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Posted on January 17, 2018 by

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Language: let’s talk some more

The language of resilience may be getting in the way of efforts to work together. This post explores the potential issues.

We – the Resilience Shift – recently consulted with Arup staff to obtain views on the resilience of critical infrastructure. Among many enlightening and diverse responses on a range of issues, it was clear that some people had problems with terminology and the meaning of what we thought was commonly-used language. We found these issues….

Some terms felt exclusionary or limiting. We were frequently told that resilience is more than ‘engineering‘, and that we needed to be careful not to alienate other disciplines. Understanding what makes a piece of infrastructure ‘critical’ was not clear, and can change depending on the conditions at the time. Scale was also identified as an issue, not everything can be deemed critical, otherwise it loses its meaning.

People showed a passionate response to language, particularly in our focus group sessions, which often detracted us from the more fundamental questions. Discussion with respondents made it evident that there are both differences and similarities between certain terms. We discussed such examples as:  

  • Dynamic, performance-based design vs Managed adaptation
  • Risk vs Resilience
  • Resilience vs Sustainability

Terms are perhaps causing confusion, which could potentially deter the emergence of a shared vision and common language.

Some people said they didn’t feel they understood enough to respond to our questions; others said we’d used too much jargon. Someone talked about “closed clubs” with their own language that hindered collaboration across infrastructure sectors. Being honest we had struggled to word the questions in a way that would be understood across multiple disciplines.

Language is therefore an important aspect that the Resilience Shift needs to get right. With wider debate perhaps a more universal language will emerge over time? Whatever, we’ll all probably need to rely on plain English more than we do.

What do you think?

Read our latest report on Understanding the Landscape here.


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