Benefits of a cross-sector approach when identifying and addressing long-term risks | Article

Permacrisis can lead to short-termism, but it is necessary to plan beyond the immediate challenge. Caroline Field, partner at PA Consulting and leader in the resilience consulting industry, shares the importance of identifying and preparing for long-term risks, the benefits of a cross-sector approach and the leadership characteristics and tactics needed to build resilience and successfully collaborate in this endeavour. 

Key Takeaways:

Successful cross-sector approaches to identifying and facing long-term risks and building resilience include:

  • A strategic, proactive approach to resilience based on evidence that enhances and protects the delivery of business objectives
  • Whole systems thinking – understanding interdependencies with other departments organisations and sectors and working together to address these and join the dots
  • A resilient culture, where everyone owns and plays their part in delivering resilience
  • Developing resilient leaders who tend to their own and others' personal resilience and have the skills to lead through adversity, change and challenge
  • Harnessing data and technology to provide situational awareness – hindsight, insight and foresight.


Addressing stressors and long-term thinking helps organisations thrive

Chronic risks can become a crisis if not addressed

“Chronic risks, sometimes called stresses, are underlying issues that could be on a macro or micro scale. For example, macro chronic risks or stresses may include geopolitical instability, climate change, or poverty.  These are always present, but have a lower impact, although they could become a crisis if not attended to or they exacerbate the impact of crises, for example, health inequality exacerbated COVID outcomes. I also look at stresses within organisations that could exacerbate a crisis or reduce outcomes, for example, changes in key personnel or lack of skills and workforce.”

Thrive instead of survive

“Strategic, long-term thinking is needed to ensure your business will not just survive but thrive. Looking ahead at potential threats and opportunities will enable the business to chart a course to success – avoiding or reducing potential risks and capitalising on opportunities. There are some very well-known case studies of firms that failed to anticipate and adapt to the future – think Blockbuster with the advent of digital media and Netflix. Too often resilience is just thought about as a reactive response activity and not the strategic enabler it should be.”

“Too often resilience is just thought about as a reactive response activity and not the strategic enabler it should be.

The benefits of a cross-sector approach

Understanding the whole system builds resilience

“We are all interconnected within our ecosystem – more so now than ever. Our system will fail at the weakest point. We can only understand where that might be by understanding the whole system and working together across boundaries – whether within our own organisations or across sectors and value chains. We need to cultivate a shared sense of resilience through understanding the potential risks and opportunities to all parts of the system – creating a win-win situation”. 

Cross-sector approach to in action

“During Covid-19, as the pandemic was escalating and the country fast running out of life-saving ventilators, the UK Government asked PA to lead one of the largest mobilisations of innovation, science and engineering since the Second World War delivering 30,000 ventilators in just eight weeks.

“To do this we brought an agile and diverse team from across the public and private sectors together to achieve one of the most mission-critical challenges of recent times.

“By working together across sectors we were able to create amazing results in a short period of time, specifically, we drew up requirements and specifications for new designs, and engaged manufacturers of existing ventilator devices, along with a host of industry partners – like Ford, Rolls Royce and aerospace company Meggitt – with no experience creating ventilators but whose manufacturing, logistics and design expertise would be vital. We sourced millions of parts from across the globe and brought shuttered factories back online during the greatest period of global supply chain disruption seen in our lifetimes. We put the ventilators through clinical trials, got them approved by the regulator and distributed to hospitals across the country where demand levels changed by the hour. And we trained thousands of medical professionals on their use.

“The collective sense of purpose and our trusting relationships across government and industry were just some of the reasons for the success of this incredibly complex project.

“However, we need to harness this in normal times. I think the UK Government’s “whole society approach” to resilience should help to do this but this will require ownership and collaboration at all levels of the system.”

“The collective sense of purpose and our trusting relationships across government and industry were just some of the reasons for the success of this incredibly complex project. We need to harness this in normal times.”

Leadership characteristics of resilient, cross-sector leaders

“A resilient leader must be both resilient in themselves, lead during adversity, change and challenge but also build trust, consensus and capacity across a wide variety of systems and with a diverse range of people. This can be broken down into three characteristics: “Who I am”, “How I learn” and “What I do” as a leader.

“Who I am is characterised by two key elements: awareness and leadership presence.

“How I learn is about having a resilient mindset – the ability to navigate complex challenges. Being ready and open to lean into uncertainty and challenge – striking a balance between adaptability and determination. This requires self-leadership but also creating the conditions for leadership to be distributed at all levels. A resilient leader is a systems thinker - joining the dots between people and things and understanding dependencies with other people and departments/organisations.

“What I do: Resilience isn’t merely about withstanding challenges; it’s also about proactively charting a path forward for yourself and your organisation to achieve a shared purpose. This requires a clarity of direction, aligning others. During adversity, this clarity of direction provides a North Star to navigate crises. During times of stability, they continue the momentum for their communities and continue an ongoing build of their strengths. 

It also requires resilient decision making; gathering evidence and being able to zoom in and out collating data and information. They foster a culture of creativity curiosity, innovation and adaptability. They consider the impact, pace, and style of their decision-making, ensuring that decisions are robust and aligned with long-term goals.”

“A resilient leader is a systems thinker - joining the dots between people and things, understanding dependencies with other people and departments/organisations.”



Caroline Field is a partner at PA Consulting and a leader in the resilience consulting industry.

She has nearly 30 years of professional experience founded in engineering but specialising in the resilience of systems. This includes expertise in societal resilience, organisational resilience, personal resilience, resilient leadership and the digital modelling and analytics that can bring these together for futures focused decision making. Her area of focus is resilient transformation, working with clients’ teams to understand and lead the behaviour change, which is necessary to build a resilient culture, strong organisations and sustainable, change-ready communities. She has specific expertise in systems-based resilient decision making having developed an innovative approach to measuring resilience through understanding complex socio-technical interdependencies and linking resilience to strategic business outcomes. She is accredited in resilient leadership and sees this as a catalyst for resilient organisations and communities.

Caroline is active in developing standards in resilience. She was Chair for the recently published British Standard on City Resilience, and is currently the Chair of the ISO Urban Resilience Standard Working Group.

Caroline is a Royal Academy of Engineers Visiting Professor of Structural and Infrastructural Resilience at Loughborough University linking research and practice and helping to shape the future of the profession. She is a Chartered Civil Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

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