Thinking differently about supply chain resilience: what we can learn from social-ecological systems thinking



This article seeks to broaden how researchers in supply chain management view supply chain resilience by drawing on and integrating insights from other disciplines – in particular, the literature on the resilience of social-ecological systems.


Before the authors import new notions of resilience from outside the discipline, the current state of the art in supply chain resilience research is first briefly reviewed and summarized. Drawing on five practical examples of disruptive events and challenges to supply chain practice, the authors assess how these examples expose gaps in the current theoretical lenses. These examples are used to motivate and justify the need to expand our theoretical frameworks by drawing on insights from the literature on social-ecological systems.


The supply chain resilience literature has predominantly focused on minimizing the consequences of a disruption and on returning to some form of steady state (often assumed to be identical to the state that existed prior to the disruption) implicitly assuming the supply chain behaves like an engineered system. This article broadens the debate around supply chain resilience using literature on social-ecological systems that puts forward three manifestations of resilience: (1) persistence, which is akin to an engineering-based view, (2) adaptation and (3) transformation. Furthermore, it introduces seven principles of resilience thinking that can be readily applied to supply chains.

Research limitations/implications

A social-ecological interpretation of supply chains presents many new avenues of research, which may rely on the use of innovative research methods to further our understanding of supply chain resilience.

Practical implications

The article encourages managers to think differently about supply chains and to consider what this means for their resilience. The three manifestations of resilience are not mutually exclusive. For example, while persistence may be needed in the initial aftermath of a disruption, adaptation and transformation may be required in the longer term.


The article challenges traditional assumptions about supply chains behaving like engineered systems and puts forward an alternative perspective of supply chains as being dynamic and complex social-ecological systems that are impossible to entirely control.


Link to centre authors: Schultz, Lisen
Publication info: Andreas Wieland, Mark Stevenson, Steven A. Melnyk, Simin Davoudi, Lisen Schultz. 2023. Thinking differently about supply chain resilience: what we can learn from social-ecological systems thinking. International Journal of Operations & Production Management.


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