Mayor Walsh Addresses the Boston Workshop. Credit: CIty of Boston Photography Department

Inside the Resilience Agenda Setting Workshop

The Resilience Agenda Setting Workshop is a member city’s first deep collaboration with 100 Resilient Cities. It sets them on the path to building resilience. The workshop brings together a diverse array of city stakeholders including city leaders and representatives from the private sector, academia, and local communities.

The goals are to get the city excited about partnering with 100RC, to help participants understand the resilience-building process and the concept of urban resilience, and to push the city to think differently by re-evaluating its challenges and resilience-building priorities.

Pre-Workshop: Getting the Right Participants

An effective workshop needs participation from a broad range of stakeholders to be successful. Inclusivity is a priority before the workshop even begins because of the role attendees play in helping the city identify needs and priorities: without enough people from the private sector, economic stresses may not get the attention they deserve; not enough community leaders, and the needs of the poor and vulnerable might be ignored; not enough rank-and-file representatives, and you may struggle to get broad-based endorsement in the future.

What Happens at a Workshop?

Although every workshop is different, this framework governs how we approach the first engagement with a city.

1. Introduction to 100 Resilient Cities and Our Perspective

A significant priority in a workshop is explaining to attendees what the resilience building process is going to be like, and why their participation is critical. We outline our four core offerings and how they relate to the challenges of 21st Century urbanism. This includes explaining shocks, stresses, and how these threats make it more brittle and worse at surviving disasters.

Regional case studies help us explain urban resilience and how resilience thinking can help the city grow stronger, more secure, and better at improving itself to the benefit of all its inhabitants. For example, in Kigali we discussed managing storm flooding, a well-known shock. City experts helped participants think about how the impact of any individual shock—such as flooding—is amplified by a range of stresses, including people living in informal areas that are at a high risk for mudslides.

2. City Context: Identifying Urban Resilience Challenges

In small breakout groups, participants begin engaging with a holistic approach to resilience thinking by proposing what resilience means for their city. They are asked to discuss the challenges, opportunities, and priorities in their city, and then to synthesize this into a sketch of what the city needs in order to become more resilient. This includes evaluating which existing efforts in the city should be integrated into the resilience agenda.

Pittsburgh CRO Grant Ervin thinks about resilience in his city. Photo by Molly Washam

Then, in the second breakout session, participants are given cards with a single shock or stress written on them, which people place on a matrix: the X-axis maps impact from mild to severe; the Y-axis tracks frequency or likelihood. Those a group identifies as severe and likely are their top three shocks and stresses.

Assessing shocks and stresses. Photo by @julieburros on Twitter.

Going through the exercise and sharing results also helps reshape perceptions and broaden attendees’ ideas of what is important. For example, people in Pittsburgh initially emphasized water-related challenges like storm flooding and sewage problems. By the end of the exercise, several groups began paying more attention to less-tangible stresses “simmering below the surface,” such as income disparity, and even ranked them among their top three stresses.

3. Assessing a city’s resilience

The third breakout session familiarizes attendees with the City Resilience Framework (CRF). The CRF identifies 12 “drivers,” actions resilient cities take. In the exercise, stakeholders rank their city on each of the 12 drivers using stickers—green for “Area of Strength,” yellow for “Can Do Better,” and red for “Can Do Much Better.

Evaluating strengths and room for improvement on the City Resilience Framework. Photo by Associate Director of Relationships Liz Agbor-Tabi.

In Boston, stakeholders took the exercise a step further. They looked at all of the “unclaimed” drivers and used that to create a list of related organizations and groups that needed to be included moving forward to fill in gaps in knowledge and perspective.

4. The Future of the City’s Resilience

In the last exercise, participants dig into how shocks and stresses are connected in order to understand how a city can apply resilience thinking to address multiple challenges with one intervention. We ask them to answer the question, “What must be true for the city to implement solutions that address multiple challenges and priorities?”

Pittsburgh workshop participants started with how the city responded to the industrial decline of the late 1970’s by moving from a dependence on steel production to a focus on education, healthcare, and finance as an example of applying resilience thinking. They transitioned to discussing the adverse impacts of this policy—namely social and income inequity—and thinking about how the city should address these challenges through inclusive planning for its resilience strategy.

What Happens Next?

Often, the workshop helps the city to think about the role of the Chief Resilience Officer and the necessary capabilities of this person in new ways: the ability to work across city government departments and between various groups in the city; being a mobilizer in in the community and local government; the ability to engage in and leverage global partnerships. Through the workshop, the city learns about all of these qualities, crystalizing their understanding of what they need to start the work of building resilience.

The next steps are for the city to find that perfect individual, and then to develop an office or department of resilience to support that role. 100RC collaborates closely with the cities on this crucial step.