Manchester Calling

The Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute

HCRI’s Dr Nathaniel O’Grady, Dr Ayham Fattoum, and Professor Duncan Shaw have been working collaboratively in a multidisciplinary team of academics from the University of Manchester looking at COVID-19 recovery. The recently published ‘How can society recover from COVID-19?’ set out the innovative ways local authorities and central government can recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

About the HCRI academics involved:

  • Dr Nathaniel O’Grady, Lecturer in Human Geography and Disaster researches the geopolitics of security practices and has published widely on this topic including his 2018 book Governing Future Emergencies and recent articles Communication and the Elemental and Designing Affect into Security;
  • Professor Duncan Shaw, Professor of Operations and Critical Systems at The University of Manchester’s Alliance Manchester Business School, and honorary professor at HCRI. has written publications in disaster risk reduction activities. Including, A structured methodology to peer review disaster risk reduction activities: The Viable System Review;
  • Dr Ayham Fattoum, also a co-author of the latter publication, and Lecturer in Disaster Operations Management at HCRI, has published research on resilience, agility and viability of systems during emergencies in the context of managing spontaneous volunteers during disasters.

We spoke to Dr Nathaniel O’ Grady and Dr Ayham Fattoum to find out more about the project.

Can you tell us more about what the project involves?

Nat:

We have a range of different scholars from HCRI and the business school working to develop innovative recommendations for advising local authorities, including Greater Manchester, about how society can recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

The project comprises of a weekly 5-page Manchester briefing giving recommendations which are separated out by specific themes or domains which are most important to consider for recovery. These themes look at the economy, environment, infrastructure, humanitarian assistance (volunteering), and communications.  It goes out to people who have signed up to the mailing list. From local authorities, central government, and international partners, to NGOs and charities.

Showing to whom the 5-page report is disseminated, we have these things called local resilience forums which is a group of the most important organisations for governing emergencies. That includes fire and rescue service, police, ambulance, Public Health England, the council, Environment Agency, and a bunch of category two responders so, private business, infrastructure, NGOs, charities.

We’re advising those local resilience forums, and we’re doing that for Greater Manchester and for Essex – it’s expanding.

What are the key motivations of the project?

Nat:

One of the motivations for the project was that when we started it everyone on the frontline was still very much having to organise response to the coronavirus. We were in a position of being academics working in universities where we could be proactive in starting to plan for recovery. I’m only starting to hear people thinking of recovery now so we’re kind of a month in advance of other people thinking about this.

Crises don’t adhere to academic disciplinary boundaries. And in the team we have multiple disciplines working together reflecting HCRI’s interdisciplinary character. So we were motivated to work together across disciplines to advise on covid recovery using a range of different perspective

For me, one of the key motivations of the project is getting to use recovery to institute changes in government approaches which have created vulnerabilities over the past ten years.  These vulnerabilities include reversing 40% of cuts to emergency service budgets, and 59% of cuts in affordable housing and reductions in housing

Another example is to improve environments and green policy. One of the things I’m quite interested in doing through this project is using recovery to reduce carbon emissions and think of solutions that derive from COVID-19 recovery. People are working at home now much more. Can people work at home after COVID-19 has gone and lessen the impact of commuting to work?

What is the scope of the project?

Ayham:

It’s a multistage project so at the moment. Currently, we are interviewing people, collecting international response and recovery information from different sources, and extracting relevant knowledge from the literature for governments. We communicated our findings and recommendations to local authorities and the wider audience through briefs and blogs. These are available to anyone who uses our website.

The next stage where we’ll start to be involved more directly with the UK [government] and focus on how the UK responded to COVID-19 and then maybe get lessons for recovery.  Lastly, we will be at a stage where we will start to do more in depth research and produce academic publications.

What ways other than the 5-page document is the project being communicated?

Ayham:

I recently wrote a blog about decision making and COVID-19. This is part of the indirect advice whereas the briefings are the direct recommendations. So, this is decision making for complexity and what they call wicked problems. This means it’s like very high uncertainty over how to make decisions in these contexts.  A follow-up blog that will published soon is related to understanding the uniqueness of recovery during pandemics and how to integrate qualitative decision-making to address great uncertainty. Other blogs will focus on how we understand the relationship between our responding agencies and their environment, and how we can develop our policies to engage communities for higher resilience and sustainability. The team’s first blog also reflects on [How can society recover from COVID-19?]  

What does recovery and response mean in the context of COVID-19?

Ayham:

As academics we shouldn’t think in a traditional way always because this is not supportive for the practitioners who are suffering on the ground. We’re here to support new ways of thinking and highlight overlooked opportunities and threats. As in the case of suggesting using different ways to making decisions. You need to think of a different way of designing our organisations and different ways even to manage disasters of great uncertainty.

Nat:

A lot of the time we’re probably developing new understandings of what recovery is. It’s evolving because this is a new type of advance where recovery and response might blend together so you need to respond at the same time you need to recover.

The one thing that we’ve tried to impress was the scale of this emergency is something which isn’t usually seen. As we all know, it cuts across all different kinds of aspects of life, so we’re having to rethink recovery in ways which is complex and addresses the complexities of trying to think how one domain relates to another. So how transport as one sector will relate to work life, for example, or how issues related to housing relate to improving fairness in the economy and less environmental degradation.

To access the ‘Recovering from COVID-19’  weekly briefing, you can sign-up here.

The full team involved in the project comprises of: