Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 19, 2009

Resilience as public policy: moving from the individualistic to the systematic

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on July 19, 2009

Last week as part of a reasonably extended discussion of resilience Pat Longstaff commented, “I’m sure it takes all three of the attributes (cited): self-awareness, humility, and courage…  But let’s give some serious thought to how a government would make public policy for a system where the individual people and organizations are not similarly situated.”

Pat’s challenge reminds me of Peter Drucker’s admonition that effective management is  a system that amplifies individual performance. We should be able to say the same for public policy. How do we get beyond depending on individual virtue and craft a virtuous system?

As last week’s post tried to show, resilience is fundamental to the human condition.  But it can be obscured or advanced, discouraged or encouraged.  How can public policy advance resilience?

First, by identifying resilience as a high priority.  President Obama and Secretary Napolitano have occasionally said good things about resilience.  They have not given it priority.  The Secretary has offered five priorites:

  1. Guarding the nation against terrorism
  2. Securing the nation’s  borders
  3. Enforcing immigration laws
  4. Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
  5. Unifying the Department of Homeland Security

Each of these priorities focus on a problem.  Is there — should there be — a homeland security priority that goes beyond problem-solving?  

HLSwatch has previously referenced eleven Mayo Clinic recommendations for developing enhanced individual resilience.   There are some possible analogues for how public policy could encourage community resilience.  For example:

Get connected: A few years ago the police and fire chiefs of Washington D.C. required their neighborhood  leadership teams to meet once a week for coffee (or whatever).  There was no other requirement, just once a week the leading cops and the firefighters get connected.  From this has flowed a range of operational and strategic collaborations and significantly improved  communications  overall.  Public policy can use conferences, grants, training, online methods and more  to ensure the wide range of homeland security professions get better connected.

Accept and anticipate change:  Despite powerful evidence to the contrary, most of our formal systems — both public and private — assume substantial continuity and control.  In one of his last books Peter Drucker wrote, “We face long years of profound changes.  The changes are not primarily economic changes.  They are not even primarily technological changes.  They are changes in demographics, in politics, in society, in philosophy, and, above all, in worldview… There is no social theory for such a period… The only policy likely to succeed is to try to make the future… To try to make the future is highly risky.  It is less risky, however, than not to try to make it.”  (Management Challenges of the 21st Century, pages 92-93)  Public policy is currently oriented toward avoiding mistakes.  This is bad policy for a period of profound change.  We need a public policy that will engender and embrace action-learning.

Learn from experience:  What are our prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery success stories?  Current public policy tends to focus mostly on short-comings and problems… and too often treats failure as cause for punitive action.  More often we need to learn from, rather than punish, failure.  We absolutely need to more fully recognize success.  Positive experiences can be almost hidden. Public policy can use connection opportunities to highlight good practice and strong outcomes. We should also celebrate “rich” failures.

Keep a journal:  For individuals journaling is a  way to make explicit what is churning beneath the surface, to reflect thoughtfully on what is made explicit, and to consider possibilities to take action on what is churning.  The same benefits can be generated for organizations and networks through blogging, social networking, tweeting, and more.  But for this to avoid a rapid descent into whining or worse, we need to practice disciplined and largely positive  communications (such as advocated by Appreciative Inquiry).

Work toward a (small) goal:  Currently public policy is  biased toward big problems requiring complicated solutions implemented over a very long period of time.  In the real world the challenges of change are most effectively addressed through a large number of innovative experimentations – most of which quickly fail.  Quick failure is part of the key to adapting to rapid change.  Filtering through goal-oriented   failures and finding the few flakes of success is like panning for gold.   But each golden flake can be worth a great deal and in the policy world each successful innovation can be rapidly replicated across the system.

Take action: Often public policy is too heavily oriented toward the world of words: planning, gathering data, reporting, and evaluating.  Words are an important part of constructing and making sense of reality.  But action counts even more. Imagine a DHS grant program with maximum awards of $10,000.  A public blog is used to solicit and submit grant proposals.  Solicitations are open for three weeks.  Public comment  is encouraged, in real time, on all solicitations and submissions.  All submissions — solicited or not – must be answered within three weeks.  Grants made must be expended within twelve weeks, and a narrative report is posted to another element of the blog for public discussion within three weeks of the expenditure of funds.  A $520,000 annual appropriation would support making a grant-a-week for the year.  This is a public policy approach to encouraging resilient thinking and action.

