Collaboration and city resilience

By Jelenko Dragisic, Founder – Global Resilience Collaborative

The past decade has ushered in an era of resilience and collaboration as two pillars upon which the future of a city’s capacity to flourish may increasingly be dependent. The emergence of disruptive forces, be they technological, cultural, political or natural, has created an opportunity for an entrepreneurial approach to city flourishing. The key lies in re-imagining the city on the basis of its capacity to reformulate itself as a collaborative system well placed to manage disruption, and allows it to continue to grow. Resilience must be crafted around a collaborative strategy.


Disaster resilience is a multifaceted challenge, but it should not deter citizens from trying to engage with its complexity. Small, simple steps can make a huge difference. Engaging with disasters via a resilience platform is about innovation in the face of disruption. Resilience building is in part about re-imagining cities as collaborative systems that allow for balanced flourishing, whereby multiple factors are integrated into city life. The notion of a collaborative city as the backbone of a resilient city should be considered in the light of future scenarios where cities need to balance economic, social and environmental factors in equal measure. Information, knowledge and belief in self-action leads people to understand their own capacity as a resource that can be converted into social capital of immense value. It is of critical importance that serious attention be paid to some limitations of the disaster resilience narrative. The strong responses by global communities to resilience programs is a vital indication that the community does not see resilience-building as being the same thing as disaster management (or disaster mitigation as some prefer to call it). The links between disaster management and disaster resilience may be obvious and are, in fact, real and should be maintained. However, resilience-building goes beyond disaster management. Its main concern cannot only be the ability of a community to bounce back. The real test lies in the ability of an individual, community or business to continue to grow. Attempting, as a seemingly logical goal, to go back to ‘normal’ is not what resilience-building should settle for. Resilience-building has to work as an interlocking strategy, ensuring that all areas of work are done in tandem and support the collective effort; an effort that can successfully bring about a level of cooperation and collaboration between individuals, the local community, local, state and federal governments, big business and other institutions such as churches, universities etc., that can perhaps be described as ‘super-cooperation’. Could it be that Enterprise Architecture (EA) is the tool that can offer the systematic language of collaborative governance needed for a complex partnership to work effectively towards a culture of resilience? How could EA offer a language-based strategy for building disaster resilience? The answer lies partly in the premise that resilience is not possible unless there is ‘buy in’ from all ‘parties’, using the bottom up approach. Collaboration is a strategy in itself. While partnerships are nothing new, in the case of disaster resilience-building collaborations are very complex because of the diverse range of partners and the roles each can and should play. EA with its well established structural language, protocols and standards, can add value. One of the key impacts of this approach is formation of new ground for a different way to deal with disasters. This would guide the narrative of disaster management closer to everyday life; something that people can relate to. With a stable language we have the potential to deal with disasters with more nerve and order and with less hype and spontaneity. The result can be a higher likelihood of an increase in the number of parties that are stable and persistently involved in disaster resilience-building. This is one of the most critical impacts the disaster resilience strategy can achieve; a shift to the culture of resilience. Disasters are complex, semi-permanent situations which require major effort. Governments are not equipped, nor in fact best placed to deal with disasters alone. Additionally, governments cannot be expected to provide exclusive leadership in disaster resilience-building. While those factors are detrimental in the current situation with EA as a basis, a new, more sustainable approach could emerge that brings a larger degree of participation in the form of resources from multiple parties. Effective consideration of the role Enterprise Architecture could perform in transitioning the present situation to a new collaborative framework requires a detailed understanding of the current state of play. Consideration should be given to the fact that current understanding of disaster management is not as clear cut as it may have been a decade ago. One major factor is the emergence of a global consensus that resilience has to be enhanced in order to make response to major disasters sustainable. Considering the global cost of disasters (US$380 billion in the year 2011 alone) it is vital that our understanding of disaster management be reviewed. The emergence of the resilience discourse has created a new narrative of collaboration between responding agencies and the general public. A crucial part of the growing trend of collaboration between the two spheres has led to better outcomes (e.g., faster clean up, as was seen with the Mud Army in Brisbane, Australia) but also conflicts, tensions and blurring of the accountabilities and expectations (‘Occupy Sandy’ received far better recognition for its local community’s work than many formal authorities). The process of re-imagining the way forward requires integration of two distinct narratives. Disaster management and resilience are fundamentally two sides of the same coin. One is formal and legislated; the other is informally organised. It is critical that a common language of collaboration be agreed upon with special focus on devising a formula of interoperability that recognises both capacities and limitations. In practical terms the cost of disasters will continue to rise until there is a clear understanding that the degree of disruption is part of an ‘unresolved uncertainty’ which must be addressed within the culture of resilience. Resilience in this context forms the basis for a collaborative system that allows all agencies to innovate and grow, despite disruptions.

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