We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The current COVID-19 emergency seems to be warning governments worldwide that new crises of unforeseeable nature are likely to emerge, as the combination of environmental degradation, societies with increasing inequalities and deep economic interconnections have made the world more vulnerable. In these circumstances, ensuring the resilience of our society is crucial. We need to be able to face shocks and persistent structural changes in such a way that societal well-being is preserved, leaving no one behind and without compromising the heritage for future generations. Since 2015, the JRC has been working to put resilience thinking into policymaking. This note summarizes some key strategic lessons from this scientific work, and put them in the context of the COVID-19 emergency. Societal resilience needs to be tackled with a 360-degrees system approach, which helps to look at complexities and interconnections. The COVID-19 pandemic impacts our society at different levels and with different intensity, affecting the human and social capitals, the socio-system services, institutions, communities, the production process, consumption, and investment. To respond in a resilient way, different resilience capacities need to be evoked. The COVID-19 shock is so extreme in its duration and intensity that it is simply impossible to address it through absorptive capacities or a simple adaptation of the system. Therefore, it should become an opportunity to progress and “bounce forward” through adaptation and transformation. As this would not happen automatically, policies need to provide the necessary positive impulses for it, with a mix of prevention, preparation, protection, promotion and transformation measures. These efforts can reinforce the political ambitions to put the EU on a more sustainable economic, social, environmental and institutional path. Such a transformative resilience can also strengthen people, and mobilise their creativity and devotion needed for dealing with the crisis. The JRC approach to tackle societal resilience has led us to suggest a few actions that could be implemented to face the current COVID-19 emergency. First, policy measures need to rebuild all capitals eroded by COVID-19: built, human and social capitals. This requires better and stronger coordination of sectoral interventions, an improvement in the measurement and monitoring of human and social capitals, and the adoption of innovative classifications of public and private expenditures, according to the “capital-based” policy framework. Second, policies measures have to focus on the short-run, but keep in mind the medium-term and the opportunity to bounce forward. The opportunity of getting out of the crisis greener and fairer cannot be wasted in the name of urgency. Third, many factors highlighted by such a resilience perspective are useful for designing policies to face the current crisis, and eventually facilitate a bounce forward: the role and participation of citizens; trust in institutions; identifying opportunities that would allow the EU to improve its wellbeing and sustainability without using expensive policies; reconsidering the health systems; re-addressing the trade-offs between security and privacy; promoting a shift towards more sustainable tourism; making a jump in using digital tools in administration and education practices. Forth, the societal mood and people’s perceptions will play a key role in driving the behaviours, once lockdowns are terminated. Therefore, it is fundamental that governments and the EU are perceived as institutions able to manage the recovery process. This calls for clear and effective communication.