After COVID, Where Will We Be?

Jun 4, 2020

This article is part of our Scenarios Week series, exploring and expanding on the Long Crisis Scenarios. You can find the other articles in the series on our Scenarios Week page.

Yesterday afternoon, representatives from the Long Crisis Network, Local Trust, and The Alternative UK came together to explore the implications of the Long Crisis Scenarios for the future of communities.

James Goodman, Director of Partnerships at Local Trust, chaired the digital discussion, and kicked off proceedings by sharing some background on the Trust’s involvement in the creation of our four scenarios.

Speaking about the Big Local project, which is set to run until 2026, James said “we have a long-term strategy and we want to have an impact beyond that as well. When the pandemic hit, we realised that the world was suddenly changing really quickly in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Some of the assumptions we had been making about the future were suddenly up in the air.”

“That obviously has an impact on how we work, and how we work with the Big Local partnerships, and we realised that our planning and strategy might have to change as well,” he went on to say. “That’s why we asked Alex and David to develop some scenarios to help us understand the new landscape, even though the landscape is changing all the time.”

Many people from Big Local partnerships across the UK attended the webinar, including speaker Becky Doran, a community development worker for Revoelution in Blackpool. Also offering an invaluable local perspective were Pat Kane and Indra Adnan of The Alternative UK, who joined us to speak on their experience of working with local communities in Plymouth.

The Long Crisis Network

Following James’ introduction, Global Dashboard editor and co-founder of the Long Crisis Network, David Steven, introduced the thinking behind the scenarios.

“We start with incredible uncertainty about the future” said David. “I think it helps to understand this as a crisis that has three layers – three layers that are proceeding at different speeds, that are interconnected, and that we have to grapple with simultaneously and understand their reality.”

“What matters” he went on to say, “is our response to that, and these scenarios are based around our response – they look at that response along two axes.”

He then handed over to fellow Global Dashboard editor and Long Crisis co-founder, Alex Evans, who introduced, in brief, the four scenarios: the ‘government of the few, for the few’ that is The Rise of the Oligarchs; the benign but ineffective ‘big state’ of Big Mother; the ‘wave after wave’ of crisis that characterises Fragile Resilient, and the ‘long, hard slog’ of Winning Ugly.

To summarise, Alex shared his thoughts on a best-case-scenario response, based on the intersection of the four scenarios along two axes. “The x-factor that really comes out […] is that we’re looking for a mixture of both collective action and broad participation – we do need a response that’s collective rather than polarised, but it also needs to empower everybody.”

The Alternative UK

Pat Kane of The Alternative UK introduced some of the platform’s recent work with local communities in Plymouth, Devon, “An extremely rich and interesting place to talk about community and its challenges”.

Using online tools including Google Docs to overcome the challenges of not being able to meet in person, Pat’s team invited a diverse group of local residents so share their thoughts. This created a substantial body of text in which to find patterns, regularities, and certain bits of vocabulary that people used when discussing their thoughts about the future, particularly a future in the shadow of COVID-19.

While not having used the scenarios to organise this information initially, Pat said, they had since proven a very helpful way to mark the community’s statements to particular quadrants and identify a tendency towards responses that are collective or polarised, centralised or distributed. As it was, the tendency was towards centralised-collective.

Pat’s colleague, Indra Adnan, went into more detail about the project. “What we were trying to do was engage with those people over a period of time […] they’re invited, then, to take some responsibility for the future.” In being given the opportunity to express “their own blue-sky thinking”, and to address what they felt both necessary and possible in their local area, the group found themselves moving from the bottom right-hand corner of the quadrants up to the top right-hand corner – from Fragile Resilient towards Winning Ugly.

Local Trust

The final speaker was Becky Doran of Revoelution, who looked back on her area’s localised reaction to the coronavirus outbreak so far. Mentioning that her local council was quick to react to the crisis, Becky identified elements of a Big Mother scenario at play, with an emphasis on “looking after our own.” The capacity for this help, however, didn’t last long.

What began with the impression of “open arms – you know your community, you get on with it”, said Becky, suddenly slowed and became talk of due process and discretionary measures.

Becky highlighted the particular challenges facing Blackpool, a locality that relies heavily on seasonal workers. With an unusual season ahead, and thus a large decrease in the number of “cash-in-hand, long-hours jobs that people can easily access”, the area faces an uptick in unemployment. Thoughts, then, turn to how to support families who are unable to access these jobs in the long term.

With this in mind, Becky said, “I would say, looking at the scenarios, that Fragile Resilient is the one that speaks most to me”. People from deprived areas, she added, are used to living in these difficult scenarios – “there is a resilience in our communities that upper government never expected.” Despite the positives, including high levels of mutual community support, there has been a marked impact on residents, particularly to their mental health.

After COVID, Where Will We Be?

With elements of each scenario appearing variously at local, national, and global levels, predicting which path our COVID future will take is almost impossible. An impromptu poll of the webinar’s attendees further highlighted the uncertainty:

However, armed with plausible stories for our shared future, we now know that we can further this dialogue, developing new ideas and actions that will empower local communities to shape their own places in that future.

Watch a recording of the webinar here.


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

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