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In search of institutional resilience

I keep ruminating on the idea that we are alive in a time of transformative transitions. The (non-definitive) list sounds scary; climate change, vast migration, social division, democracies under pressure, fake information by the truck load, chronic health diseases, radical demographic change; the list goes on, and on, and on. But I still feel optimistic, it feels the only sane response.

Reflecting on this scale of change makes it clear that the institutions at the heart of society must change too, due their own transformative transition. And some are – not enough, and not fast enough – but they are.

Five years I have been at States of Change. We’ve worked with governments and institutions with ambitious commitments to developing the next practice of how government and development operate. I dream (no lie) of far-sighted organisations trusted to help society navigate these great shifts we’re living through, one that’s in tune with what we need. But I fear that change is not happening fast enough. Or, perhaps, I am not patient enough.

Ringing in my ears is David Chandler’s term ‘institutional resilience’. That’s what we need, and lots of it. Where we “repose complexity as an ontological rather than an epistemological problem”. A fresh outlook abandoning the idea that we can know everything in advance; anticipating the future but ready to adapt. Using policies as learning opportunities to fix the inevitable governance failures that governing in uncertainty will create.

States of Change will set all sails in 2022 to develop institutional resilience; enabling ambitious, experimental and diverse “works in progress” to get us there. I am particularly excited about our work playing a role in three areas.

  1. Transformative leadership. Working with public executives operating in circumstances, both daunting and uncertain, to act meaningfully and avoid paralysis. When this goes well, we will succeed in embracing an experimental mindset that aligns ambition, strategy and purpose – something we are already doing in our collaboration with public executives in governments in Scotland, and Queensland, Australia.
  2. Adaptive capability. Working with ambitious partners to develop their institutional capacity to respond better to current global risks. We are already partnered with the UN's Refugee Agency to make experimentation an inherent part of their crisis response approach; and we are collaborating with the Danish Ministry of Business to develop more agile and adaptive systems of policy practice.
  3. Innovation learning infrastructure. Exploring and illustrating how to best support system transformation and mission-based innovation. Specifically, experimenting with new kinds of dedicated learning infrastructure and R&D functions to embed strategic platforms for renewal and transformation. This is the focus of our collaboration with UNDP Accelerator Labs as they shift from temporary labs to a permanent R&D function.

Maybe a small contribution but one we hope can make a real difference. As ever, we don’t go alone, but are part of an ambitious community of practice. Working with our inspiring Fellows and partners, likeminded explorers seizing the moment to prototype and illustrate what resilient institutions look like in the era of transformative transitions.

If you are curious about being part of the journey, please get in touch, let’s see how we can work together.

Let's work together