For the past few weeks I have attended a joint course by WFP and the NYU Global Institute of Public Health on Nutrition on taking a systems perspective to integrate nutrition, health, food systems, value chains and communities. Here is a summary of the key points of the course.

A Systems Approach to Food Access

  • A systems approach – an approach that stresses the interactive nature of the elements, both external and internal – is essential to deal with complexity
  • Applied to nutrition, the systems approach means adopting an integrated system linking nutrition (supplementation and fortification), education and health (disease control) systems
  • To effectively bring together these systems into a coherent framework, it is essential that each domain understand the meaning of the language used in each domain

Nutrition Fundamentals

  • Stunting:
    • Shorter height than is expected for age, is the result of chronic undernutrition, can start before birth and is caused by poor maternal nutrition, poor feeding practices, poor food quality as well as frequent infections which can slow down growth. Stunted children are more susceptible to disease, impaired cognitive ability and limits potential
    • What to do:
      • Prevent at the population level based on risk
      • Programming in the first 1,000 days
      • Increase the quality of food
      • Disease prevention
  • In a population with 50% stunting, everyone is below their potential
  • To prevent undernutrition, adequate nutrition is a prerequisite, with support depending on the needs (macro- and micro-nutrient deficiency)
  • To maximize impact, on nutrition, complement food security interventions with nutritious foods for specific target groups
  • Micronutrient deficiency – Iodine, Zinc, Vitamin A and Folic Acid, in particular – is Hidden Hunger
  • Nutrition support must be matched with complementary systems:
    • Supplementation
    • Fortification
    • Education
    • Disease control
  • Key messages:
    • 40 nutrients are required in varying amounts
    • Dietary diversity is a must to meet nutrient requirements
    • Access to a diverse diet is largely determined by purchasing power and availability
    • Impact of Special Nutritious Food (SNF) is context-specific and depends on:
      • The magnitude of the nutrient gap and the extent to which it is closed
      • The impact of disease
      • Nutrition during pregnancy and early lactation

Bioethical Issues Around Food Security

  • Main principles:
    1. Autonomy (respect beneficiary wishes)
    2. Beneficence (promote beneficiary well-being)
    3. Non-maleficence (Do No Harm)
    4. Justice (fair allocation of resources)

Systems Thinking for Nutrition

  • Key approaches:
    • Organizing: Develop participatory, complex, and adaptive collaborative systems
    • Dynamics: Understanding dynamic interactions
    • Networks: Analyze effective collaborative relationships
    • Knowledge: Manage knowledge infrastructure of evidence-based practices
  • Systems approaches replaces a Line of Production with a Line of Interaction
  • Steps to Systems Mapping:
    1. Define the problem
    2. Identify leadership and key actors
    3. Develop goals and objectives
    4. Information gathering: available resources, system support, evaluation, knowledge exchange and research
  • Advantages of Systems Mapping:
    • Organizes diverse perspectives
    • Builds consensus among disparate groups
    • Conceptualizes an actionable framework
    • Prioritizes actions and resources
    • Builds partnerships
    • Exposes gaps in research and information


  • Different constructs of Community:
    • Setting of an intervention
    • Target or recipient of an intervention
    • Service user
    • Service provider
    • Resource
  • Social Ecological Model (5 levels of interaction):
    • Individual
    • Interpersonal
    • Community
    • Organizational
    • Policy-enabling Environment
  • Food is not just nutrition, but is a social vehicle:
    • Social linkages
    • Social distinctions
    • Symbolic functions and moral significance
    • Medium for aesthetic expression
  • Classic food ethnographies:
    • Single commodities and substances
    • Food and social change
    • Food insecurity
    • Eating and ritual
    • Eating and identities
    • Instructional materials
  • 5 ‘A’s of Utlization:
    1. Availability: the degree of fit between suitable service and the intervention (right place and time, and meets beneficiary needs)
    2. Affordability: the degree of fit between the full and the accumulated costs of the intervention and the ability of the targeted individual’s ability to pay
    3. Approachability: identification and recognition of the services offered by individuals who require them
    4. Appropriateness: content of the services and interventions v the expectations of those seeking them
    5. Acceptability: mutual expectations of the service provider and the targeted groups for the services or interventions

