Journey to the centre of the earth

Sometime in May, I came to work, went to the same desk, logged onto the same computer, and answered the same phone. But, something had changed, as I became the National Resilience Adviser for Red Cross’ Emergency Services. What do you do, in this somewhat impressively titled new role, I hear you ask. Well, this is where I shuffle nervously, “I provide advice, on resilience, nationally” is one answer.

It’s a new role, and a new way of us doing business. We have a relatively new CEO, who has set us some bold targets (3million prepared and recovered people, anyone?). There’s not a lot of science behind the targets, its more a way of forcing the various parts of the organisation to think differently about how they work, and to work more collaboratively. And to date, this is working.

So its forced our program to think differently as well. We have traditionally approached our work in the comprehensive emergency management way of having a preparedness team, response team, and recovery team. One of our challenges was, although we all sat together, we didn’t really work that collaboratively. Quite often we would all be talking with our state guys, who are responsible for getting the work done on the ground, one after the other, with different requests. They would throw their hands up in the air. “which one do you want us to do first?” And usually it was the most pressing need that won out.

We now look it through functional lenses. We want to strengthen our already good work in strategy and influencing the EM agenda, so we have formed a team to look after that (a bit like my original role in Red Cross, but expanded out). One of the things that we did poorly was, although we created great, world beating products, we weren’t great at planning implementation (public enemy nr 1 it and they will come, is my motto). So we have a team that now looks at good end to end product and program design. And finally we have concentrated all our delivery in one Ops team (although people look at the title Ops and aha, that’s code for Response. But is isn’t. Again, looking at all we do across the prep/response/recovery continuum.

Where I’ve landed (as has my colleague, Kate Brady) is in a specialist adviser role. There was always been a strong commitment to evidence informed approaches, and monitoring and evaluation among our people. Our roles are now making that commitment more overt. We value knowledge, it says. But we are both policy and practice advisers, so its not just about scratching the chin and pondering the total theory of everything. We need to connect the knowledge that we are sourcing and generating  to our outcomes, and ultimately better outcomes for the punters.

This change sounds so easy and smooth. It hasn’t been, of course. No change is. And change is still with us, and will take some time to settle. For me personally, I have found it challenging. Not so much where I have ended up, because, lets face it, this is the dream job. Its more about adjustment. This is the first time in 20 years I have not managed a team. I like being in a team (its why I like team sports), and all that it brings. And I have had fabulous teams over the past 20 years. OK, I don’t miss the inscrutable performance reviews (really, does anyone really use them). But being able to work on stuff togther, and achieve things, is a nice feeling. Being an adviser, feels a little bit like a hired consultant, gun for hire. So I’m not in the thick of things necessarily, where I have been for the past 10 years. That comes with a little bit of relevance deprivation syndrome, some mood swings, and takes some adjustment. But, taking self-care seriously, I have sought out some external help, which has been good.

And the benefits? Headspace. I have been able to get to data that we have generated over 12 months and make good sense of it, and realise there is a really good story about our preparedness activities. Any time prior to May when I have looked at it, I have not been able to even start. It’s just a blur. A paper that I have been leading on with the Beyond Bushfires team about the impact of preparedness on long term health outcomes, has suddenly started to crystallise into something. Also thinking about turning all the great research we have been involved in, into something that is usable. And there are great benefits like not getting calls “ can you send us 25 rediplans, by tomorrow, and its your fault that the post sent them to the wrong address” And no PRDs.

It’s a new stage in my career, coming up, in September for 20 years (does that make me a veteran). It’s a privilege to be in this role, and a bit of a risk (you could employ a couple of doers for one of me), so I am appreciative of the faith that Red Cross, and my manager,  has placed in me.  And I am pretty excited about it, because of the changes I have seen over 20 years, where we have more people involved, more interest, more research, it is about harnessing all of this and making the world safer and less scary.

In preparation for a conference that I am presenting at in a couple weeks, I was asked what my professional interests were. Everything, I answered, then broke it down; recovery, preparedness, separation and reunification, relocation, rebuilding, economic aspects, behaviour change, governance of recovery, death and trauma, popular culture and music, new technology, memorials. I realise a retain a childlike fascination for this sector. It is so, so interesting, and we have just scratched the surface. But like Professor Lidenbrock, I’m off the find the centre of the earth, in Iceland.



2 thoughts on “Journey to the centre of the earth

  1. Have a safe trip John. I’m really jealous. Thanks for the Rick Wakeman clip. I love that intro’ piece. It’s always given me goosebumps since it was released (and I was a young lad in high-school!). Cheers mate. Joe Perry.


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