Why was the concept of resilience created


Background: What does resilience mean?

In the literal sense of the word, resilience means the ability to "jump back", that is, to return to the initial stage after stress or disturbances. In physics and engineering, resilience has long been a fixed measure for assessing the resilience of materials and structures. But we can also use resilience concepts to analyze entire systems and their behavior towards shocks and disruptions.

In short, the faster the affected system gets back to normal functioning, the more resilient it is. In resilience research we speak of the ability to bounce back.

Status quo: resilience and the corona crisis

Every day we receive new messages about the effects of the COVID19 pandemic and the various measures to cushion the worst consequences. In many countries, the health systems are working to their limits, economies are faltering and social cohesion is also facing an enormous test.

The concept of resilience can help us to understand why crisis management seems so powerless in some places when dealing with COVID19, while in other areas the effects are astonishingly small or the crisis even offers new opportunities. As part of Fraunhofer ISI research on technological and social transformation processes, we deal with the resilience of complex socio-technical systems from different perspectives.

What must politics do to make the economy and society more resilient?

Even if it is a very diverse concept, in practice it is often associated with difficulties in building up resilience in a targeted manner. Because one of the basic assumptions of resilience research is that one can never foresee all possible shock scenarios in complex system contexts. Instead, it is essentially about the provision of central capabilities and critical resources.

In order to enable the fastest possible "bounce back" after a crisis, politicians can promote the robustness of the existing structures at an early stage; for example, the resistance of infrastructures to natural hazards can be increased through regulatory requirements. Redundancies are also important, but in practice they often contradict the priority of efficiency in business and politics. After all, the effectiveness of measures to increase resilience only becomes apparent when a crisis actually occurs.

Last but not least, it is about strengthening systemic adaptability by actively promoting decentralized forms of organization and participation. Researchers at Fraunhofer ISI are working on the SONNET project to use and expand existing resources and knowledge in society and to enable social innovations.

This is how resilience research can help in the current COVID19 crisis

If we look at our society from the resilience perspective as a complex socio-technical system, it quickly becomes clear that in order to successfully cope with major shock events such as the current COVID19 pandemic, everyone involved is required, from politics to business, science, media and culture up to the population, for example by means of self-tracking.

Studies from disaster research have repeatedly shown that civil society in particular has enormous self-organization skills and can provide valuable resources for crisis management. It is crucial that citizens are effectively involved. Studies on the so-called refugee crisis have shown that active participation of the population in state crisis management can certainly succeed, provided that participation structures are created at an early stage.

In addition, on the basis of resilience research, strategies can be developed with which a "bounce forward" can succeed. The corona crisis could prove to be an important catalyst for central economic and social transformation processes such as digitization and artificial intelligence, structural change in economically weak regions or decarbonization, which are at the center of various research projects at Fraunhofer ISI.

The prerequisite for this is that the measures that are now being taken are not only aimed at restoring the status ex ante as quickly as possible, but promoting the far-sighted and sustainable further development of our economic and social systems.