Community-based Participatory Research

  • Principles:
    • Recognize Community as a unit of identity
    • Build on strengths and resources within the community
    • Facilitate collaborative, equitable involvement of all partners in all phases of partnership and research
    • Integrate knowledge and action for mutual benefit of all parties
    • Promote a co-learning and empowering process that attends to social inequalities
    • Disseminate findings and knowledge to all partners
  • Engaging a Community:
    • Training: inform about the issues
    • Curriculum: focus a dialogue
    • Collaborative Leadership Models: share and use many resources
    • Practice ethics of hospitality, patience and reconciliation
    • Role models: demonstrate how and why an issue is valuable
  • CBPR suggestions:
    • CBPR training programmes for community members
    • Institutional policies that compensate community members for their contributions
    • Publicity/publications that highlight organizational involvement
    • Institutional support for community service (indirect cost sharing)
    • Educational opportunities for members of traditionally marginalized communities
    • Recognize CBPR activities in tenure and promotion processes
  • Challenges:
    • Defining who counts as the ‘community’
    • Building trust
    • Meeting academic tenure and promotion standards

Nutrition Economics

  • Nutrition economics is as much about health outcomes as it is money
  • Three point continuum (British Journal of Nutrition (2011), 105, 157–166):
    • Efficacy: Does it work?
    • Effectiveness: Does it work under real daily life circumstances?
    • Efficiency: Is it worth it?

Equity Approach

  • Concentration of child deaths in the most deprived communities
  • Focusing on the most vulnerable is the most cost-effective approach, addressing both child mortality and stunting, and reducing inequities
  • Focus on community empowerment and demand promotion
  • Targeted conditional cash transfers


  • Trust is best, but not necessary:
    • What is needed is commitment
    • You need to make commitments the way they make commitments (not the way you do)
  • Keys to effective negotiation:
    • Goals are paramount
    • It’s about them
    • Make emotional payments
    • Every situation is different
    • Incremental is best
    • Trade things of unequal value
    • Find their standards (people rarely negotiate against their standards)
    • Be transparent and constructive
    • Always communicate, state the obvious and frame the vision
    • Find the real problem and make it an opportunity
    • Embrace differences
    • Prepare: make a wish list and practice with it

ierp, kuala lumpur, risk management, institute of enterprise risk practitioners, brian gray

These are my background notes for the presentation I made at the IERP Global Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 4 June 2014.

I have written elsewhere in this space that emergency managers face four different types of problems:

  1. Simple
  2. Complicated
  3. Complex
  4. Anarchy

and that, “the solutions to Simple and Complicated problems should be the focus of planning and plans.”

Traditionally approaches to emergency management have been processed-based: a set number of sequential steps that generate the action necessary to prepare for and respond to crisis events, in (hopefully) a virtuous cycle. These approaches are suitable in situations where we have a comprehensive understanding of the factors that underlie the crisis and the way it impacts organizational systems. The question then is what do we do when we do not?

This is a story about complexity and how to deal with it in the context of emergency management.


Complexity permeates our lives – like the air around us, we cannot avoid it – and has unique characteristics:

  • The output of component systems cannot be anticipated nor controlled
  • Component systems interact to produce new equilibria

Under complexity circumstances literally emerge. This means that cause and effect can only be understood retrospectively. Without the ability to expect how systems will interact and how this will impact operations, plans can quickly lose their relevance, like a weather forecast the accuracy of which erodes by the second. We can predict the primary impacts of an event, but doing the same for the secondary and tertiary impacts is difficult. In these circumstances a traditional, process-based approach to emergency management alone is inadequate.

complexity superhero approach to emergency management

Superheroes can’t do complexity

Towards a Network Approach

In a previous post I described and advocated that a dynamic approach to crisis management be adopted, in which constant situational awareness identifies risks and triggers an appropriate organizational response to them. The key crisis leadership tasks the underlie this model are detailed below.

Key Crisis Leadership Tasks


Sense Making

Identify that there is a developing situation that warrants the attention of executive management, and determining how the situation will progress and impact the organization.

Decision Making

Once it has been determined that something is afoot, executive management require support to decide what to do about it.

Meaning Making

After deciding the organization’s response, executive management must present a persuasive account of the situation, what will be the organization’s response and gain support for the chosen course.


Transition from an emergency to a normal footing, and providing a retrospective on the situation and gaining consensus around it.


Following the termination of a crisis it is imperative that a formal after-action review process be established, and lessons learned identified and integrated into policy, procedure and organizational learning.

Adapted from Boin, Arjen, et al. (2005). The Politics of Crisis Management [Kindle version] (pp. 217-285). Retrieved from Amazon.com

This dynamic model scaffolds the network approach to emergency management, which recognizes how networks are central to how an organization functions.

Output is produced not just following steps in a business process, but through the interaction and collaboration between networks, formal and informal, within and without the organization. As argued by Dave Gray, a ‘line of interaction’ has supplanted the ‘line of production’ model.

Crises disrupt these networks, or at worst, they collapse, so the aim of the network approach is to develop and nurture them, creating multiple redundancies across organizational and thematic lines.

