2012: Toward Resilience
After a freewheeling, decade-long “vacation from history” at the tail end of the 20th century, the opening decade of the 21st abruptly returned us to a world fraught with fragility and surprise. And this new context is here to stay.
Each week, it seems, brings some unforeseen disruption, blooming amid the thicket of overlapping social, political, economic, technological and environmental systems that govern our lives. They arrive at a quickening, yet erratic pace, from unexpected quarters, stubbornly resistant to prediction. The most significant become culture touchstones, referred to in staccato shorthand: Katrina. Haiti. BP. Fukushima. The Crash. The Great Recession. The London Mob. The Arab Spring. Other nameless disruptions swell their ranks, amplified by slowly creeping vulnerabilities: a Midwestern town is undone by economic dislocation; a company is obliterated by globalization; a way of life is rendered impossible by an ecological shift; a debt crisis emerges from political intractability. If it feels like the pace of these disruptions is increasing, it’s not just you: it took just six months for 2011 to become the costliest year on record for natural disasters*, a fact that insurance companies tie unambiguously to climate change. Yet nobody can be sure where the next disruption will come from: in our densely and globally interconnected world, the ‘black swans’ are baked in.
In the face of such unavoidable volatility, what factors cause some communities, individuals, ecosystems, institutions and economies to break down, and which enable them to bounce back?
That simple, and increasingly central question is at the heart of a new field, and an important new strategic conversation, centered on resilience. The answers uncovered come from many fields: economics, ecology, political science, systems and decision theory, information technology, cognitive science and social innovation among them. Like a developing Polaroid, they are slowly revealing a set of insights for building social, economic, technical and business systems that can anticipate disruption, heal themselves when breached, and reorganize themselves to maintain their core purpose, even under radically changed circumstances.
The shift to resilience is bringing with it a major refocusing, away from ‘sustainability’ and risk mitigation as they have been commonly understood, and toward greater risk adaptation – ensuring that we can survive disruptions when they inevitably occur.
This shift to resilience is so fundamental and strategic that PopTech is committing the next year - and beyond - to examining its many facets, disciplinary lenses and contexts. At conferences in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Camden, Maine, and in Labs in Nairobi, Kenya and elsewhere, we’ll be bringing together a global network of resilience practitioners, researchers and leaders. We’ll be asking questions about how to improve the resilience of our economy, our communities, our institutions, our ecosystem and ourselves. And in a political season, we’ll explore what policies and modes of civic engagement will yield a more resilient America.
We cannot imagine a more important or pressing conversation to have right now. And we invite you to be a part of it.
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