When the winds of change rage, don’t build a shelter: build a windmill
Having our head office in Christchurch has allowed us not just a front row seat over the last decade watching how the region has recovered from the Canterbury earthquakes, but an active role researching the impacts of the earthquakes, with a particular focus on what contributes to a successful recovery.
The lessons we have learned apply not only to natural disasters but also to extraordinary times like these. Our research suggests that there are four critical aspects to planning for sustained recovery from Covid19 that we need to be thinking about now …
- We need to be really clear about what ‘recovery’ means. Too often the line between ‘response’ and ‘recovery’ is blurred. More importantly, ‘recovery’ can mean different things to different stakeholders, undermining attempts to build alliances, create collaborations, and gain momentum. Recovery works much more smoothly where there is a shared understanding of what ‘recovery’ means and a clear picture of what successful recovery looks like.
- Recovery can be co-ordinated centrally but only really delivered locally. The evidence from Christchurch shows that the more granular the recovery efforts are, the more effective they will be. Think ‘hyper-local’ and work with the existing social networks who understand the nuances of their communities rather than trying to create new networks.
- Recovery runs on social capital. You can think of social capital as a kind of social glue that holds us together. And there is no doubt that recovery has to begin by helping those affected restore their faith in the continuity of their lives. Social scientists use the concept of ‘ontological security’ to describe this sense of continuity but it is similar to the Maori notion of Tūrangawaewae (which is about both having a physical home and the sense of belonging and continuity that being anchored in place provides). It is hard to overestimate how important restoring this concept of ‘ontological security’ / Tūrangawaewae is but the idea is captured perfectly in Desmond Tutu’s notion that ‘hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness’.
- A culture can be no stronger than its strongest myths so we need to be careful about the stories we tell and how we frame the arc of recovery. For instance, the Maori proverb ‘he waka eke noa’ reminds us that “we’re all in this together” but also that we all need to do our bit to effect a shared recovery.
In sum, successful recovery is about defining clearly, focusing locally, spending social capital, and creative compelling narratives. It is first and foremost about people and places, not processes and policies.
- Research First
Thursday, 2 April 2020