In practice this means alignment and harmonization in four areas:

  1. Common understanding of risks that can lead to crises
  2. Plans and planning processes
  3. Governance and implementation structures
  4. Behavioural change.

Under this approach:

  • Decentralize risk management, but govern it centrally
  • Risk management dynamic, focused on identifying vulnerability in operational risk areas (people, processes and systems)
  • Integration, integration, integration

A network approach to emergency management is not only effective in circumstances of complexity, but it generates value for an organization by:

  • Creating serendipitous effects
  • Improved risk management
  • Increased efficiency from process re-engineering


A process-based approach to emergency management has intuitive appeal because it has a defined, limited scope with discrete, measurable deliverables. Conversely, a network approach is messy and its components, especially the informal collaboration networks, are unknowable, meaning that measurement is almost impossible (I qualify ‘impossible’ because you can hold out examples of serendipitous effects as evidence of value). And yet it is clear that an emergency management programme is vulnerable it does not include an emergent strategy to nurture and strengthen collaboration networks.

Related stuff that I am working on

  • How do you govern a network?
  • How do you value the output of a network?
  • How do you cost a network?



Continuity Insights logo

Earlier this week, Continuity Insights published the Crisis Communications: Social Media & Notifications Systems survey. Continuity Insights began reporting on the use of social media for emergency management in 2012, expanding the survey in 2013 to include social media strategy, risk and views on effectiveness. Both of these reports give the baseline for the 2014 survey.

Key Findings

  • Use of social media as a crisis communications tool is on the rise
  • But, perhaps paradoxically, there was a significant drop in the use of social media to communicate with employees. In that space, Emergency Notification Systems reign
  • Increased expression of intent to use social media to enhance situational awareness in a crisis, also reflected in the expanded use of the geospatial mapping features of Emergency Notifications Systems
  • Respondents voiced their belief that mobile technology is vital for effective crisis communications

My Observations

  1. While there has been an increase in the use of social media, it seems that it is being used to push messages out to audiences, with still limited use to support situational awareness.Social media form part of the portfolio of communications channels; however, there is unexploited value in providing key influencers within the network with innovative content to share, and a safe space for staff to share their experience.
  2. Video is a compelling storytelling medium, yet it is not widely used for crisis communications. Almost 90% of respondents viewed YouTube as ‘Not Useful’ or ‘Somewhat Useful’ as a medium to get the message out during a crisis event. This is understandable as most organizations do not have dedicated resources to watch and actively engage on social media, let alone produce video content.
  3. On a related topic, the survey revealed the use of peer-to-peer apps, such as What’sApp and Waze. The emergence of these so-called ‘Dark Social’ platforms (because the content that it typically shared from them has no identifiable source) is a growing trend in the wider social media world.
  4. It was interesting to note what questions the response rate dropped significantly: those dealing with social media strategy. This reflects (I think) the superficial nature of integration of social media into crisis communications plans. Further evidence of this is the incarceration of social media in corporate communications and marketing departments. There is value in taking advantage of free social media platforms, and the knowledge of staff in how to use them, but it is a common challenge that organizations are not staffed and organized to fully capitalize on the potential of social media for situational awareness and crisis communications, especially as it applies to mobile.
  5. Finally, the survey makes it clear that respondents view social media is the source of limitless reputational risk, resulting from the spread of inaccurate or embarrassing information. The only thing you need to remember is, “Don’t do anything stupid.”


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Continuity Insights Webinar Brian Gray

At the International Crisis & Risk Communication Conference on 5 March 2013, I delivered a presentation on the use of social media for crisis communications, based on the following argument:

Changing technology, public expectations and the ways in which we interact are setting traditional patterns of communication on a trajectory toward obsolescence. Effectively responding to a complex event requires a continually evolving situational awareness, which is dependent upon the receipt and dissemination of timely and accurate information. In this regard, the ubiquitous availability of smart phones, and the rise of social media, poses challenges and opportunities that can only be managed by taking action in advance.*

The Too Late part came from the need to take action before an event to take advantage of social media to enhance crisis communications.

The release of the Continuity Insights survey Crisis Communications 2014: Social Media & Notification Systems is an opportunity to revisit this topic.

