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Fog of ambiguity

How are you finding resilience through transition to cope with discomfort and uncertainty?  

The space between what was familiar before the pandemic and a new reality after it can be ambiguous and often uncomfortable. To try and cope in this liminal space we are forced to confront our own desire for certainty and control.

We are likely to need different ways of thinking, acting and being. Perhaps a core challenge is focusing more on navigating the journey and less on achieving a specific destination.

Without truth, it’s very difficult to get to the scale of response… the future becomes much more about a place of worry rather than a place of hope.

Co-founder Project 00 & Dark Matter Labs Indy Johar

What we heard...

Our data is not good enough, and we are having to make big decisions with very little insight into what is a hugely complex area. For example,  grants being awarded for needs which are easily identifiable - eg food banks, but harder to know / make decisions on the longer-term needs and responses.”

Julia Slay, chair of Haringey Giving and NHS non-Executive director

‘When things get taken away, with travel and those things, you sort of don’t realise how important they are until they’re not there. I was thinking, I could move aboard, I could do all of these things when we’re allowed to. And again, I don’t know if I would even want to but it’s got me thinking about lots of different pathways and not necessarily thinking of life as linear and set out as maybe I was thinking about it before.’

Zoe Fletcher, Creative Arts East, Norwich resident

“For a lot of people, we associate pre-pandemic to the good life like it was, we didn't know about Covid-19 and we didn't feel the loss at such a high magnitude like we've felt. And so, I mean even for me, if you asked me now, how you would feel about going back... Because we’re associating it with, you know, no restrictions and no heartache and all of that. And so, at a superficial level that life was great. But the foundations is what we're questioning, only because of Covid-19 those foundations were kind of rocked.”

Maaria Mahmood, director, Muslim Youth Helpline

“For young people it’s been really hard. My daughter is 25. For them, their life has been taken away. For my neighbour’s 17-year-old said there were no positives. She just wants her life back. The mental health issues are a real concern.”

Birmingham resident


Ambiguity felt in different local communities

Norfolk, UK

  • Mental health is a cause for concern going forward
  • Age and geographical isolation
  • Loss of opportunities to create networks and relationships

Edinburgh, UK

  • So much of what needs doing is on hold
  • Hard to know the true impact on mental health
Edinburgh image

North West. UK

  • Precarity of so many jobs
  • People feel adrift - permanently in transition.
  • As an isolated community Covid-19 has isolated some people even more


Food for thought

"Diverse people experience and respond to uncertainties differently. The underlying vulnerabilities that generate risks and uncertainties, as well as ambiguities and ignorance, require acknowledgement and assessment of the interplay of class, gender, generation, race, ethnicity, sexuality, occupation, education or location. Such dimensions of difference intersect to influence how uncertainties are experienced subjectively and how responses and opportunities are conditioned."

Scoones, I. (2019). What is Uncertainty and Why Does it Matter? ESRC STEPS Centre 

“Liminality is about transitions, about being in the ‘in-between.’ Being in an ambiguous liminal state can be disorienting and anxiety-provoking, yet it is also a place of emerging opportunity and many options. When we find ourselves in the in-between spaces, the liminal space, our task is to be mindful of suspending judgment, keeping our options open and enabling action that allows novelty to emerge and patterns to stabilize."

Dave Snowden et al., Cynefin - Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World (2020)

“Dislike of uncertainty implies that people will pay a high price to avoid it, or, when uncertainty cannot be avoided, they adopt a pessimistic approach and overweight the slight possibility of the worst outcome happening.”

Adam Oliver, Ambiguity aversion and the UK government’s response to swine flu, Behavioural Public Policy (2013)

“The UK has a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance which means that as a nation they are quite happy to wake up not knowing what the day brings and they are happy to ‘make it up as they go along’ changing plans as new information comes to light… the British are comfortable in ambiguous situations – the term ‘muddling through’ is a very British way of expressing this.”

Hofstede model of national culture

“Many in the communities studied crave not ‘newness’ but a return to the past. There is often nostalgia for the way the community was in a bygone era. Sometimes this is because communities have undergone industrial decline, but more generally it is because of the widespread belief that social change has created uncertainty about the rules by which they live their lives. This is often the same for younger residents as well as older ones: the past is defined by the whole community.” 

Values and motivations in Britain’s toughest communities  (PDF, 810KB), Local Government Leadership (2010)

Navigating the transitional space

  • Different crises

    Where do you see compounding crises and how are these playing out in different communities?

  • Deep fault-lines

    Where and how has the pandemic exacerbated existing issues?

  • Magic money forest

    Is it a concern that so much funding has been found by government - yet universal credit has only been temporarily uplifted by £20 and it took a sustained campaign to extend free school meals?

  • Temporary solutions

    Are there any specific temporary measures you’ve seen put in place that would cause you concern if they became the norm?

  • Fog of ambiguity

    How are you finding resilience through transition to cope with discomfort and uncertainty? 

  • Streams of energy

    Where are you seeing energy for change emerge? How can you add to it?