Resilience is the word

Public managers at all levels face a new reality with a primary distinguishing characteristic: uncertainty. What do you do when the ground is shifting under your feet and you can’t see three steps ahead?

Those working on how cities prepare for and respond to natural disasters already know this feeling. That’s why they’ve so much time trying to understand what makes communities resilient at all levels – societal, administrative, logistical, infrastructure, etc. Even the National Science Foundation has invested heavily in research projects drawing from multidisciplinary studies of what helps make communities resilient. 

The answer is that we are still learning. One lesson, though, is that grand planning doesn’t work. Instead, systems that emphasize features like adaptation and modularity perform better. 

This thinking runs counter to what managers like best: rational, synthetic control. It’s more what you see in environments like currency trading. These are hallmarks of Bayesian decision making.

Many of our models assume that the environment is fixed – that we are in steady state. But we aren’t. And that requires a different kind of thinking.