The Mayo list of individual resilience recommendations also includes, “Start Laughing.”  Any thoughts on a public policy analogue? I have a few, but will save them for another time.

Additional resources on resilience:

Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania

Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity by Frank Barrett and Ronald Fry

UK Resilience Homepage, Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom

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7 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 19, 2009 @ 8:19 am

WOW! Another great great post by Phil or Chris. I think this is exactly the kind of brainstorming activity that blogs may well dominate this Century.

First, the five stated goals above for DHS are a recipe for failure. Why, they reflect a paradigm that has pretty much failed since 9/11 and some are not even relevant to Homeland Security. More later. The one I really hate is the last one calling for unification of DHS! The largely top down, law enforcement, uniformed military, authoritarian management style that this item has as its underpinnings has already failed. Hey again over 70,000 people in DHS have guns and badges and/or wear uniforms. If you were to unify by giving them all guns and badges and uniforms what would be the impact? Unification or dissolution? I leave that topic to others but I think you understand the point. My understanding is that those in DHS who are willing and able and competent to collaborate and cooperate with other federal agencies and departments and state and local governments are few and far between! Is this something that reflects culture and a unified approach? Not invented here? We know it all? no one else has ideas? Again with the basic strategy of law enforcement in the US being put more people in prisions is this the underlying DHS strategy?

What the post really highlights is the US managerial approach to the big solution! Drucker is right on in his analysis and demonstrates his prowess as thinker and futurologist. Deming (sic) and others who argued for small solutions and refinements over time really had wisdom in my opinion. Now of course after several generations reflected in the difference between a Toyota and a GM! DHS seems to not really have a grip on their metrics, goals, objectives, process and procedures because (and contracting efforts reflect this) they are looking for the big bang and not really doing the nitty gritty. Note for example that DHS has submitted almost NO technical amendments to its legislative charter since its creation. Just a largely hunker down and take it on the chin approach legislatively. Not even new Executive Order have been suggested by DHS which is the right and obligation of any department or agency under EO 11030 controlling EOs. Nor is there an accurate package of EO’s listed and delegated properly in DHS and to its components. Hey I think history has shown that most of the DHS political appointees needed the job and did not bring a whole lot to the table. That combined with the absolute hatred of those offering alternative solutions and second opinions throughout the Bush Administration and DHS led to the stagnation that is a part of the problem.
The DHS charter needs to be reformed badly. Some components that should have been in DHS did not make it. Leading one is the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the Drug Czar funtion. Now it looks like two things that DHS might have done competently but so far have not is Cyber Security and CIP (Critical Infrastructure Protection) and domestic INTEL. Also almost total absence of MITIGATION with respect to natural disasters. This in itself is a disaster. Congress although controlled by DEMS has finally realized how incompetent the Executive Branch is (and corrupted) and how corrupt they themselves are now. So what usually makes it through is often unread, and unanalyzed which is exactly what the various interest groups and lobbyists want so their version can become law. Just as the Congressional Budget Office gives a mark on each peace of legislation, a similar review function should exist for environment impacts, energy impacts, national security impacts, and homeland security impacts. OBAMA could set this review up in the Executive Branch but he is lost in trying to solve problems with political clout and not those that just require long term analysis and hard work to figure out correct policies. And notice that the think tanks rarely provide draft legislation with complete analysis of the above for the legislation’s potential impacts.
Well on and on but thanks Phil for the great great post. By the way pretty obvious US managers paid lip service to Drucker but either did not understand what he was saying or understood it and ignored it or were just untrainable in modern management theory. So much for the MBAs and their impacts on business. By the way do the business schools have courses in Business Continuity?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 19, 2009 @ 9:00 am

By the way the first four items on the priority list in the post above I will happily argue don’t make for more resilience in the US public sector, private sector, or citizenry. Hey first you others who disagree post your rationale for why they do make for a more resilient country and citzenry.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

