Recent headlines are infested with crises: Trump, Brexit, poisoned Russian spies. So it’s easy to forget that only seven years ago, 51 German citizens died due to an outbreak of virulent E.coli ultimately traced back to contaminated fenugreek seeds. On top of the human tragedy there was a huge impact on trade, and negative political consequences between several countries as officials tried to apportion blame.
For the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), its response to a situation like this attracts close scrutiny from a huge range of audiences. To help it mount the best possible response, EFSA has prepared robust crisis procedures in accordance with its formal mandate. But procedures are only as good as the people who use them, so for many years EFSA has held annual training exercises to improve crisis preparedness.
Since 2012, developing and facilitating those exercises has been the job of Instinctif Partners’ UK Business Resilience team. We have formulated two strategic four-year training programmes involving EFSA colleagues together with counterparts from the European Commission, EU Member States and other EU Agencies.
Our first programme was themed ‘Effective Collaboration’ and focused on helping scientists and communicators work together more effectively under the political and time pressure of an urgent situation. Our second programme, now in its second year, is called ‘Connected Capabilities’ and aims to enhance multidisciplinary responses—including the provision of information transparently to everyone involved or affected.
A crucial insight observed repeatedly is the importance of establishing personal contact networks across national and disciplinary boundaries, and using them to share information informally in the earliest stages of an emerging situation. This is a lesson all organisations can learn. Don’t ignore a potential problem and hope it goes away. By the time you declare a true crisis, your freedom to manoeuvre is already reducing quickly.