Post-Traumatic Growth: Using a Global Pandemic to Strengthen Resilience

Resilience planning can help organizations thrive during this unprecedented time.

Brookview Community Center Golden Valley MN

City of Golden Valley’s Brookview Community Center

How might your organization not only survive a global pandemic, recession, and social unrest but emerge from these compounding crises and thrive? COVID-19 is a global, acute shock that has highlighted the weaknesses caused by longer-term chronic stresses in every organization, city, and country. Resilience planning can help your organization think beyond getting back to normal, and explore how might strengthen connections, resources, and your business model.

Resilience is “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”

– The Rockefeller Foundation

Currently most businesses and institutions are deep into scenario planning, asking “what if…” questions to imagine future conditions and identify what steps might be taken to respond to the disruptions, challenges, and opportunities in each scenario. These questions are critical to making the best decisions possible within this climate of constant change and will hopefully allow for re-opening strategies that balance safety with operational and financial solvency.

Yet re-opening does not guarantee an organization will thrive. If entertainment venues, museums, restaurants, or retailers open at 25-50% capacity, will the reduced income even cover overhead expenses? Many organizations operated on a thin margin prior to the current pandemic, which has identified the cracks in their foundations. So how can you move from surviving to thriving? From post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth? These suggestions from our resilience planning team can strengthen your response, foster nimbleness, and adapt through innovation.

Supplement scenario planning with a resilience planning framework

Resilience Planning Framework

COVID-19 is a major shock to our systems, but it isn’t the only risk we should be considering in our planning. Resilience planning can help you identify and prepare for other risks that could be devastating if they were to occur during this pandemic. For example, if wildfires in California are as extreme this fall as in years past, what might this mean for organizations in the most vulnerable region? How might wildfires compound the effects of this pandemic-induced recession? COVID-19 is only one of many risks in a comprehensive risk profile. Follow these steps to evaluate all potential risks to your organization.

Forecast potential risks that could threaten the health of your organization. Risks may include natural disasters, climate change, social stressors, economic disruptions, infrastructure failures, security risks, or those that threaten human health and wellness. Use past experiences, projections, and hazard mitigation plans to inform this step.

Assess the likelihood, severity, potential impacts of, and current preparedness for each risk. Which are most likely to occur during COVID-19? What systems did this pandemic weaken that could increase the magnitude of future risks? Has COVID-19 highlighted existing weaknesses in your organizational processes and plans, making you more vulnerable should another disruption occur? Are mitigation strategies and response plans in place? Based on this assessment, identify the most critical risks to prepare for.

Plan and design strategies to strengthen resilience. This may include optimizing system performance, increasing redundancies, developing or refining internal response plans, or making connections with outside agencies and community members. Perhaps most importantly, think beyond business continuity. Imagine how you might adapt and innovate. Could this moment—planning for resilience amidst a global pandemic—allow you to stop doing things that aren’t working, to take risks, to adjust your business model, and become a disruption in your marketplace? Could you be the Netflix of your industry, completely turning the traditional business model on its head?

Scenario planning might help your organization survive this pandemic, but resilience is necessary for adaptation or growth.

Balance short-term with long-term needs

Cañada College exterior 3

Cañada College, Math and Science Center

When making decisions for the short-term, consider the long-term impacts. Will reducing classroom capacity to bring students back to school lead to reduced income due to the smaller on-campus student body? Will re-designing your office space for social distancing backfire when 18 months from now you may be ready to increase density again? Might the desire to minimize spending on capital improvements lead to a missed opportunity to do a facilities assessment and make systems adjustments that could improve health and safety while lowering future energy bills? While getting businesses up and running quickly is critical to the health of the economy, urgency may lead to shortsighted decision-making. Make sure your re-opening strategy does not compromise long-term gains in favor of short-term needs.

Build resilience by learning from resilient systems

Walker Art Center garden

Walker Art Center

The Rockefeller Foundation’s City Resilience Framework highlights seven characteristics of resilient systems. Use these characteristics to identify your own weak spots and evaluate how they might be strengthened.

  1. Reflective: Use past experience to inform future decisions
  2. Resourceful: Recognize alternative ways to use resources
  3. Inclusive: Prioritize broad consultation with diverse stakeholders to create a sense of shared ownership in decision-making
  4. Integrated: Bring together a range of distinct systems and institutions
  5. Robust: Develop well-conceived, constructed, and managed systems
  6. Redundant: Purposefully create spare capacity to accommodate disruption
  7. Flexible: Be willing and able to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances

Resilience requires a multi-dimensional, well-connected system. If one connection breaks and others strengthen in response, the recovery will accelerate, resulting in a system that is stronger than before. After the recent riots in Minneapolis, MN, an outpouring of community support demonstrated this effect. Families in need had access to food and supplies. Neighbors met each other and organized community clean-up efforts. Conversations about racial inequity in the city of Minneapolis became commonplace. Progress will take time, but we are already seeing signs of a strengthening, resilient system. By building resilience, we can collectively use this moment to emerge from a global pandemic with stronger organizations, a stronger economy, and stronger communities.