Frame the Future: Innovating out of Crisis
By Dr. Kazuyoshi Shimada and Dr. Roberto Alvarez
Last year marked the 10th year of remembrance of the Great East Japan Earthquake. This mega-disaster represents a milestone in the country’s history. Not only considering the scale of the damage it caused but also because it changed how Japanese society deals with unexpected events, switching the mindset to investments in planning, prevention, and reinforcement of resilient mechanisms.
People’s awareness has shifted from “recovery” to more “creative reconstruction”. The term “Build Back Better” has been shared internationally. But our societies continue to face significant challenges. For example, Japan deals with the decline of rural areas and an aging population. The responsibility for the future is what will motivate investments in the next innovation and lead societies to build resilience.
Understanding and recognizing the crises that societies face today goes beyond focusing on disaster management. It is about framing the future of our economies and communities and setting the right priorities in business and policymaking.
The Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils (GFCC), the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), and the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have launched the Frame the Future — Innovating out of Crisis, a project focused on understanding the dynamics of crises, mapping innovative solutions to build resilience, and delineating a research and development agenda to advance the capacity of humanity to better address future crises.
In the past two centuries, the frequency of crises has escalated. Rising inequality, geopolitical tensions, and accelerated technology growth — and the reduction of the lifespan of companies and the shelf life of skill that results from it — add additional complexity to realities worldwide and may lead to new crises.
The evolving war in Ukraine and its various socio-economic implications have compounded a reality marked by the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the political spectrum, today’s reality further accentuates the call to enhance preparedness, and the capacity to think and act ahead of future crises and build resilience
Through the Frame the Future — Innovating out of Crisis, we want to harness multidisciplinary perspectives and engage various stakeholders working in policy, research, business, and civil society. We expect to incorporate research, insights, and knowledge from different areas. We aim to systematize learnings from past crises, develop recommendations, and help to build future resilience capacity.
This project builds on two initiatives that started in 2021: the GFCC Frame the Future Series, and collaboration by the GFCC, JST, and QMUL, focused on the resilience of critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.
A crisis is usually associated with a state of hardship and complexity. It is a transition period that disrupts everyday activities within which ‘business as usual’ does not apply, and decision-making is dubious, demanding, and complex. Like any other social construct, crises are subjected to interpretations. They only exist in a social context, often by the recognition of a group of stakeholders or by growing pressure from public opinion.
Crises can follow different dynamics, with boundaries either determined in time or diffuse. In the first case, a crisis’s starting or ending point can be traced to one specific and verified event (e.g., the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the Cuban Missile Crisis). In the second, the boundaries are diffuse (e.g., the opioid crisis in the US, the global climate crisis), and what defines the crisis is the public perception and a certain metric (e.g., the number of people who die from opioid overdoses in one year).
Crises also have different causes. They can be originated from extreme natural events (an earthquake, a heavy rain, a drought, the outbreak of a new disease, changes in the climate, etc.) or provoked by human activities (a breakdown in national security, a war, the bankruptcy of a major company, a transition in technology employment, the collapse of an industry, etc.). Very often, a crisis combines difficult circumstances from multiple causes. But depending on their nature, concerned stakeholders should be able to prevent crises from happening, acting on their root causes.
Innovation out of Crises
Throughout history, there have been multiple examples of innovation in institutions, products, and processes during a crisis period. In the 1930s, the Great Depression gave birth to novel social protection mechanisms. In 1945, the end of World War II led to the Bretton Woods agreement and later to the creation of the United Nations system. The 2008 global financial crisis catalyzed new legal frameworks to regulate financial institutions. And more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the development of vaccines in record time, propelling the advancement and use of mRNA technologies.
All such developments started during a period of crisis. The Frame the Future — Innovating out of Crises project aims to understand and make the mechanisms to adapt and respond to a crisis and boost the creation of new processes that will better prepare societies for the future.
Why does it matter?
Organizations across the globe are showing a growing interest in understanding crisis mechanisms and building resilience.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States (US), JST, and other government agencies operating at the intersection of science, technology, and innovation have programs focused on building resilience and planning for a crisis. For the past two decades, the US Council of Competitiveness, a founder and member of the GFCC, has been driving attention to the importance of building resilience in economies and societies. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Council issued Transform. This report analyses the impact of security threats on the economy and societies and how to build recovery plans focused on resilience. An updated version, Transform 2022, highlights the importance of building resilient mechanisms in the age of COVID-19. In industry, companies such as Intel have pioneered the deployment of an organizational area to deal with pandemics. Resilience has become a key corporate theme, and many developments to improve resilience in the business sector have been undertaken.
From the city to the national level, governments across the planet have a disaster and crisis frameworks and agencies in place. Global philanthropy is supporting resilience initiatives. In March 2022, the United Nations announced an initiative to protect communities and cities worldwide against climate change and extreme weather events via early-warning systems.
The initiatives mentioned in the former paragraph reveal the amplitude of the thematic space covered in this project and the range of stakeholders involved.