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Henrietta Curzon

Council resilience: adrenaline vs core strength

Covid has undeniably pushed councils to their limits. Their ability to respond and bounce forward from the challenges they have faced is testament to their resilience and their willingness to grasp everyday disruption. I have been inspired by how councils have kept going, adapted their support, and played a pivotal role in suppressing the virus.

The pandemic has also exposed how organisational resilience has been misunderstood and underestimated, narrowly framed as either personal resilience at scale, or persevering through a short-term crisis response. This misunderstanding has resulted in willingness trumping wellbeing, and councils are fatigued as a result. In partnership with the County Councils Network (CCN), we have been working to develop a better understanding of organisational resilience.

Nine County Councils have given their time towards our research with CCN, with senior leaders participating in conversations to ascertain what constitutes council resilience and evidencing their resilience levels. Their input has been invaluable, with every conversation leading to a new iteration of our framework.

Our research offers a new definition – that organisational resilience is a capability. It is about a council’s ability to keep going during a time of disruption, its ability to make incremental changes to be able to move forward,  and its ability to ensure positive changes are sustained and to prepare for future disruption. The combination of these abilities is what enables a council to successfully manage the assortment of disruptions they face given the uncertainty of complex systems, whether this is Covid, a poor OFSTED report, a surge in demand, or provider failure. The ‘marathon vs sprint’ metaphor has been used by many in relation to the pandemic, but for us ‘adrenaline vs core strength’ is a more useful comparison. Vast amounts of energy (adrenaline) are certainly needed in the initial response to a crisis, but bouncing back stronger requires core strength, which enables councils to keep going for longer and to recover more quickly.

We have tested our articulation of organisational resilience and the framework more widely. We held a workshop with the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) which was attended by 28 council Chief Executives, and ran a session during a CCN Council meeting with 89 council leaders and deputies. Outside the sector, we gathered input from 36 complexity specialists in a webinar we organised with CECAN (the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus).

This has been a fascinating journey, and we look forward to sharing the framework and insights with you in our forthcoming joint report with CCN. The adrenaline vs core strength analogy has resonated with many (and has even prompted some of those involved to work on their planking technique!). If you would like to hear more about our work ahead of the report being published, please do get in touch.

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