5 Essential Principles of Regional Resilience
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
As we emerge from the depths of the Covid-19 Pandemic and normalcy begins to flourish it is worth pausing and reflecting on what the past year has taught us about what makes for a resilient region.
Lots of people have written about the concept of “resilience” — the ability to withstand and thrive in the face of external shocks using existing strengths and resources — but not much been said about how to build resilience at a regional level. Here are the five take-aways of what we have learned in the past year:
1. No place is an island and you CAN get there from here.
Infrastructure, climate impacts, racial equity, and social justice issues don’t stop at town borders. Water flows downhill. Environmental health hazards affect everyone to varying degrees - regardless of socioeconomics. Even though we may think our challenges are limited to our own circumstances – or that we are sheltered from rising tides, inequity, or global pandemics – acknowledging regional interdependence is key to resiliency. While many of us still opine for the ideals of self-sufficiency, the reality of our society and economy requires skill and finesse in cooperation and collaboration within communities and across municipal borders. When we work together, pool resources and intellectual capital, and implement bigger solutions together – we achieve stronger outcomes. This level of regional collaboration requires good communication, the willingness to try (and fail) at new things, patience, understanding, and compassion.
2. Capacity is key.
No one organization, governmental entity, or individual has all the capacity needed to do all the things we should, must, or want to do to enhance regional resilience. Bolstering capacity – where possible – is critical to making our region more resilient. This can take many forms – but stems from a classic New England resourcefulness. Making the most of what we have is one of the traits that defines our “macro-region.” Often this comes down to elevating the voice and ingenuity of diverse leaders already in each community – deeply familiar with how to navigate unique place-based challenges. These “positive deviants” are the true bedrock of a place-based resilience and should always be the starting point for addressing challenges and opportunities.
Despite Maine’s resourcefulness and homegrown talent, the state faces a workforce shortage across industry sectors due to an aging population and decline in working-age labor force, among other factors. The importance of investing in human capital can’t be understated at this moment – to implement projects aimed at supporting community and regional resilience, municipalities and non-profit organizations need more human-power. To support our region’s ability to invest in resilience, GPCOG launched the AmeriCorps Resilience Corps program in the fall of 2020. This program emphasizes the importance of partnerships, volunteer programs, job training, and skill development in sectors that advance resilience priorities – such as broadband equity, climate action, economic empowerment – to build crucial capacity for this work.
3. How we connect to each other matters.
As social distancing and quarantine took hold of our lives in the Spring of 2020, many of us ramped up our interactions in the virtual world. The shape of our lives shifted to hours spent on zoom – for birthdays, school, telehealth appointments, checking in on isolated family members and friends, and so, so many work meetings. All of this is possible thanks to reliable access to high-speed internet (also known as Broadband). It is important to acknowledge that far too many Mainers were limited in their ability to engage due to a lack of reliable broadband access. This led to scenes of young people sitting in library parking lots to submit their homework and families taking telehealth appointments while parked outside of coffee shops. We also saw rural businesses struggle to pivot operations to a solely digital marketplace. Not only has access to affordable and reliable broadband become a necessity – it is now a primary mechanism for businesses to function, how we learn, receive health care, shop, engage civically, and even socialize. Equitable, consistent, and universal access to reliable broadband is more important than ever before.
Roads, bridges, buses, boats, and trains bind us together physically. Public transit across borders becomes a shared public asset with multiple co-benefits. The more capable we are to connect with each other and to shared resources – the more resilient we will be.
4. Real time data makes a real difference.
We are in an age where we can better understand our social, economic, and environmental realities than ever before. This heightened understanding comes from data – but access to data isn’t as easy and open as it could be. When there is an awareness of the importance of real-time data collection, sound agreement on equitable data collection standards, and agreements to share data – and make it public – everybody benefits. Synthesizing, visualizing, and widely sharing data can help us better understand the vulnerabilities our communities face and more effectively improve them. If knowledge is power – then shared, validated, and accessible information are the building blocks of that power. Giving it away is what allows us all to equitably benefit.
On the state and national level, we have all seen the importance of data via the CDC sharing of COVID infection rates, hospitalizations, related deaths, and vaccinations. The widespread availability of this public health data has enabled local governments, businesses, and families to make informed, evidence-based decisions around travel, business openings and closures, and personal safety. On a local level, the value of open data can be seen through the Maine Broadband Coalition’s deployment of a crowdsourced speedtesting initiative to demonstrate where there is internet service, who provides it, and how well it is performing. Not only has this generated almost 25,000 data points to inform decision making for state funding allocation, it also serves as a useful tool to inform outreach and education efforts as well as document digital equity issues throughout the State.
5. Feed two birds with one scone, if possible.
Another adage comes to mind here - “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Rather than expending time, energy, and resources developing new solutions to unexpected shocks and stressors on our region – look for the organizations already addressing the community need, or who are the quickest to pivot their operations to do so and elevate their work. The pandemic revealed just how innovative, civic-minded, and benevolent different businesses and partnerships could be. Whether through the change of operations to make personal protective equipment like American Roots or Rogue Industries or the utilization of commercial kitchens, staff, and supply chains to feed people in need like Cooking For Community – the opportunity to fuse community benefit and market forces is only growing in viability and should be supported in spirit, policy, and funding, to further enhance the impact of that work.