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Article | WTW Research Network Newsletter

Whole of society approaches to improve preparedness for crises

By Hélène Galy and Omar Samhan | June 22, 2022

As the Covid-19 crisis revealed hidden interconnections, it reinvigorated the debate around the need for “whole of society” approaches to risk and resilience.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has been compared to a war on the whole population, but without the physical destruction. Beyond the obvious human and economic cost, this pandemic highlighted the fragility of the reliance on ‘just in time’ business models, and uncovered societal inequalities and tensions that threaten our resilience.

As hidden connections were revealed, the crisis reinvigorated the debate around the need for “whole of society” approaches to risk and resilience; and a search for a more concerted effort across all sectors, across government, business and civil society. The WTW Research Network continues to explore and respond to these issues through our work with the National Preparedness Commission, and will coordinate a whitepaper in 2022 on market resilience.

The National Preparedness Commission (NPC) was formally launched on 19 November 2020 and is chaired by Lord Toby Harris. The Commission is made up of 46 leading figures – including the WTW Research Network Director, Hélène Galy, and one of our Research Network partners Elisabeth Braw, currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), from public life, academia, business, and civil society. The aim of the NPC is to promote better preparedness for a major crisis or incident, primarily in the UK, although it has attracted interest internationally.

Although the latest edition of the UK’s National Risk Register still has pandemic flu at the top of the list, it features a further 38 other major risks facing the country, including climate change, environmental hazards, major accidents, malicious attacks (cyber-based and terrorists), risks arising overseas, and animal and human diseases.

The NPC recognizes that the UK needs to be better prepared to deal with unexpected or unprecedented shocks, but that the government is limited in its resources and bandwidth for action. This is reflected in the government’s Integrated Review, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, which calls for a ‘whole of society’ approach to national resilience.

The NPC is a microcosm of UK Plc, bringing together stakeholders from public, private, academic and civil society sectors, promoting cross-sectoral debate, best practices and policy.

The Commission also holds closed roundtables for Commissioners, civil servants and subject matter experts, held under the Chatham House Rule and allowing detailed discussion of the themes contained in Commission papers or those produced by partner organizations.

While attendance of these sessions is restricted, WTW organizes a series of roundtables “Finding your Geopolitical Feet” open to our clients, focusing on those themes after a keynote from an external expert from the WTW Research Network.

A wide range of articles and blogs have appeared on the Commission’s website, providing an eclectic range of thought-leadership for those interested in preparedness and resilience. The following reports (which were not directly sponsored by WTW) show the ranges of topics addressed:

  • The Data-sharing Imperative – prepared by Dr Andrea Simmons looked at the lessons from the pandemic and how the perceived data protection challenges could be reduced to enable better service delivery to vulnerable individuals.
  • Enhancing Warnings – prepared by Dr Carina Fearnley and Professor Ilan Kelman from the UCL Warnings Research Centre offered insights into what alerts and warning are and how they can better support effective behavioral preparedness and responses across a wide range of hazards, stakeholders and sectors.
  • Financial Foundations for Resilience – prepared by Professor Michael Manelli and Lord Toby Harris provided new thinking on how insurance could be used to reduce the impact of all significant risks and hence improve resilience.
  • Learning that can Save Lives – prepared by Lianna Roast of the Disaster Management Centre at Bournemouth University examined the process by which lessons identified following some major incident can be applied and embedded in practice.
  • Response to Call for Evidence from the Integrated Review – this is the submission made by the Commission to the Cabinet Office in response to the call for evidence on the National Resilience Strategy, arising from the Integrated Review “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”.
  • Resilience Reimagined: a practical guide for organisations – prepared by Professor David Denyer and Mike Sutliff of Cranfield University, with the support of Deloitte, looked at the insights of fifty business leaders from a range of sectors on the experience of the pandemic and made a series of recommendations on how organizations could become more resilient drawing on these lessons.
  • Lessons from the Millennium Bug – prepared by Professor Martyn Thomas of Gresham College looked at the experience of the Y2K issue, why it was potentially so serious, how the risks were mitigated, and the lessons for future resilience.
  • Building Better Resilience – prepared by Paul Martin and Jordan Giddings and looked at the difference between active and passive resilience, the role of human psychology and the significance of complex systems.
  • Independent review of the Civil Contingencies Act: the NPC has published its Review of the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act, led by Bruce Mann, former Director of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, and based on over 300 interviews. It makes 117 recommendations and concludes that the Government must learn lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies over the last two decades if UK resilience arrangements are to be made fit for the future.

Like many other sponsors, WTW is working with the NPC on a whitepaper on a specific aspect of resilience, which will be published later in 2022. The whitepaper will look to explore where markets are effective (or not) to promote preparedness and resilience, the trade-offs between efficiency and resilience, and the incentives needed to make our ecosystems more resilient.


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