresses and shocks.

The second session focused on Norfolk’s transformative resilience – governance, foresight capacity and innovation, and experimentation. Here’s where the real opportunities came into focus. We recognized that the Navy, the Port and other large partners provide more redundancy and modularity than we originally identified. Our social capital of nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, and city assets are already providing opportunities to test small scale innovative projects for managing and living with water. We also gained a better understanding of what will be needed to manage flooding both from rising seas and high-volume precipitation events. This brought into focus that how people live and think about their individual roles in managing water will need to change for Norfolk to continue to thrive.

While still a work in progress, the resilience garage was a powerful tool for understanding a system’s ability to be resilient in the face of a specific threat. It provided a way to think about how the assets a system currently has can be used to build capacity for resilience and what additional assets that system will need in order to recover its critical functions quickly. Norfolk will continue to use what we learned as we explore our current level of resilience, and after working with and observing these experts, I am confident that it will influence how we improve our ability to bounce back and grow in the face of any shocks or stresses we face!

Head Photo: Official U.S. Navy Page, Flickr, Resized and cropped by 100RC