A new paper has compared the grassroots movement of Transition Towns and the Resilience Alliance's Resilience Assessment to shed light on how to apply resilience. Photo: print screen from video on the history of transiton (www.transitionnetwork.org)

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applying resilience

Resilient cross-fertilisation

How to improve the application of resilience thinking by cross-fertilising Resilience Assessments and the Transition Movement

Story highlights

  • Centre researchers have compared two approaches to applying resilience in practice: the Transition Movement and Resilience Assessments
  • The two approaches were shown to share a number of key features and having a number of complementary strengths and weaknesses
  • The researchers urge resilience practitioners and scientists to collaborate with one another to improve the theory and practice of applying resilience

The interest in resilience continues to grow and the concept is often promoted by environmental and development organizations around the world. When it comes to the application of resilience, on the other hand, there is still some confusion about what approaches and methods to apply in different contexts. In order to shed light on this question, a team of centre researchers have published a paper comparing two commonly used approaches: the grassroots movement of Transition Towns, and the Resilience Alliance's Resilience Assessment.

“The two approaches have complementary strengths and weaknesses and we believe that integrating them could be widely useful for practitioners seeking to apply resilience for sustainable development,” explains centre researcher My Sellberg, lead author of the new paper.

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The paper, which is published in the journal Ecology and Society, also includes Sara Borgström, Albert Norström and Garry Peterson as authors.

We urge resilience practitioners and scientists to collaborate with one another to improve the theory and practice of resilience assessment and management for sustainability

Text analysis and workshops

The four researchers compared the Transition Movement and Resilience Assessments through a text analysis of key handbooks, and then combined the approaches in a series of participatory workshops with a local partner active in the Transition Movement.

The Resilience Assessment Workbook from the Resilience Alliance was first published in 2010. It has a strong theoretical and empirical foundation in research on social-ecological systems with a special focus on complex adaptive systems. The Transition Movement, on the other hand, represents one of the largest civil society movements that are applying resilience thinking.

The two approaches were shown to share a number of key features and having a number of complementary strengths and weaknesses. The Transition Movement displayed strengths in its motivating overarching narrative of the need to transform in response to global sustainability challenges, as well as practical tools promoting learning and participation. Resilience Assessments, on the other hand, are strong in their conceptual framework and structured process which generates a context-specific understanding of resilience. A weakness is that they tend to provide little guidance on navigating transformation processes.

Four types of benefits, three challenges

In total, four types of benefits of cross-fertilising the Transition Movement and Resilience Assessment approaches were identified:

(1) Communicating and applying resilience (e.g. workshop participants reported that they got new words, tools and examples);

(2) Linking across scales and world views (e.g. new ways to “reach ordinary people in the countryside with a global sustainability perspective”);

(3) Learning and participation in practice (e.g. letting participants decide “resilience of what, to what” and new practical, pedagogical exercises);

(4) Clarified transition focus (e.g. the Transition Movement’s approach directed the Resilience Assessment approach in a way that opened up for transition to sustainability).

Three main challenges were also identified:
(1) Pedagogical (e.g. communicating new theoretical concepts and global sustainability issues in a local context);

(2) Expectations on quantitative outputs (e.g. many interesting characteristics absent in existing statistics);

(3) Balancing openness and values (e.g. balancing the more open Resilience Assessment with the Transition Movement‛s specific things that need to be resilient). As one respondent put it: ‘You cannot build a movement only on resilience, we need to complement it with saying what it is that we value’.

Growing demand

Overall, the study concludes that there is a growing need to improve and adapt the application of resilience thinking due to the increasing demand from both policy-makers and practitioners. One important way of meeting this demand is to combine insights from both science and practice.

“We urge resilience practitioners and scientists to collaborate with one another to improve the theory and practice of resilience assessment and management for sustainability,” the authors write.

Methodology

The researchers compared Resilience Assessments and the Transition Movement by applying two different methodological approaches: a qualitative text analysis of written guidelines, and a participatory case study. The comparison of their written guidelines allowed for a general comparison that highlight differences and commonalities between the two approaches. This analysis was then complemented with a practical case study to capture some of the discrepancies between theory and practice.

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Related info

Sellberg, M. M., S. T. Borgström, A. V. Norström, and G. D. Peterson. 2017. Improving participatory resilience assessment by cross-fertilizing the Resilience Alliance and Transition Movement approaches. Ecology and Society 22(1):28.

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Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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