Scenario testing helps UK agencies prepare for complex incidents

Scenario testing helps UK agencies prepare for complex incidents

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Agencies sought to improve collaboration

A group of 15 UK government organisations wanted to improve multi-agency communication and collaboration in response to complex incidents. Each organisation had operational independence and employed people in across the UK, spanning the devolved administrations. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person meetings were not an option.

Scenario exercises test participants and reveal risks

Nous worked with the government agencies to find a way to identify key issues, expose differences in perspectives, identify improvements, agree on a route forward and build relationships.

To achieve all this we developed a bespoke ten-week program that involved weekly online scenario exercises.

There were several key features of the scenario exercises:

  • A weekly rhythm: 90-minute weekly scenario tests over a few months rather than two days in a large meeting room.
  • An evolving agenda: As we discovered areas of strengths and gaps, we focused on where we needed to make the most improvement.
  • A rapid learning loop: Lessons from one week could be implemented and tested in a subsequent week.
  • A focused participant list: Those that were needed for a particular session could focus on that and not attend others.
  • An open-door policy: Given the critical importance of learning across organisations, anyone who wished could attend the event.

Each week, we presented recommendations based on lessons learned and tracked agencies’ actions in response. This helped participants to improve their readiness to respond to the scenarios and to real-world situations.

scenario testing involved a virtual simulation, gathering feedback and implementing improvements
scenario testing involved a virtual simulation, gathering feedback and implementing improvements

Exercises prompt action on key challenges

Participants derived so much value from the sessions that attendance and engagement increased with every scenario session – starting with 20 people and growing to 40. The lead department initially commissioned Nous to run five scenarios but was so impressed by the facilitation that it commissioned us to run five additional sessions, and these have now been continued as monthly events.

The sessions have enabled Nous to identify each agency’s key challenges as well as critical co-ordination and communication issues within the sector in which the agencies operate. We use methods to help agencies track issues and reduce risks thoroughly and consistently.

What you can learn from our client

Scenario testing is a critical way of engaging key players in the reality of operating in a complex environment.

Short, sharp, weekly scenarios allow for faster learning loops than traditional day-long workshops.

The value from scenario testing comes from applying the lessons learned, so a weekly routine designed around short exercises enables a disciplined approach to improvement.