Crisis Leadership Tasks

In an earlier post I argued that we need to replace the traditional, passive notion of crisis management as something that follows something clear and present that has occurred, with a dynamic approach where we actively scan for risks about which we have to do something. In summary,

  • Sense Making: constantly scanning the environment to identify risks that could impact operations
  • Decision Making: matching the emerging risk with appropriate prevention or preparedness action
  • Meaning Making: communicating and gaining support for the action taken
  • Terminating: transition from the crisis state to business-as-usual
  • Learning: formal after action review process to identify and internalize lessons learned
Emergency Management Tasks

Crisis Leadership Tasks

Key lessons to use social media for emergency management

  1. Define your goals: the more complex the goal, the harder it will be to do. To wit, trying to predict an event by mining social networks will clearly be more challenging than providing employees with a platform to share what is going on in their neighbourhoods during a storm
  2. Establish your brand in advance: to the uninitiated, social networks can seem like a free-for-all. Instead, they are silently governed by spontaneous social organization, one of the norms of which is that people prefer to engage with those that they find credible. This credibility scaffolds social network relationships and must be earned. In a crisis, people turn to those that they trust, which means that sites must build a following before an event.
  3. Find your influencers: to maximize impact, your messages need to be amplified. To do this you need to find the key influencers within your network so that you can tailor content for them to share. Kim Stephens of the idisaster 2.0 blog has a great line, “Follow the spokes and you will find the hubs.”
  4. Provide your influencers with content to share: as noted in the last bullet, providing the key influencers within your network with content to share, maximizes the virality potential of your communications. All social media content is not created equal. Warby Parker applies these five criteria to create social media content that drives engagement: unique, authentic, unexpected, does good and has a compelling narrative. Remember, social media engagement is most effective when it is authentic, transparent and disrupts the conversation.
  5. Adopt a Pull system: people want to be engaged, not communicated at; they also expect to be a source of information during a crisis. Social networks provide the means to do both. In practice, this means that the historical approach of the organization being the primary source of information – the Push system – should give way to a Pull system, under which staff are encouraged to not only amplify crisis information they get from credible sources, but to share first person, eye-witness accounts of what is going on in their neighbourhoods. Not only does this contribute to organizational situational awareness, but contributes to the psycho-social well-being of employees.
From within your network, both inside and outside the organization

From within your network, both inside and outside the organization


The key lessons for effective use of social media for crisis communications are:

  • Identify your goals
  • Build your brand in advance
  • Find your influencers
  • Provide the influencers and trusted agents with unique, authentic content to share
  • Pull, don’t push

In addition to these key lessons, make sure you talk like a human being and engage your audience as equals.

Push Pull System Crisis Communications

Adopt a ‘Push’ system for crisis communications

* One of the many lessons I learned through this experience, is the need to Google presentation titles.  After publishing the presentation title, Now is Too Late: Utlizing Social Media for Situational Awareness, we learned that it was a variation on the a book title on a similar subject, Now is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News, by Gerald R. Baron.  While Mr. Baron graciously cleared the use of the title, we should have checked before publishing it.

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Business Continuity Institute Continuity Magazine Q1 2014

Excerpt of the article Ready to respond, my discussion with Continuity, the magazine of the Business Continuity Institute

What would you say are the principles which underpin the UN’s approach to business continuity and organisational resilience?

The UN’s approach to business continuity and organisational resilience is centred on continuous learning and improvement, and is based on a series of principles. The first of these principles is risk-based planning and practice. The United Nations duty stations around the world can have different risk profiles, and plans must reflect local risks. There are common fundamentals, but our approach to organisational resilience is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Also, under the Organisational Resilience Management System (ORMS), emergency management plans, including business continuity, will be founded on a joint assessment of operational risks. A second principle is that of flexible standardisation. The fundamental roles, responsibilities and practice are tailored to reflect the local context, leveraging existing resources and processes. The third principle I would highlight is harmonised and integrated implementation. Emergency management plans and planning processes, governance and implementation structures – such as crisis management teams – and behavioural change will be implemented in coordination with United Nations Member States, host country authorities and other key partners. The final principle relates to maximised organisational learning. This means that the lessons learned during implementation will be identified, recorded and shared.

How do you ensure that your approach to organisational resilience is aligned with the overall objectives of the UN and that it keeps pace with the changing demands of the organisation?

The ORMS is closely governed by a group of department heads that ensure that the system meets the needs of clients. The Secretariat also reports on the progress of development and implementation to the General Assembly, which provides direction and guidance. You mentioned the Organisational Resilience Management System, which has recently been adopted by the UN. Can you provide me with an overview of this system? The UN Organisational Resilience Management System was approved by the General Assembly in June 2013, under A/RES/67/254, as the emergency management framework for the organisation. The ORMS is a comprehensive emergency management system, linking actors and activities across preparedness, prevention, response and recovery, to enhance the organisation’s resilience in order to improve its ability to ensure the safety and security of our staff and assets, and to deliver our mandates. The core elements of the ORMS are:

  • Crisis management decision making and operations coordination architecture
  • Security
  • Crisis communications
  • Mass casualty incident response
  • IT disaster recovery
  • Business continuity
  • Support to staff, survivors and their families.

