The Resilient Society: The Next Phase of Public Sector Reform

September 22, 2011 - 0 Comments

Public sector decision makers are under enormous pressure to deliver results in difficult and uncertain times. In late 2010 and early 2011, the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) conducted in-depth interviews with more than 100 senior public sector executives from around the world—at the city, regional, and national levels. Responses from these officials were remarkably consistent regarding the key challenges they face in a world undergoing significant economic, political, environmental, and social transitions.

Some of these public leaders expressed concerns about their organizations’ capacity to respond to new policy and service demands, budget reductions, and the need to engage new technology platforms for innovation and service delivery. Other challenges related to the public sector’s ability to help cities, regions, and countries navigate the current uncertain and volatile environment.  

One of the themes that linked these insights was resilience, both in terms of coping with unexpected shocks—economic, natural, environmental—and, in a wider sense, having the agility and capacity to anticipate and deal with the risks and opportunities of successive waves of big transitions and socioeconomic changes.

The result is “The Resilient Society”—a new way to think about the next phase of public sector reform and the bigger challenges of policy reform, improving public sector performance, and driving innovation in a more open and connected world (

Resilience at city, regional, and national levels will be a major theme at the Meeting of the Minds 2011 conference in Boulder, CO, September 21-23, 2011 ( Co-sponsored by Toyota, Philips, Deutsche Bank, and Cisco, Meeting of the Minds allows participants from the public, NGO, and private sectors to engage in lively discussions on how to “connect the dots” across key sectors: mobility, building systems, energy and water resources, and finance.

The concept of resilience is hardly new. But it is taking on new significance at the heart of aspirations for good government in a period of disruption and wrenching transition. It’s an idea that combines two dimensions: (1) “bouncing back” from the last unexpected shock, emergency, or catastrophe; and (2) “bouncing forward” to anticipate, prepare for, and, as far as possible, avoid the worst excesses of the next disruption.

Both call on a combination of productivity (doing things better) and innovation (doing better things). And both productivity and innovation are capabilities increasingly dependent upon the art and practice of connectedness. Putting these pieces of the puzzle together in a new narrative of “connecting for resilience” is critical to governing well amidst unprecedented risk, change, and opportunity.

The Internet and a raft of new communication tools and collaboration platforms have enabled new connections between people and information, and between people and communities. In a relatively short time, we have evolved some of the most powerful tools for finding, collating, and analyzing information about pretty much anything, anywhere, anytime.

Mastering the art and practice of this “human network” demands a combination of bold vision, steady investment in new skills and capabilities, and patient, competent provisioning of the underlying platforms and infrastructure.

The emergence of the connected world—a distributed network of “small pieces, loosely joined”—offers the possibility of transforming the public sector, changing the role of government, and enabling citizens to be more actively involved in shaping services and public sector decision making.

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Figure 1. Building Blocks of a Resilient Society

Source: Cisco IBSG, July 2011

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