The 11 commandments

Brian Walker presents 11 issues to think about when applying resilience theory

At the Resilience2011 conference in Arizona, Walker presented 11 areas where more attention is needed when applying resilience theory. Photo: A. Sundin
Centre Senior Research Fellow Brian Walker has been instrumental in formulating social-ecological resilience theory (see whiteboard seminar below).

At a time when resilience has become a widespread term used by scientists, politicians, business leaders, NGOs and other practitioners alike, Walker is starting to see the need to develop ideas on how to apply resilience theory into practice.

“This need has become apparent in my work with a range of different practitioners, from Australian farmers hit by climate change effects and global economic trends  to the government officials who have to develop appropriate policies. It becomes doubly difficult when you're dealing with regions that involve more than one country, like the Arctic", says Walker.
“Generally, the resilience concept is a very useful tool in communicating with practitioners. A common problem, however, is that people tend to focus too much on one scale — the scale that most concerns them. A lot remains to be done when it comes to the practical work of implementation", he continues.

What to focus on
At the recent Resilience2011 conference in Arizona, Walker presented 11 areas where more attention is needed in order to tackle problems with applying resilience ideas:
1. You cannot understand or manage a system by focusing on one scale.

2. Increasing resilience at one scale can reduce resilience at other scales.

3. Social-ecological systems are essentially self-organizing systems with thresholds.

4. Thresholds can move.

5. There is a hierarchy of thresholds with some embedded within others.

6. Trying to make the system very resilient in one way can lead to loss of resilience in others.

7. While theory development around specified resilience (identifying thresholds, etc.) is active and encouraging, the theory on general resilience lacks rigour and needs research

8. Both specified resilience and general resilience are important and interact.

9. The proposition of panarchy has become popular and widely used, as a concept, but it, too,  lacks rigour in application.

10. Resilience and transformability are not “opposites"; they are compatible aspects of a complex adaptive system that functions at multiple scales.

11. Navigating the combined influences of exogenous shocks and endogenous changes calls for adaptive governance.
Social system thresholds less investigated
In his presentation, Brian Walker also pointed out that while quite a lot is known about ecological resilience and tipping points, social system resilience is less investigated, particularly in regard to specified resilience.
Download Brian Walker's presentation at the Resilience 2011 conference here. PDF (pdf, 313.1 kB)

See whiteboard semiar with Walker on resilience in humans and ecosystems:

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About Brian Walker

Staff details

Brian Walker's research interests are in ecosystem function and dynamics. In addition to his role at the centre, Walker Chairs the Board of the Resilience Alliance. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and a Fellow of the Beijer International Institute for Ecological Economics.


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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