Resilience: a positive framing

September 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

In connection with the Round Table on Resilience that I am attending later this week, I have been mining the report published in 2009 by Carnegie UK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice, Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change.

The report draws an important distinction between emergency planning and resilience – preparing for the former is not the same as generating genuine resilience.

Indeed, there is a very positive definition of resilience, framing it positively rather than in terms of capacity to cope with shocks or disaster:

“Resilient communities intentionally develop personal and collective capacity to respond to and influence change, to sustain and renew the community and to develop new trajectories for the community’s future”. (Community Resilience: literature and practice review, Magis 2007).

Particularly thought-provoking is the report’s comment that resilience helps “future-proof’ their communities on the basis of agreed values.” Though I bridle at the jargon – and even the very concept – of ‘future-proofing’, it’s interesting to see resilience as a process of shaping and agreeing values, presumably values by which the members of the community then live.

One aspect can be easily agreed: “resilience is a ‘wicked issue’, best understood as a function of an ever changing system”. In my view, at our peril we claim to know a community’s resilience or to predict how it will respond to future challenges. Best is to draw inferences, using a range of indicators – and I want to look at indicators in the next posting.

The report has many ideas of what communities and practitioners can do to support resilience. A strong recommendation is to have fun: though sometimes urgent or deep work is needed, in most communities “most of us prefer to party with friends along the way.” Though there is a risk of flippancy here, I think it’s an important reminder to offer sociable, friendly, not-too-heavy activities as a way of supporting people and to get them to be involved.

Other activities which caught my eye:

  • Experiment with asset-based approaches, such as community-led mapping, risk analysis and oral history (to build trust and common purpose)
  • Exchange and learning between communities with diverse experiences of coping with – and preparing for – rapid change
  • Learn skills in transforming community conflicts to better enable everyone to contribute to the bigger goal (this point links to thinking I’ve done about British Quakers’ aspiration to become a low carbon, sustainable community).


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