The COVID-19 pandemic is a global extreme stress event that has tested the resilience and preparedness of Governments around the globe. Against this backdrop Canadian Governments had to mobilize swiftly and learn to operate in new ways, making decisions to adapt to this evolving environment. Facing a myriad of risks and issues, Governments have risen to the occasion and triggered a number of pandemic programs to protect and safeguard our citizens. Technologies and digitization were quickly ramped up in order to ensure service continuity, provide financial support, and stay connected from the early months of the pandemic. Data-sharing initiatives, such as COVID-19 news feeds and alerts were established to enable continuous access to vital pandemic information. These initiatives in turn required a great level of collaboration between various Government agencies, in order to rapidly deploy cloud-based platforms, information security defenses, or fraud prevention measures. This race to keep Canadians safe, supported, and well-informed may well have come at the expense of some of the usual rigor and diligence that is expected of Governments.
While these strategies have allowed Governments to further build resilience, there are structural and long-term implications that need to be better understood. A unique challenge for Governments is to progress from business continuity and crisis plans — typically designed for days and weeks — to manage and succeed through a period of extended uncertainty.
The pandemic has also revealed how connected our world is. We operate in multiple intertwined networks, both physical and virtual. Every element interacts with one another, and any change to a single element can influence the rest of the network. We can draw a comparison to the butterfly theory, where one small change 'here' can create a significant impact 'there', or the 'Chain analogy' where the strength of a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Whilst there are great opportunities to be reaped from this interconnectivity and network such as social media to further engage and share content, internet to further decentralize knowledge, and transportation of people, services or goods, there are also great threats. We are learning that the benefits of our inter-connected world can quickly 'turn against us' with the pandemic 'travelling' with minimal boundaries and impacting almost every aspect of our lives (e.g. health, financial markets, employment, operations, supply chain).
We can no longer afford to 'firefight' risks after they materialize. So how do we capitalize on the benefits from our increasingly connected work while minimizing the downside? Governments would do well to stretch their risk capabilities and adopt a more holistic and proactive approach to risk management. In doing so, Governments stand a better chance at understanding and focusing on the critical pain points. We need to think about how to best bridge that gap between the fast-paced and highly connected reality we live in and traditional risk management, to ultimately help Governments derive greater value, insights and even 'accuracy' from their risk management.
Traditional risk management, often siloed, static, focused on discrete events and residing several levels below top decision-makers, is not good enough. Likelihood and impact on their own are no longer sufficient. Dynamic Risk Assessment, or "DRA", is an evolution of traditional risk methodologies that factors interconnectivity and velocity in the evaluation and measurement of risks. The next frontier of risk management recognizes we are not simply a 'single entity' but rather elements that influence each other, within one or several networks. Risk management beyond managing risks in isolation and the 'known knowns' to recognize and manage plausible extreme scenarios or stress events.
By focusing on this connectivity some Governments have successfully used this new and dynamic approach of risk management to uncover some key risks otherwise overlooked. Though individually benign, these risks were 'triggers' that could set off chain reactions within the network. Risks such as 'infrastructure fragility' highlighted the criticality of proactive maintenance and care for aging assets given the down-stream implications on energy price volatility, resource accessibility, and economic disparity.
It has also allowed other Public Agencies to better understand risk clusters which are groups of risks that are likely to combine and materialize together. For example, 'Resource Stressors' was identified as a critical cluster of risks including 'Talent Attraction', 'Budget Constraints', 'Growing Number of Initiatives', 'Burnout', and 'Diversity & Inclusion'. This has reinforced the need for Public Agencies to rethink how they manage resources to meet service delivery expectations whilst balancing budget constraints and ambitions to improve systems, processes and services.
Canada's speed of response has most certainly been a contributing factor in our ability to manage the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, one question continues to reappear. How truly resilient are we to respond to future threats? So called once in a lifetime events or extreme scenarios are seemingly and increasingly materializing. The Great Depression, 9/11, the Financial Crisis, and the dotcom bubble are all extreme events. Governments around the globe are now understanding the importance of risk interconnectivities and appreciate the urge to further risk resilience.
The science is in, and it is time for us to take the next step forward.
Let's do this.