Resilience theory

Making it easier to measure resilience in practice

Better approaches are needed for assessing resilience and making it more applicable in practice. Photo: Jeremy Bishop

Resilience assessments should be more grounded in theory to be applicable in practice, according to a new study

Story highlights

  • Quicker and more generic approaches are needed in order for resilience assessments to be useful in practice
  • Resilience assessments should be grounded in theory for them to be applicable in multiple cases and contexts
  • Local communities’ capacity to self-organise and combine different types of knowledge and learning could be an important feature for resilience

CLEAR AS ICE: We talk a lot about resilience. But frankly, it is a fuzzy concept. It is highly abstract, with lots of varying definitions attached to it, which makes it difficult to assess in the real world.

We need quicker and more generic approaches in order to measure resilience and make it more applicable in practice

Juan Rocha, lead author

In a new study published in Global Environmental Change, centre researchers Juan Rocha, Carla Lanyon and Garry Peterson, set out to make resilience assessments a little less abstract and a little more grounded in reality.

“We need quicker and more generic approaches in order to measure resilience across different cases and make resilience theory more applicable in practice,” says Juan Rocha, lead author of the study.

Need for a strong theoretical foundation

The researchers developed a theory-based approach to assess resilience, grounded in adaptive capacity literature. Early definitions of adaptability are related to the capacity to learn, combine experience and knowledge, innovate, and adjust responses and institutions to changing external drivers and internal processes.

In addition to these earlier definitions, the authors added another layer to their framework that included features based on more recent theory developments and input from a wide range of experts and stakeholders. Combined, these definitions of adaptive capacity were used to design a coding scheme for capturing elements of resilience.

We hope that the effort we have put into this study can be used by others to develop more accurate and effective methods to rapidly assess the potential for transformation, resilience, and loss of resilience in social-ecological systems

Juan Rocha, lead author

Comparisons can reveal patterns

The research team compared 40 different cases from the Arctic region to test whether their theory-based approach could help reveal patterns of features shared by communities who maintained their livelihoods in the face of change.

“The strength of comparative analyses is that it is possible to extract patterns that go beyond individual cases. These patterns can then be used to help develop theory and inform management and governance strategies,” says Juan Rocha, lead author.

One of the patterns that the authors found in the Arctic cases, was that the capacity to self-organise and combine different types of knowledge and learning was especially important for the local communities’ resilience or ability to transform.

“We hope that the effort we have put into this study can be used by others to develop more accurate and effective methods to rapidly assess the potential for transformation, resilience, and loss of resilience in social-ecological systems,” concludes Juan Rocha, lead author.

Read Upscaling the resilience assessment through comparative analysis

Methodology

The authors reviewed scientific literature on adaptive capacity and designed a coding scheme for capturing elements of resilience across the case studies. They then designed a template, together with experts, that informed case study selection and literature reviews. Finally, they applied a qualitative comparative analysis to conclude necessary and sufficient conditions for resilience, transformations and resilience loss in the 40 chosen Arctic communities.

Read Upscaling the resilience assessment through comparative analysis

Published: 2022-10-31