Indicators for resilience

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

detroit-slum-1The images of the abandoned areas of Detroit are a shocking reminder of the sometimes short step between wealth and poverty, and of security and human flight.

Though the photographs show a readily recognisable non-resilient community, how easy a few years ago would have it have been to predict this community’s future? In other words, what indicators are useful in helping us assess and support resilience?

As a reminder, an indicator is an observable change or event that provides evidence that something has happened. Indicators can be set for outputs delivered, outcomes achieved and impacts observed.

In 2010 Experian produced resilience rankings comparing the potential economic vulnerability of the 12 BBC regions. Their rankings reflect each region’s strength and adaptability:

Strength of local business base: for example, is it dominated by sectors hit by the recession of those that are relatively unscathed such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, banking and insurance? Have local firms and start-ups already proven their adaptability?

Community vulnerability: for example, the percentage of households vulnerable to declines in disposable income or to long term unemployment, alongside a survey question that asked of people “Do neighbours look out for each other?”

Personal vulnerability: for example, the size of the working age population, skills, average earnings and number of professionals (managers) compared to low-skilled workers (such as labourers); and

Place: for example, median house prices, local crime rates, and green space availability.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the islands of Orkney and Shetland were amongst the top ranked areas (quoted in Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change).

Experian’s indicators are largely economic – and certainly, they emphasise quantitative rather than qualitative assessments.

The transition movement makes a link between Energy descent action plans, and  general community resilience. The Transition Handbook views “cutting carbon as one of many ‘Resilience Indicators’ that are able to show the increasing degree of resilience in the settlement in question. Others might include:

  • the percentage of local trade carried out in local currency
  • percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius
  • ratio of car parking space to productive land use
  • degree of engagement in practical Transition work by local community
  • amount of traffic on local roads
  • number of business owned by local people
  • proportion of the community employed locally
  • percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius
  • percentage of local building materials used in new housing developments
  • percentage of energy consumed in the town that has been generated by local ESCO
  • amount of 16 year olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetable to a given degree of basic competency
  • percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced within a given radius.”

And the founder of the Transition movement, Rob Hopkins, argues the need for resilience indicators in his PhD thesis

Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change gives sample indicators for the four directions of people, culture, economy and community. They’re interesting partly because they are phrased according to what people might say about themselves – thus enabling the person to claim their own level of resilience.

  • Healthy Engaged People: “I’m happy and fit in mind and body”
  • Inclusive, creative culture: “We’re confident in our diversity – creating a great future together”
  • Localised economy within ecological limits: “We steward our land, food, water, energy, services, jobs, housing”
  • Cross-community links: “We collaborate with other communities near and far – we know no place can go it alone”

Indicators are “an observable change or event that provides evidence that something has happened”. The above examples may prompt your thinking for relevant indicators in the communities, individuals or organisations whose resilience you are seeking to build.


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