Shining a spotlight on resilience leadership
28th January 2016
The Resilience Spotlight is an initiative of the Bristol Resilience Network, which is part of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. Every month in 2015, we have invited nominations for someone in the city who demonstrates how we can work at a local level to develop Bristol’s capacity to respond to shocks and stresses.
The theme for December was leadership. We were looking for a person or organisation that shows exceptional leadership in resilience work, and are pleased to be featuring two exceptional individuals in our final spotlight blog for 2015.
This spotlight blog was written by Kim Dowsett – Climate Change Advisor at Environment Agency.
Dr Angela Raffle
“The most important learning was becoming comfortable in non-hierarchical, chaotic, self-organising human networks”.
Angela qualified in medicine in 1980, worked as a junior doctor in England and overseas, before specialising in public health. She became a national figure in the UK’s work on improving screening programmes and services for cancer. In 2010 she undertook one of the first Consultant in Public Health roles in England dedicated solely to the issues of climate change and resource depletion, working as a partner to Bristol City Council. Her work focused on aligning the health and sustainability agendas in relation to food, transport and urban planning. She has been active in the Bristol Green Capital movement since it was conceived in 2007 and helped set up the Bristol Food Policy Council of which she is now vice chair. She is Chair of the Trustees for ‘The Community Farm’ a member-owned community supported agriculture project in the Chew Valley, and a director of Transition Bristol. Angela holds an Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer post at the University of Bristol and is a member of the Sustainability Steering Group for North Bristol NHS Trust.
“Resilience to me means the capacity to not fall apart miserably when something unexpected and challenging happens. It applies to individual human beings, to families, to communities, to the complex human-made systems that we now depend on for food, water, heat, shelter and transport. It applies to the natural world’s ecological systems too. Much of the discourse within politics and the mainstream media assumes that ‘the economy’ (a construct we have invented) is somehow separate from and more important than ‘the natural world’. This is a dangerous delusion and is driving us ever further from resilience.
Living within the earth’s natural resource limits is not negotiable. How the transition happens is up to us. If we wait for government it will be too late, if we act alone it will be too little. Community-led action can, and is, creating new ways of thinking and new prototypes for locally resilient systems. This is happening all over the globe and although each project may feel small, the combined effect is large.
I’m learning lessons almost every day. The field of community activism is rich with insights and possibilities. The most important learning was becoming comfortable in non-hierarchical, chaotic, self-organising human networks. This takes practice. It means enhancing your ability to notice when your own self-importance, or fears, or ingrained thought patterns are actually causing you to get stuck. The best way of learning and practising this is with methods that tap into intuition and embodied knowledge, going beyond just intellect and words. The most innovative businesses use these approaches too. For anyone interested in learning these practices MIT runs a free massive open online course called ‘U Lab – transforming business, society and self’.
The biggest change in Bristol will come from shifting the way we think. Each of us needs to take charge of our own thoughts and actions. Each of us needs to escape the entrapment of simply arguing in our heads and with each other about why everything is awful or difficult or everyone else’s fault. If we really hold up a collective mirror and look, without fear, blame, or judgement, at where our behaviours are taking us and whether we would like to choose something different – then change becomes not only possible but also achievable. The biggest barrier is cynicism. If this is annoying you to read it then ask yourself – is it others you are cynical about, or is it yourself?”
Described as an experienced civil engineer, Sarah Toy brings a wealth of knowledge about the whole concept of resilience. She has led many multi-disciplinary teams bringing together engineers, public health experts, community development specialists and economists – she understands the complexities of making positive change happen.
Before her appointment as Strategic Resilience Officer for Bristol City Council, Sarah was Head of Smarter Choices for Sustrans managing a team of 35 people and before that she worked for Arup in sustainable development. Sarah has lived in Bristol for over 12 years.
“It’s nearly a year since I saw the advert in the guardian for a Strategic Resilience Officer for Bristol. The idea attracted and terrified me in equal measures. How can one person be in charge of a city’s resilience? And what does “resilience” really mean anyway? When I asked my six year old daughter she told me it meant being hard and shiny, like a Brazil nut! Well I couldn’t resist the challenge.
So here I am now seven months into the job as Bristol’s Strategic Resilience Officer and writing my first blog about it. It’s been a whirlwind, I haven’t paused for breath or stopped to look down. Now seems like a good time to ask, how am I doing, what have I achieved so far?
The job is unusual, there’s no doubt about that. I am one of a small but growing band of Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) who are urban resilience pioneers supported by the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities programme. By the end of this year there will be 99 other people like me around the world, each leading their city through a thoughtful but practical resilience assessment process. This process has been developed by the 100 Resilient Cities team to help understand complex urban challenges. The CRO’s job is to make sense of complexity and work out where efforts should be concentrated to make the city more resilient to both sudden shocks such as a floods, as well as long term challenges like tackling child poverty or improving air quality. Yes, the job is huge, some might say impossible.
Like any job you can only do what you can do and I have constantly found myself shifting priorities and adapting to new knowledge or ideas as they come into my field of vision. Sometimes it feels like I’m making up it as I go along. Which, actually, I am because no-one has ever done this in Bristol before! No two days are the same and each week I marvel at the range of conversations, meetings and visits I have made in my quest to understand what resilience means to the people that make this wonderful city (my home) what it is. I’ve found myself visiting so many new places – Avonmouth to see how important the operations there are to our daily lives – apparently all the alcohol imported into Bristol passes through the port, the Forest of Dean to hear the Youth Council’s manifesto and Knowle West Media Centre to see a group of fantastic Junior Digital Producers in action.
So far I’ve had one to one meetings with more than 100 people and workshops with more than 70 people who are all involved in some way in keeping Bristol’s systems going (or perhaps challenging or trying to change them). These people have been academics, council officers, politicians, private sector employees, health professionals, “blue light” responders and residents. What I wanted to learn from them all is “what does resilience mean to you?” and “what should we be focusing on NOW if we want to be a flourishing city 50 years’ time?” The responses were wide-ranging (as you’d expect because there are no “right answers”) but some powerful themes are emerging.
The most striking of these is that we (and when I say “we” I mean everyone in the city and the region, not just the council!) need to find ways to help all citizens, communities and institutions play an active role in shaping the future of the city. This will require us to work in different ways, listen more and learn to share power. Watch this space as the question of how we really do this in practice unfolds.”