Featured image depicting JMJ co-hosts ‘Policy Lessons from Catastrophic Events’ Workshop with Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy

JMJ co-hosts ‘Policy Lessons from Catastrophic Events’ Workshop with Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy

A report from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy captured the output of a workshop held in February 2020 which focused on why we find it difficult to learn from catastrophic events.

By Gill Kernick  |  August 21, 2020

Could an interdisciplinary group start to identify the barriers and begin to generate ideas for shifting them?

One of the overriding conclusions of the workshop was the importance of hearing and acknowledging a wide range of different voices when considering complex problems. As one of the workshop attendees put it: “There was so much expertise in the room, each bringing different parts of the puzzle, and because we were all from different communities, there was almost no ‘siloing’ into disciplinary groups.”

The report sets out the findings from the workshop, including identifying reasons contributing to our inability to learn from catastrophic events and we can improve. Including:

  • Ensuring that there is a clarity of purpose and shared sense of endeavor amongst stakeholders
  • Focusing on developing a learning culture rather than a culture of blame
  • Creating safe spaces or forums where learning and effective practice can be shared and experienced
  • Developing a sense of chronic unease and understanding the risks associated with low probability, high impact events

The lessons identified apply to any complex problem. Right now, we are experiencing the same failures with COVID-19. For example, there is the failure to learn lessons from previous health crises or even from simulated exercises designed to ensure preparedness. There are lapses in co-ordination between different authorities responsible for different aspects of managing systemic risks. There is a strong incentive by decision makers to avoid future blame.

We continue to see failures on the part of policymakers and regulators to learn and implement the lessons from successive crises. Now is the time to listen and learn.Read and download a copy of the report here.

Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge University

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