The system processes include:

  • Policy and plan development
  • Risk assessment and mitigation
  • Situational awareness
  • Crisis management decision making, operations execution and coordination
  • Recovery of people and assets and reconstitution of business processes
  • Reviewing actions and identifying lessons to improve processes
  • Exercising and training
  • Implementing lessons learned.

The ORMS comprises centralised, integrated decision-making and operations coordination bodies linking the core elements in a comprehensive framework and ensuring all processes are undertaken in a timely and coherent manner. Under ORMS, the UN response to any event will be flexible, reflecting prevailing circumstances and focus on a range of priorities. Firstly, the health, safety and security and well-being of United Nations personnel. The focus will also be on maintaining the continuity of United Nations critical functions and activities, and capacities for mandate and programme implementation. In addition, it encompasses protection of United Nations physical assets. Finally, I have provided here a graphical representation of the organisational resilience management system, by emergency management phase and process (see below).

ORMS Organizational Resilience Management System United Nations

The Component Phases and Process of the ORMS

Why was it decided to introduce the new system?

The global operations of the United Nations bring with them exposure to an extensive and varied range of threats. To prevent and manage these threats requires efforts beyond a harmonised and integrated approach to emergency management. The ORMS was introduced to meet these challenges, pursuant to a request of the General Assembly to develop a comprehensive emergency management framework.

How have you gone about implementing the ORMS and what challenges have you had to overcome to achieve this?

We have pursued a dual strategy to implement the system. First, although ORMS is not a project, on one level we approach it like one. We have set clear lines of accountability for deliverables, established formal governance, development and quality control structures, and have a dedicated regime the aim of which is to change the behaviour of staff, consistent with the tenets of ORMS. Second, we are nurturing an ever-expanding global network of emergency managers from the private sector, academia, partner agencies and interested staff to generate serendipitous effects through information and capacity sharing.

How far along the process are you to the full implementation of the system?

The implementation of the ORMS within the United Nations is being led by the Secretariat. It was decided to pursue a phased implementation approach, beginning at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and then extending the framework to the Offices Away from Headquarters in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, the Regional Commissions in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Santiago, Beirut, and Geneva, the United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions, and then finally to the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. The ORMS has been fully implemented at the United Nations Headquarters, and implementation will now shift to other offices.

Central to the ORMS is the Responsive Regulation approach. Can you clarify what this approach is and why it is so important?

Responsive Regulation is a compliance model proposed by Ian Ayres and John Braithwaite in their book, Responsive Regulation: Transcending the deregulation debate. Based on the premise that a population subject to a regulation will vary from voluntary compliance to deliberate non-compliance, the model suggests a portfolio of escalating remedies to encourage voluntary compliance, related to address the source of non-compliance. The model also recognises that those who deliberately do not comply with a specific regulation are a small minority. The governance of the ORMS is based on the responsive regulation approach. The policies and guidance to which the system gives effect will focus on providing United Nations staff with the tools to implement the framework, and not reflect a strong ‘stick’ approach to non-compliance. To date, we have found that the ORMS resonates with staff and management because it solves the problem of how to ensure harmonised and integrated effort between emergency management disciplines. In this way, the system reflects the common need to establish a framework that describes the relationship between the elements that comprise the emergency management landscape. It also serves to enhance the management of operational risk; and furthermore, ORMS supports efforts at the field office level to implement emergency management programmes by adopting a common system that allows offices to leverage each other’s capacity, and to harmonise activities around a common good.

What benefits of the new system have you seen at this early stage?

While it is too early to describe benefits in detail, we have found that working across functional areas encourages working across silos, which has inevitably lead to innovation and improved use of resources. On a related subject, increased awareness of ongoing activities and projects generates serendipitous effects from organic collaboration, supporting the implementation of linked projects and overall change management. Interoperability between organisations has improved, and integral ‘after action’ and lessons learned processes provide a sound basis for continual improvement.

What would you say have been the main learning points from this process?