July 19, 2009 @ 10:18 am

First: Why being a resilient nation makes you less of a target for terrorism and a bigger economic competitor. If you are able to bounce back from a “surprise” like an attack, a natural disaster, or an economic downturn (yes, the business cycle does exist) there is very little to be gained by surprising you. It is actually a deterrent if you can demonstrate it.
Yes, resilience measures are not free and they will have consequences for competitiveness in the Short Term. But you do not win in the Long Term by having no ability to withstand the inevitable surprise. People who promise they can predict these surprises in complex systems are fools or charlatans – or maybe just good people who want to believe that, given enough data, they can predict and protect.
Humility in the face of the unknown and a belief in the potential of individuals is not, however, currently in vogue and most believe it is political suicide. So, we should not build the case for it that way. You could build a resilience competency by starting small (it is not, after all one of the listed priorities) and organizing some very local pilot projects (small communities) in areas where they are likely to be needed (gulf coast?). You give these localities a small amount of money and a list of the best guesses about what makes a community resilient and then let them come up with their own plan(s). Phli’s list from the Mayo clinic is very close to my own. You ask them to design and use the plan for small surprises and not to keep it for the big ones. They will need experience and practice. And then you start collecting stories about what is working and what is not. You give people a LOT of credit for good tries. You give people a LOT of blame for corruption and misuse of the plan. If good things and bad things are discovered and can be used by other communities, great. Someone in Washington (or Brussels , etc,) can spread the word and bask in the limelight.
But the stories should NOT become the basis for national policy (“you must do’s”) that will be applied to all communities. The idea is to give communities faith in themselves by giving them trust that what they do for each other in times of need will come back to them in many ways. The benefits will be different in each community – sometimes on different blocks within those communities. Won’t it be hard to control all these communities from a single command and control center. Yes. But a good communication system would enable that C&C Center to deliver what those communities really need and enlist them where they are most needed – to help dispel the fog that invariably surrounds a crisis.
Which brings me to the question I posed last week. How can a policy that encourages different plans for each community be consistent with our cherished legal concept that there is one rule for everybody? What if a community had a plan that mostly helped property owners? Or ignored a minority group? Or did not provide for any strangers in the community at the time of the crisis? What if a community decided they don’t want to spend the time and resources it takes to be resilient? Would FEMA ignore a call for help after a flood? Certainly not. But the stories from that flood will teach other communities (and inform their political debates) about local resilience. But is that enough to assure equal protection of the law? I’m hoping some readers of this blog can weigh in here. I thank Phil for starting the discussion.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 19, 2009 @ 11:19 am

The fascinating thing to me about FEMA’s guidance on planning (currently CPG 101)is that it is not all-hazards or all sectors of population and of course does not use the same guidance itself. Is there a disconnect?
The reason Pat’s post is of great interest to me is that due process and equal protection is exactly what is missing from the 90% of nations disaster systems run by their military. In fact I would argue is that letting the military do it is the international standard and the US is the outlier. But FEMA since Hurricane Camille has been criticized for lack of due process and denial of equal protection. Their should be full judicial review of these Constitutional standards. Because the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Managment Act does not waive soverign immunity this has detered some plaintiffs. In fact that lack of waive goes only to money damages and claims and not Constituional claims as in Bivens vs Six Unknown Agents, where SCOTUS created the so called Constituional tort. Hoping this helps, Pat?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 19, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

Okay my top priority if DHS Secretary would be Numero Uno the combination of Resilience/CIP/Cyber Security/Supply Chain security! And item four would be eliminated entirely and replaced by the category know as Preparedness/Prevention/Mitigation! Items two and three look too closely related to be two separate items. Set theory would show distinct overlaps for any Wenn Diagramm of these two items (items #2 and #3)! I would argue that these items involve foreign policy/economic/long-term demographic issues none of which are within the expertise of DHS as presently formulated. I have several substitutes in mind but will leave for later.

Comment by SOV

July 21, 2009 @ 12:11 am

How about moving to a resilient community model as advocated by John Robb (See: Global Guerrillas weblog)? The basic idea is to decentralize our most critical systems (energy, security, food, water) by allowing like minded members of local communities to invest in, and maintain them.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

July 22, 2009 @ 7:47 am

That would probably work, SOV, but the politics and economics are going to be next to impossible. Decentralization and loose coupling of critical assets are clear winners in the resilience game. But they do not provide economies of scale so, in the short term , they are not popular. I think the right strategy is to have big systems that operate in calm times but can be broken down to local operation in times of “surprise.”

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