Expert of the Week   for  01 - 07 Dec 2014

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Peter Essens

Principal Scientist

Netherlands Org for Applied Scientific Res (TNO) Expertise:  Cooperation and collaboration in ad hoc networks and multi-agency collectives; Comprehensive Approaches to Operations; Network Enabled Operations; Effectiveness of integrated command teams; Crisis management; Control and Emergency centres.

Peter Essens is Principal Scientist at TNO and Advisor Science in Practice at the University of Groningen. He studied Pedagogics and Experimental Psychology at the University of Groningen and received his PhD in Social Sciences from the University of Nijmegen. Peter has over 25 years of experience in the military and civil security and safety domain. His scientific focus is on how people work, organize, and collaborate to master complex problems in settings with multiple actors.

How can we better prepare for effective cooperation to improve resilience?

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QQuestion by Mr DUSAN ZUPKA

How would you describe/define resilience in the context of natural and man-made hazards?
What are the main building blocks/activities leading to resilience building against natural disasters?

Mr DUSAN ZUPKA Coordinator Disaster risk management | University of Geneva/CERAH

APosted on 06 Dec 2014


Thank you for your question. This is a quite comprehensive question and there are also many excellent reports on definitions and descriptions of resilience, so I will not dwell on the variations you can find in those reports. We refer to resilience when a 'system' (individual, household, group, organization, community, region,...) is confronted with demands (e.g., disturbances, stressful situations, disasters) and is able to maintain functioning or even grow despite these demands. Growth refers to learning or adaptation as a result of having to deal with the demands.

Our approach is to increase the capability of a system for resilience by building cooperation. Cooperation brings together knowledge, expertise and energy. Cooperation during actual crisis is course of crucial importance, but we argue that a system should have a generic cooperative quality in order to effectively cooperate during a crisis. This quality should be augmented. Purposeful (objective-oriented) person to person interaction is the mechanism for building cooperation. In this way building cooperation is one of the 'building blocks' of resilience.

You may already see that rather than 'just' preparation for specific governance (roles and responsibilities), an often applied procedural governance approach, additionally multiple network ties between people, groups, agencies need to be developed.

We developed an approach to iteratively build cooperation and tested this last year with a small representation of the crisis management community (including response and prevention oriented actors), although not yet with local communities.

We see four (repeated) steps in the development of augmented cooperative quality, at multiple levels of agencies and society:

1.       Building the communities of interest, for developing knowledge of each other's knowledge, expertise and interests, as well as network ties, using scenario's for discussion and analysis.

2.       Formulation of frameworks of cooperation to (lightly) organise the interaction, maintain the networks, and use, when needed in crisis.

3.       More specifically and build on the previous steps, organising formal networks and information exchange

4.       Communicate, share, and learn from the experience of the diverse communities.


I hope this provides enough input as an answer to your question. If you want to discuss this further you are welcome to do that.

Kind regards,

Peter Essens.

QQuestion by Mr Gordon Rattray

Dear Mr Essens

People with disabilities are being recognised as a resource essential to be used in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) measures. With your experience in network collaboration in crises, etc, do you have practical 'how-to' tips to ensure that the expertise of these people, and that of other most at-risk groups such as older people, can best be utilised to protect society as a whole?

Mr Gordon Rattray Emergency Communications | CBM

APosted on 05 Dec 2014

Dear Mr Gordon Rattray,

Thank you for your highly relevant question. It has been some time before governments and their agencies realised that bottom-up involvement is critical for risk reduction (as noted at the Johannesburg 2002 Earth Summit). While this certainly means increased direct NGOs involvement linking to communities, awareness and involvement of the broader public is still growing, and differs certainly between nations/regions. I can imagine that the systematic involvement of specific groups is even more difficult to realise. Maybe even that using labels ‘disabled’ and ‘at-risk’ may suggest not fit to contribute which may mirror the general view in society of these groups.

So, one suggestion could be to rephrase the question or proposal into:  How can DRR better profit or make use of the knowledge and experience present in the public?  In such way the focus is on the potential benefits of broad involvement not confined to one specific group (even if your motivation is that group).

A second suggestion would be to organise interaction around concrete themes. Interaction between people mostly reduces the (psychological) distance and prejudice (from this person is capable – so other off that kind may/must be able too).  The second element is also important. A concrete theme helps people to better imagine the unlikely situation. It provides a focus point for the interaction.  Our experience is that the use of ‘serious gaming’  - for instance, an imaginary but realistic flood or other issue with societal impact, in an area (at best similar to your own area) is a mechanism for people to bring their knowledge and experience to the table. Best is to address one or two elements of the issue. For instance, a flood will bring a hundred issues, such as supply of food, water, medication, and so on. A too complex problem for such session. Better is limit the complexity. Since it is not to solve the complete problem. The focus should be on involvement and broad input on the issue. Obviously, for rich interaction groups need to be not too big (max 15, I would say, with breakouts of 3 groups). Interaction will build relations and will propagate to involvement in other matters in the region/community.

Our philosophy is to raise the level of cooperation capability of a community/ region / collective. That will provide a stronger and faster response when needed and by building awareness contribute to solutions for mitigation.

I hope this answers your question and gives you some how-to ideas, for the moment. I would be willing to discuss this further.

Kind regards,