The implementation of ORMS has been a significant learning experience. The first lesson is the importance of effective change management, characterised by not just establishing the task element and deliverables such as plans; but ensuring that implementation is supported by effective governance structures and a network of practitioners, as well as behavioural change. Second, gaps between emergency management disciplines, such as business continuity and crisis management, are a major source of vulnerability. If there is a gap in overall programme planning and coordination, the effectiveness of preparedness and response will be affected, and not in a good way. Third, a former boss of mine in the army used to tell us that, “Those that can communicate can’t help but be successful.” Strategic communication has been essential to the successful implementation of ORMS, especially in support of change management. One of the main tools that we have used to nurture the network and to share knowledge is social media and internal collaboration platforms. Finally, ORMS is not an overhead, but rather is an effort that creates significant value. The system brings people from across the organisation together around a common objective, which is to effectively manage risk and protect what is the most valuable parts of a business. The process makes the organisation tighter and generates serendipitous effects that lead to new opportunities for collaboration.

Toby Daniels and Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO of Buzzfeed, discuss Buzzfeed's model at SMW 2014 in New York City

Toby Daniels and Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO of Buzzfeed, discuss Buzzfeed’s model at SMW 2014 in New York City

The overwhelming themes of Social Media Week 2013 were:

  • Content is king
  • People want and expect to be engaged
  • This engagement must be authentic and transparent
  • Provide the tools and content to mobilize key influencers in your network

La plus ça change . . .

In today’s keynote interview of Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO of Buzzfeed, by Toby Daniels, Founder and Executive Director of Social Media Week, these themes were again front and center.

Peretti noted that social and sharing is now how the media works, and people share what engages their heart and their head – quizzes are now hot because they allow the user to dream and offer a topic of conversation with friends – so success can be measured in providing content that is of value to the reader, not traffic. He argued, “In social, traffic is the by-produce of good work.”

Peretti also warned the audience that brands are hurt when they reach an audience that does not want their content. While indicating that the default for sharing content online is failure, Peretti observed, “The best thing about social is that your best stuff is seen by the most people.”

To do this, Peretti explained, Buzzfeed has become a learning machine, constantly refining what content proves to be provocative. Peretti remarked, “To be successful in social you have to maximize learning, not maximize traffic,” celebrating mistakes that are part of the process of learning.

The best model to accomplish this? According to Peretti:

  • Employ, “Really smart humans guided by data”
  • Create value for the reader by continually improving your platform and the content that you share: “Exploits and tricks that are not good for the user are short lived”
  • “Don’t optimize for platforms, but for people”

Peretti noted the trend of Dark Social – content without an obvious referring application – as the source of a growing amount of shared content, from peer-to-peer apps like WhatsApp. He also reinforced that you must ensure your platform and content is mobile friendly, mentioning that Buzzfeed readers consume much content on their mobile devices. “Prime time for mobile is 10 p.m.,” he observed.

The interview ended with a shift to technology, which allows people to connect with more people like themselves and share ideas. It’s a brave new world.

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Social Media Week New York city

It is that time of year again, my favouriteSocial Media Week. I will blog daily (Inshallah) and be live posting on Twitter throughout the week.

You can participate and contribute, even if you are not attending in person. Here’s how:

For more information, check out, Your Ultimate Guide to SMW14: How To Follow & Share.

Watch! Attend! Participate!

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BCM World Conference and Exhibition

Again this year, I made the pilgrimage to London to attend the BCM World Conference and Exhibition; a link to the background paper for my presentation is here.

As always, there were some nuggets.  Here is one:

Risk and Business Continuity (Mike Power – LSE)

Professor Power cogently described how Business Continuity Management can contribute to effective enterprise risk management.  He began by detailing the challenges to manage enterprise risks:

  • The Illusion of Control, characterized by the assumption that we have more of an understanding of cause and effect than we really do.  As I have written elsewhere, in complex and anarchic events, cause and effect can only be understood after the fact
  • Fragmentation of capability to manage specific risks
  • Entity v System Focus, resulting in organizational stove pipes
  • (Unrecognized) Interconnectedness, concomitant with today’s complex systems

Power then turned to the challenges for Business Continuity Management in the enterprise:

  • BCM has historically been disempowered, considered overhead and not a value-generating part of the business
  • The slow emergence of operational risk
  • Weak institutionalization, stemming from the perception that BCM has only an operational or technology focus
  • Weak accountability within the enterprise for low probability-high impact events, which are the bread and butter for BCM

To respond to these challenges, Professor Power proposed a number of solutions:

  • Establish and formalize the Three Lines of Defence: Business, Corporate Risk Management, and Internal and External Audit.  These lines are graphically depicted at Figure 1.
Figure 1 – Three Lines of Defence
business continuity management risk management

The ‘Action’ is in the fuzzy area between Levels 1 and 2

  • Identify the scenarios under which your organization will fail . . . completely, and then decide what will be your strategies to recover from catastrophic loss
  • Establish a risk culture – the ability to think of alternate futures and build action plans around them – where:
    • The authority for risk and control functions are clear
    • There is a respect for controls
    • There is close attention to incentives risk
    • Accept that you can do your best, but there is still a chance for failure
  • Recruit charismatic BCM leaders
  • Build the narrative of BCM’s value generating capacity:
    • Embed resilience as a core organizational value and ‘BAU’
    • Circulate stories of success
    • Create the discourse, incorporating the performance nature of language: if you talk in a certain way, it will happen
  • Incentivize collaboration: when the world is moving against you, to succeed, collaboration must increase.

