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:
- Guarding the nation against terrorism
- Securing the nation’s borders
- Enforcing immigration laws
- Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters
- 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