Resilience Thinking: Rhetoric and Reality

Substantial infrastructure investments are on the horizon. These investments are necessary to accommodate population growth and rapidly changing ecosystems.

Now more than ever, cities and their partners are looking to integrate resilience thinking into these projects to withstand a growing array of shocks and stresses. 100RC teamed up with EY on a survey and report: “Getting Real about Resilience: How Cities Can Build Resilience Thinking into Infrastructure Projects,” to better gauge perceptions and confidence around this approach from the public and private sector. The report also presents recommendations around innovative ways to incorporate resilience thinking into the financing, metrics, design, and planning of infrastructure projects.

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One of the key findings was that applying resilience thinking throughout the lifecycle of a project is a challenge for both the public and private sectors. When asked to rate how well city governments and the private sector build resilience thinking INTO the various stages of the infrastructure lifecycle (stakeholder management, planning, procurement, financing, and measurement), both city government and private sector actors are relatively confident in the area of stakeholder engagement.

However, that confidence begins to decline as the project moves towards implementation. While 38% of private sector respondents think that proper stakeholder engagement mechanisms are in place, only 27% of private sector respondents think that resilience is a key value driver in the assessment of private sector bids and 12% think there are sufficient financing options to carry out this work. This decline is likely due, in part, to insufficient regulatory incentives and the difficulty in activating new revenue streams in cities. In addition, both government and private sector respondents are less confident that resilience benefits are captured post-implementation. These survey results highlight the difficulty in building resilience thinking past the planning stage and into the project delivery stage.

Obstacles to maintaining resilience thinking throughout the entire infrastructure lifecycle:

  1. Long-term social, economic, and environmental benefits of building resilience into individual projects are often not quantified. This makes it difficult for the private sector to build a strong return on investment (ROI) case for proposals that incorporate resilience thinking. It also makes it difficult for policy-makers to make an informed decision about which bid to select. By establishing clear and measurable metrics that quantify the resilience benefits, the public and private sector can measure and value resilience benefits more accurately.
  2. Without specific key performance indicators (KPIs) built into the project planning and delivery, it becomes difficult to check progress against those KPIs, and resilience can become less of a priority.
  3. Infrastructure projects tend to be large and complex, with different partners responsible for the project at different stages. This means there are lots of handover points at which the resilience goals can get lost. Project owners need to articulate the resilience outcomes the infrastructure project can expect to achieve, and ensure that message is communicated to all relevant parties.

This project was just the first step and there is more work to do. The survey suggests that the private and public sector have a mix of apprehension and appetite to innovate and grow the evidence base around this work. As we build on this foundational research we are eager to contribute to the growing community of practice around resilience thinking and better articulate how to incorporate it into the lifecycle of infrastructure projects.

To find out more about how public and private actors can maintain resilience throughout the infrastructure lifecycle, read the report, “Getting Real about Resilience: How Cities Can Build Resilience Thinking into Infrastructure Projects”