The multidisciplinary MCCR is inspired by three observations that motivate our research:
Societies are facing multiple, heterogeneous crises that threaten societal resilience. The trend towards a more dynamic, crisis-laden world that puts to the test countries’ resilience has been predicted at least since the end of the 20th century. The development during the following decades proved these predictions to be highly relevant: democratic societies have faced and continue to face simultaneous, heterogeneous crises along different time scales. Crises can occur suddenly and last only for a relatively short time or can develop gradually and linger on with recurring manifestations.
Past and ongoing crises include, for example:
A common characteristic of most crises is that we can observe sudden, disruptive developments such as a new wave of infections during a pandemic, erupting acts of war, bursts of migration flows, or extreme weather events caused by global warming. Such highly dynamic, non-routine situations put societies under stress which demands immediate attention and action to prevent or mitigate damage to pillars of democratic societies such as economic prosperity, health, safety, fiscal capacity, and democratic institutions and procedures. In such a severe situation, conventional wisdom and established best practices fail and decisions must be made under high levels of uncertainty.
Crises do not only differ regarding their development over time but also regarding their effects on individuals, groups of people, and society which may depend on factors like age, gender, geography, and social status. Studying the patterns of these crisis-induced pressures on society thus requires a careful analysis which takes into account the peculiarities of a specific crisis.
Multiple, overlapping, and heterogeneous crises remain a challenge for societies today and in the future. Notably, some of the megatrends that are expected to trigger crises (climate change, migration, digitalization/
Societal resilience depends on the resilience of its constituent parts at the micro-level, their complex interactions with each other as well as with policy interventions, and their aggregation to the macro-level. The applicability of the resilience concept to different levels of human society (individuals, families, communities, institutions) and the importance of their interactions have not only been acknowledged in systems theory or sociology but the resilience concept and the key role of complex societal interactions for resilience have been picked up in recent years by the economic and social sciences in general.
From an economic and social science perspective, a key determinant of societal resilience is a society’s capacity to cope with disruptions at the micro-level in the form of individual, family, and household resilience (in contrast to approaches that assume a macro perspective). Resilience on this micro-level helps maintaining health, well-being, and economic prosperity of individuals, families, and households. At the same time, resilience is also shaped by perceptions, preferences, and actions of individuals in their role as citizens of a society in the political sphere and crisis-induced stressors on citizens can lead to a possible demand for specific media coverage or for more authoritarian politicians. Moreover, politicians may use crises as windows of opportunity to seize political power, or they may alter the balance between responsibility and responsiveness of their policies towards (potentially populist) responsiveness. Another key determinant of societal resilience are public policies and institutions which can provide buffers and adapted responses to mitigate the impact of a crisis on society and foster the resilience of individuals and other societal actors. All these societal elements in turn have a complex, interdependent relationship with each other. A society’s resilience thus depends on complex interactions on the society’s micro-level and their aggregation to the macro-level. To strengthen societal resilience through policies and interventions, it is therefore necessary to explain this interaction properly.
Consider the following scenario exemplifying the complexities of societal interactions: assume that a crisis befalls society, exerting pressures on individuals' well-being. These pressures can directly impact their health, employment, family dynamics, economic prosperity, and decision-making, while also shaping their expectations for the future. Both the actual and anticipated consequences can subsequently influence individuals' political preferences and beliefs, leading to more extreme political views or a yearning for authoritative figures or populist solutions to multifaceted problems. Importantly, these effects on individuals are not isolated but stem from their interactions within families, social networks (both local and online), and institutions like mass media, which shape their perceptions and expectations. Such individual conditions can be aggregated to the macro-level through electoral processes, for example. Recognizing this, self-interested politicians may be motivated to sway people's perceptions or position themselves in the political arena, creating a feedback loop that further influences individuals' perceptions. A similar feedback loop can occur when well-intentioned policymakers attempt to implement crisis-management policies. The effectiveness of these policies can shape people's expectations, political preferences, and (voting) behavior, thereby influencing the scope for effective policymaking in the future.
This complex web of interactions during a crisis can, in turn, be influenced by the occurrence of other concurrent crises. For instance, people's perception of and response to climate policies may be affected by pressures induced by a pandemic or financial crisis. Given our crisis-prone present and future, explaining these intricate interactions and identifying causal effects presents a challenging yet crucial task for fostering societal resilience. This endeavor not only aids in surmounting immediate adversities during crises but also facilitates better preparedness for future crises.
Better theoretical, methodological, and empirical foundations for explaining and improving societal resilience in times of crises are urgently needed. The COVID-19 crisis revealed a lack of both, deep theoretical as well as an evidence-based explanations of the complex interactions which shape societal resilience. A lack of substantive explanations for societal resilience will leave societies unprepared for future crises. Reasons for the lack of knowledge include:
One promising solution to overcome our limited ability to explain and improve societal resilience are the novel opportunities provided by recent ground-breaking developments in computational social sciences, including the economic sciences. Novel types of digital data and methods of analysis can be used to provide a basis for multidisciplinary collaboration through common use of data and methods that will help with connecting different disciplines.