Key elements in building Resilience

I have previously blogged about the need for building resilience. This along with optimism, understanding motivational values and interventions that promote pro-social behaviour and habits is probably more useful as a group of public policy actions than the more general attempt to promote a concept such as ‘happiness’. That can often be derailed at various times by normal types of human adversity (eg, ill-heath, deaths, divorce, unemployment etc) through an average life-cycle.
TCC have conducted detailed research on social networks and values (also summarised here) in order to assist the development of community resilience interventions for Newham Council. Two years on it seemed the right time to return to the issue, especially since the publication of a recent book on the subject Resilience: How Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy, which is well worth a read. The book attempts a good definition of this developing field of research that can have different definitions in physical sciences, ecology and sociology. They define resilience as: “the capacity of a system, enterprise or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances”.
What then are the elements of resilience?  Below are ones I think that fit with that definition. Insight is vital to understand how systems or communities become fragile. Issues such as low trust, and perceptions of unfairness and weaken resilience within local communities. Mitigation can help buy-time in the short-term but as Zolli and Healy say in their book using the example of sustainability and climate change, “the entire notion that the goal should be to find a single equilibrium point runs counter to the way many natural systems actually work – the goal ought to be healthy dynamism, not dipped-in-amber stasis.” Thus for long-term resilience adaptability has to be a further part of the solution too. Taken together one ends up with the following methodology to building resilience:
Insight elements
  • Mapping fragilities, thresholds and feedback loops that could be a problem as well as understanding the social networks and values that contribute to local social capital
  • Scenario-planning activity (the second half of the book Futurevision has a very good tool-kit for this) to ensure as much knowledge as possible is gathered on potential risks
  • Learn from places which have demonstrated resilience through good processes, high trust and strong social capital
Actions to buy time to strengthen resilience – mitigation
  • Retaining resource reserves where possible
  • ‘Fire-breaks’ and counter-mechanisms for the identified fragilities and thresholds where possible
  • Mechanisms to fairly and effectively manage dynamic reorganisation when faced with unintended or imposed change

Actions to strengthen resilience in the long-term – adaptability

The above approach is one that creates a potential strategy for developing resilience at systems, enterprise, community or even at individual level. However we at TCC also know that fragility, mitigation and adaptability in the field of resilience will have very different impacts on people or their communities due to the differences in individual or community values. The excitement of the adaptable and new may appeal to those with networked or even competitive values however it will be seen much more of a calamity to those who values meant they are pessimistic towards the future or appreciate ‘dipped-in amber’ safety and security. Nevertheless resilience could unite those with the pessimism of low expectations with those who see long-term resilience in ethical and big picture terms. What this all illustrates is that for a resilience strategy to work effectively it cannot be communicated or delivered in a one size fits all way to a community.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer at the The Campaign Company. You can read more about our behaviour change work here and our work into values here