June 02, 2021

Covid recovery and resilience plans, and eurocratic slang - a pedantic linguistic approach

The EU's Recovery and Resilience Facility was approved in February with a budget of €672.5 billion. It targets the post-covid return to normal, repairing the economy, and making Europe more prepared for future similar crises. 

Most European countries already submitted to the European Commission their national recovery and resilience plans. Everybody talks about them, but most European citizens probably consider the words yet another eurocratic gibberish. So here we go.

Recovery is the short-term action of returning a system to a previous state.

Resilience is used by most people as a buzzword - similarly to sustainability. So let's take it a step higher, from vulnerability.

Vulnerability management is a relatively new niche domain, that deals with negative (external) events, analyses their impact, and the system's capability to cope with them. It is closely related to management, and particularly to risk. Marle and Vidal proposed an interesting analysis and management framework.

There are several definitions; I prefer these:

  • Resistance is a static characteristic of a system, that refers to its capacity to withstand instantaneous damage incurred by external negative events.
  • Resilience is a dynamic characteristic of a system, that refers to its capacity to recover in time to a previous state. 

So here is the first distinction between recovery and resilience. Recovery is a short-term action; resilience is the characteristic, the capacity of a system to recover. In a way, the meta-recovery.
But even academics use the words interchangeably. The domain is quite new, the concepts and terminology are still fuzzy. 

Interestingly, both resistance and resilience are passive characteristics, and they focus on negative aspects and events. Enters antifragility.
Antifragility is the capacity of a system to not only resist to, or recover from, adverse events; but also to improve because of adverse events. The concept was introduced by Taleb in 2012. 
A nice example of antifragility is physical exercise, cardio or weight training. We purposely exercise, i.e. stress our muscles outside their comfort mode, so that they become stronger. The muscles initially mobilize existing resources to cope with the stress. It uses local glucose, brings more oxygen, then produces and brings even more sugars. After some hours, you get muscle soreness - when muscles enter repair/recovery mode. And then the muscles grow even stronger, they improve.

Image source is freepik.com
Obviously, these terms and concepts are reasonably new, so their meaning and nuances can hardly be grasped from mainstream dictionaries.
As any serious political initiative, the EU's recovery and resilience plan already has a good touch of positive thinking. It supports not only recovery, but also resilience. It talks about sustainability, about preparing Europe for future challenges, as well as opportunities. Which is nicely aligned with modern risk management, as well as to my personal passion for positive complexity and the bright side of risk.

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