BMS Research Themes

Resilience - Smart Cities, Sustainable Communities and Safe Societies

Resilience - Smart Cities, Sustainable Communities and Safe Societies

BMS Resilience Research program Committee:

Alexander van Deursen (Chair), Gul Özerol (in contact with Tatiana Filatova), Michel Ehrenhard, Peter de Vries (in contact with Ellen Giebels), Annalisa Pelizza, Jan Maarten Schraagen

Project group:

Jan Maarten Schraagen (operational project leader),Giedo Jansen, Kris Lulofs, Isabella Hatak, Jordy Gosselt, Maya van den Berg

Introduction

Globalization, urbanization, automation, industry 4.0, climatic changes, and other unprecedented transformations are increasingly challenging our existential need for safety and security. The very sociotechnical systems we created to enable safety and security have become so complex and interconnected that they are difficult to control. Unintended consequences are likely to occur, making our world unpredictable and sometimes less safe. The BMS Resilience research program enables scholars, executives, policy makers, and front-line professionals to anticipate and respond to a variety of risks, threats, and opportunities. Our focus lies with phenomena for which technologies can both constitute a challenge as well as be part of the solution: system complexity and interconnectedness, climate change, and democratic inclusiveness. We foster the evidence base for relevant practices and policies, crucial for the future of Europe and the world. 

DOMAIN CHALLENGES

In our contemporary network society, organizations, communities, and individuals are increasingly interconnected. Integration and interconnection of social, technical, and cyber-physical systems will be further developed due to robotization, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence. Although system complexity and interconnectedness may lead to innovative forms of organizing and living, they may also increase volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Challenges to the resilience of complex sociotechnical systems are omnipresent. The global crisis in the financial system deprived thousands of their assets and exposed banks’ weaknesses. Repetitive high-cost failures of IT implementations put governments’ (and their suppliers’) accountability into question. Large-scale industrial accidents with advanced technological systems exposed the environment to unprecedented risks. Other examples are challenges to employee wellbeing in economic and health systems, or the foundational tensions among European actors concerning data and logistic infrastructures for the management of third country populations. We are witnessing privacy issues with shared information on social media as well as crowd-control technologies, cyber-attacks enabled by the use of Internet of Things, and issues surrounding autonomous driving (e.g., hijacking of fleets of self-driving cars for terrorist purposes). Societal vulnerabilities resulting from global interdependencies raise the question of how to manage these distributed and interconnected systems and infrastructures, and hence be resilient to the fundamental transformations they confront us with. At BMS we develop knowledge, methods and tools – such as, decision-support, predictive analytics, and new organizational forms – to deal with challenges related to constant and rapid change in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments.

Besides technology developments, climate change has profound societal implications. In both developed and developing countries, it negatively impacts ecosystems, communities, physical infrastructures, and economies. The resulting increase in extreme conditions such as floods, storms, hurricanes, droughts, and heatwaves constitute a major concern for the global community of scholars, policy makers, and citizens of endangered countries. The sustainable and equitable management of natural resources, especially water, energy, and land, becomes an increasingly important need. Humankind now faces the challenge to adapt to these drivers increasing the resilience of ecosystems, communities, physical infrastructures, and societies as a whole. The BMS Resilience research program pays specific attention to challenges concerning the governance and economics of climate adaptation and mitigation at multiple levels, the allocation of risks and responsibilities between public and private spheres, and social and spatial implications of resilience in the context of climate change.

Although technological advancements have the capacity to improve our well-being, its fruits are often unequally distributed and are likely to put a strain on the democratic inclusiveness of societies at various levels. Robotization and artificial intelligence, for instance, have the capacity to push entire segments of society out of the labour market, initially causing manual labour to become obsolete, but also intellectual labour is at stake. In addition, democratic societies fear to be besieged by foreign powers, and have suffered from high-level hacking and polarisation caused by ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts,’ which have caused divisions within and between these societies. The repercussions of these threats go far beyond local and national boundaries and have global implications. These phenomena underscore the importance of resilient societies at local, regional, national, and international levels, in which everyone has equitable access to natural and physical resources and everyone can be part of participatory and inclusive decision-making processes. The extent to which technological and social innovation affords inclusivity is a core challenge of the BMS Resilience research program.

In general, within the context of complex social, technical, and cyber-physical systems and infrastructures, the BMS Resilience research program will focus on (a) understanding risks, threats, and opportunities connected to resilience; (b) governing risks and threats to resilience; and (c) designing solutions for fostering resilience.

SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTION

In this section, general cross-cutting and guiding research questions are articulated that can be applied to all three themes covered by the BMS Resilience research program. These questions illustrate some of the topics we aim to explore within the coming years and the breakthroughs we would like to achieve.

  • What practices, forms of knowledge, and organizational forms are enabled and shaped by the concept of resilience (rather than traditional concepts like risk)?
  • What are attributes of resilient societies, groups, and individuals, and of resilient governance systems and organizations? What are the institutional factors that shape governance modes?
  • Under what circumstances does technology facilitate or constrain social cohesion, collective action, reciprocity, and identity?
  • How is the resilience of engineered systems (e.g. critical infrastructures), socio-political systems, or ecosystems related to organizational resilience?
  • Is resilience specific to a certain situation (i.e., a threat or volatile environment), or are there resources, capabilities, and organizational structures that promote resilience in different contexts?
  • How do certain capacities (i.e. resources, structures, processes) lead to resilience, and what is their relative importance?
  • Does resilience require specific structural and organizing principles (e.g. redundancy, flexibility, and/or buffer capacities)? If so, are these principles always beneficial or is there any trade-off?
  • Is the resilience of people connected to specific positive or adverse circumstances and how can resilience be promoted by specific resources, organizational characteristics, or competencies?
  • How can resilience engineering be used over temporal and spatial scales for improving systems’ resilience?

SOCIETAL IMPACT

The BMS Resilience research program addresses key and pressing societal concerns at multiple levels, among which some of Europe’s Grand Challenges (Climate action; Secure societies; Europe in a changing - interconnected - world: inclusive, innovative, and reflective societies). First, by looking at the infrastructural level of interconnected (information) systems and the societal dimension as co-shaping, we plan to develop technology-oriented methods, tools, policies, and practices that enhance trust, increase safety and security, reduce vulnerability, and engage citizens and professionals for dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. By focusing on interconnection and interoperability of sociotechnical systems, we push the UT’s ‘High Tech, Human Touch’ mission beyond established domains of activity and expertise, to establish new forms of knowledge and organizing, while at the same time improving technological design and development.

Second, the focus on climate change pays specific attention to the governance and economics of climate adaptation and mitigation at the levels of ecosystems, communities, physical infrastructure, and economies. Notably, it will develop new methods to foster social and spatial resilience, new policy tools to allocate risks, costs, benefits, and responsibilities of climate change between public and private spheres, new modes of governance for urban and rural areas, new insights on the nexus between urban/water/energy justice and urban resilience.

Finally, the focus on inclusivity tackles the extent to which technological innovation fosters democratic inclusion. By investigating the conditions under which the risks, costs, and benefits of technological changes are distributed fairly, as well the influence of technology on social cohesion, collective action, reciprocity, and identity, this research focus devises techno-social solutions for triggering a positive loop between inclusivity and resilience.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Both at the university and faculty level, a variety of infrastructures are provided. These include, but are not limited to an online accessible library that provides access to a vast variety of journals, databases, and other research resources; central and distributed support staff for applications to second flow of funds at the national and European levels; and laboratories such as the BMS lab, Design lab, Data lab, and Venture lab. Particularly relevant infrastructure for the BMS Resilience research program are:

  • the use and integration of facilities offered in the various labs; for example, the use of serious gaming and virtual reality to simulate decision-making under extreme uncertainty and volatility; or the provision of training to improve resilience in certain domains;
  • the integration with other resilience research initiatives to increase capacity building, including non-BMS departments active in the UT-wide resilience theme, the 4TU resilience engineering institute, and the newly established UT Digital Societies institute;
  • collaboration with industry to support their R&D activities by developments of instruments, providing access to and making sense of (big) data, and design and prototyping of new products, services and organizational forms; additionally, the support of such third flow of funds activities by professional account managers; and, the connection with the executive master in risk management that provides a valuable knowledge valorization route into practice;
  • established collaborations with governmental agencies at international, European, and national levels, providing opportunities for policy consultancy, project co-design, technology assessment, and anticipation;
  • local, national, and international funding schemes. Resilience is one of the grand challenges recognized at global (i.e., UN: building resilient cities) and European (i.e., Third Pillar of EU Research and Innovation Framework) levels. Furthermore, basic research can contribute groundbreaking techno-social innovations to change the paradigm through which resilience is framed (i.e., First Pillar of EU Research and Innovation Framework);
  • various doctoral schools that provide graduate training in resilience-related topics.