Characteristics of resilience
The concept of resilience provides a new and useful framework of analysis and understanding on how individuals, communities, organisations and ecosystems cope in a changing world facing many uncertainties and challenges. Sometimes change is gradual and things move forward in continuous and predictable ways; but sometimes change is sudden, disorganising and turbulent. The resilience approach focuses on the interaction between periods of gradual and sudden change, and provides better understanding on how society should respond to disruptive events and accommodate change. Resilience is an area of research under rapid development with major policy implications for sustainable development.
(1) Threats and events. Resilience is seen as the ability to accommodate abnormal threats and events, be they enemy actions, or perturbations from climate change, or natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods, or economic shocks. Most definitions, particularly those involving individuals, communities and organisations also refer to identifying, assessing and communicating the risk from such threats and events.
(2) Positive outcomes. All definitions of resilience refer to a positive outcome, be it the ability of a material to absorb and release energy and return to its original state, or the ability of an individual, group or organisation to continue in existence in the face of some sort of surprise, or the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or sustained life stress, or the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain essentially the same function. In some cases a positive outcome means returning to the state or condition that existed before the disturbance occurred; in other cases a positive outcome means returning to an improved state or condition.
(3) Being prepared. Resilience involves the ability or capacity to absorb, and then recover from an abnormal event. This capacity may be built formally and deliberately by developing plans, standards and operational procedures, or by developing physical, economic and/or human capital. It may also evolve informally through the development of social capital, or it may exist naturally through the properties of the material being used. Individuals, communities, organisations and, indeed, nations which are prepared and ready for an abnormal event, tend to be more resilient.
(4) Desire/commitment to survive. Survival is a basic human instinct, and individuals who demonstrate the strongest will to remain alive are able to accept extreme and abnormal conditions and recover from traumatic events. Similarly, groups, communities and organisations with a unity of purpose and a collective commitment to survive are more likely to succeed. This is achieved through strong leadership and by shared organisational values and beliefs.
(5) Adaptability. We live in a world which is constantly evolving, in some cases through natural processes and in other cases through the intervention of mankind. There is common agreement in the literature that systems, organisations and people who are able and willing to adapt tend to be more resilient.
(6) Gaining experience. The ability and willingness to learn is often linked to adaptability and being prepared. The learning may come from personal experience or by studying the lessons of others in a formal manner: by gathering and evaluating data, by conducting research in an objective, independent and balanced manner, and by communicating the findings, conclusions and recommendations.
(7) Collective and coordinated response - interdependency. As society becomes more complex and interconnected, and the impact of global factors become more immediate and apparent, we find ourselves more vulnerable to disruptive events. In facing such interconnected threats, resilient communities and organisations and indeed nations tend to be those which are well coordinated and share common values and beliefs. But researchers such as Bill Durodie suggest that shared community values and beliefs in the modern world have been replaced by self interest and personal gain, resulting in vulnerable societies which are less able and willing to plan for, and react to, disruptive events.