My Take

Professor Power’s presentation resonated with me because the content was consistent with my experience.  First, there is a common bias toward a programme, or entity, approach over a system approach.  This in turn complicates the management of operational risk, which can only be done effectively by an enterprise approach.  Second, it is ironic that fragmentation features in a field – emergency management – in which consolidation is almost always a good idea.

The fewer baton passes, the fewer times the baton will be dropped

The fewer baton passes, the fewer times the baton will be dropped

Third, there is a critical message implicit in the Three Lines of Defence: corporate BCM can support businesses prevent, prepare, respond and recover, but each business is responsible for their continuity and resilience.

Finally, BCM is a value generator.  The focus of BCM is to find and preserve value within the organization.  Executing this responsibility, connects BCM with all parts of the enterprise, inevitably generating serendipitous effects that are typically of significant value.  Any time you have a conversation around risk, good things happen.

Notes for my presentation at the BCM World Conference and Exhibition in London, on 6 November 2013

BCM World Conference and Exhibition


The evolution of emergency management in the United Nations has tracked to the risks faced by the Organization.  Before 2005, the emergency landscape was primarily comprised of security and humanitarian contingency planning.  The emergence of the pandemic influenza risk brought the establishment of business continuity as a discipline in the United Nations, with strong links to disaster recovery, but it was the tragic earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, that spawned a major change in the way in which the United Nations approached emergency management.

While considering establishing a dedicated unit to support staff and their families injured by malicious acts or natural hazard events as part of the internal response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly requested the Secretariat to develop a framework that would describe the relationship between the various emergency management actors and how they work together.  At that time, the practice was to pursue a programme approach to preparedness, characterized by responsibility for emergency management functions spread among different units.

Although the Organization managed to set up significant capacity for crisis response this way, the programme approach has the potential to compromise the overall effectiveness and response and recovery through process duplication and incoherence. It may also lead to increased cost to implement and support different initiatives, and an increased burden on offices to develop and carry out different preparedness plans.

The General Assembly approved the Organizational Resilience Management System (ORMS) in June of 2013 under resolution A/RES/67/254.  This marks a transformational change in the way in which the United Nations Secretariat approaches emergency management – including prevention, preparedness, response and recovery – and manages operational risk.

Why does the United Nations need ORMS?

In addition to meeting the request of the General Assembly to do so, adopting a systems approach, inherent to ORMS, satisfied another need: to reduce the burden on offices to implement emergency management.  As one would expect, the United Nations has offices around the world, and these offices vary in size.  In contrast to major United Nations offices, like those in Geneva and Nairobi, with the exception of Security, United Nations satellite offices do not have dedicated emergency management experts.  A systems approach, with harmonized emergency management plans, structures, and exercises and testing are easier to implement in offices with limited resources and capacity.

Emergency management lends itself to harmonization and integration because its constituent parts are linked by a shared understanding of risk, and they share a common goal to enhance management of specific operational risks.

Finance and Hazard risks, which are measurable, are typically well-managed in organizations that have dedicated experts to identify and treat these risks.  Strategic risks – risks related to the relevance, alignment and quality of the programme – and Operational risks – those related to people, processes and systems – however, are difficult or impossible to quantify, and responsibility to control them sits in different departments, requiring collaboration across organizational lines to manage them effectively.  If this did not complicate things enough, Strategic and Operational Risks pose the greatest threat for significant disruption.

Figure 1 – A Taxonomy of Risk

 Operational Risk Enterprise Risk Management

ORMS makes a major contribution to managing Operational Risk by:

  • Encouraging a shared assessment of risk;
  • Providing a mechanism to jointly identify and control Operational Risk; and
  • Harmonization and integration of plans and structures minimizes the unintentional transfer of risk within the organization.

What is ORMS?

ORMS is a risk-based emergency management framework, bringing together integral actors across prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.   The aim of ORMS is to enhance the Organization’s ability to deal with crises to protect staff and assets, and allow the United Nations to continue to deliver its critical mandates.  A description of the elements comprising the ORMS framework, and the ORMS Processes by Phase, are detailed at Figure 2 and Figure 3, respectively, below.

Figure 2 – ORMS Elements

 Organizational Resilience Management System ORMS

Figure 3 – ORMS Processes by Phase

 ORMS Organizational Resilience Management System United Nations

To be effective, ORMS must be applicable in all United Nations duty stations, regardless of size, organizational structure and culture, and risk exposure.  At its essence, ORMS involves:

  • Harmonization of emergency management planning and plans
  • Common governance and implementation structures for emergency management
  • Jointly conducted emergency management awareness, training and exercises

This will be achieved by develop guidance that describes fundamental roles and responsibilities, and principles, which can then be applied to meet local conditions.


Development of ORMS was done primarily at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.  For this reason, the framework was piloted at Headquarters, beginning in 2011.  It was later decided to phase ORMS implementation, first to the other United Nations Secretariat offices – the United Nations Office at Geneva, the United Nations Office at Nairobi, the United Nations Office at Vienna, the Regional Commissions in Addis Ababa, Beirut, Santiago and Bangkok, and the field missions of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operation and Political Affairs – then to the agencies, funds and programmes, such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

ORMS will be implemented through a combination of a formal, project management approach and an informal, emergent strategy.  Under the formal approach:

  • A Steering Committee, Project Owner, and Project Team have been assigned; and
  • Key deliverables that scaffold the theoretical and practical elements required for implementation – such as the policy, implementation standards and self-assessment tools – have been programmed for presentation to the Steering Committee.

Although the emergent strategy is informal, this is a misnomer as its application requires a putting in place fundamentals that generates opportunities for collaboration, and the ability to exploit them.  This process is not accidental, but the result of careful strategic communications planning.  The key components of the emergent strategy are as follows:

  1. Establish and nurture an ever-expanding network;
  2. Provide a mechanism to give everyone affected by ORMS a voice and the ability to share and capture knowledge;
  3. Partnerships with academia, the private sector, civil society and governments at all levels; and
  4. Nimble decision-making.

In developing the ORMS governance model, we wanted to find the balance between being vapid and overly prescriptive.  A Responsive Regulation approach is being adopted, whereby policy, governance and implementation support is guided by the premise that staff and management want to do the right thing, and improve emergency management.  Under this dynamic approach, ORMS will be embedded in the Organization’s culture, and solutions to issues will be derived and communicated through the network.  The network is also a source to discuss deficits in capacity in a given place


ORMS is a resource multiplier as it facilitates leveraging and sharing existing capacity, knowledge, experience and skills of United Nations staff working in the emergency management field.  Experience to date indicates that the extension of ORMS across the Secretariat and the UN System is expected to yield significant economies, as follows:

  1. Harmonization of deliverables will make them more effective and reduce the time and resources required to produce them;
  2. Clear roles, responsibilities and integrated workflows will speed agreement between organizations when establishing operations in new environments;
  3. Providing a common language and common definition of concepts will reduce the need for meetings, speed implementation and unleash innovation;
  4. Working across departments encourages silo-busting, which inevitably leads to innovation and improved use of resources;
  5. Increased awareness of ongoing activities and projects across organizations yields serendipitous effects from organic collaboration, supporting the implementation of linked projects and overall change management;
  6. Overlaps between initiatives will be eliminated whenever possible;
  7. Interoperability between organizations will be improved; and
    1. Integral after action and lessons learned provides a sound basis to continually adapt and improve risk prevention and emergency preparedness and response.

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Organizational Resilience Management System United Nations


The American Red Cross is taking advantage of the Sharknado premiere – a deliciously bad SyFy movie in which sharks, sucked up in Pacific tornadoes, drop on the unsuspecting public – to promote disaster preparedness.  The premise behind this initiative is that the measures one should take to prepare for sharks randomly dropping from the sky are the same as those of a hurricane or pandemic.

To change their behaviour, human beings must be placed in the context of a significant emotional event in which their current beliefs and practices are untenable.  This occurs during actual events – like Superstorm Sandy – but can also be generated through exercises and awareness campaigns.  Like the Center of Disease Control‘s Zombie Apocalypse campaign in 2012, pop culture offers opportunities to engage the public on disaster preparedness because, paradoxically, the public understands and are moved by the scenarios, however ridiculous.  The rub is that this type of effort can only be successfully implemented by the nimble, creative and organized.

As I have noted elsewhere, “To capture attention content must authentic and disrupt the conversation.”  To do this, and create material that elicits a visceral experience to drive engagement, social media content, indeed campaigns, must satisfy 5 criteria:

  1. Is it unique?
  2. Is it authentic?
  3. Is it unexpected?
  4. Does it do good?
  5. Does it have a compelling narrative?

The American Red Cross Sharknado campaign does just that.


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