What is Resilience?

It is the ability to recover from crisis.

In the previous post, the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge (100RC) by the Rockefeller Foundation was discussed. (See Bouncing Back — Do you know your Resilience?) It provides staff funding for selected cities, specifically the Chief Resilience Officer, to promote integrated plans and design actions by better understanding the cities complexity to enhance resilience. The 100 RC’s website definition of resilience, “is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” It is their perspective and based on The City Resilience Framework (CRF) composed of four essential dimensions of urban resilience: Health & Wellbeing, Economy & Society, Infrastructure & Environment, and Leadership & Strategy.

Resilience has become such a fashionable term in the federal, state and now local literature that a clear definition is needed. The latest National Security Strategy (NSS) introduces the term resilience and Presidential Policy Directive-8 (PPD-8) formally defines resilience as “the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for, withstand, and rapidly recover from disruption (due to emergencies).”⁠(NSS, 2010 p.18 and PPD-8, 2011 p.6) The NSS, a foundation for other future strategy documents, provides a descriptive need for policy that develops innovation, collaboration and resilience. The PPD-8, added the phrase ‘due to emergencies’ — even our federal literature has varying definitions. The PPD-8 called for a shared responsibility in strengthening national security and resilience through an enhanced systematic preparation against all types of threats. Throughout the recent government literature, especially the National Frameworks, the emphasis is on a whole community approach to strengthen our security and enhance resilience by fostering integration, innovation, collaboration, and leveraging coordinating organizations.

Looking for an international definition, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, promotes the Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) process as decisions or actions that either enhances vulnerabilities or resiliency. It defines resilience as “The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.” (UNISDR, 2009, p. 24)

In the popular book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, authors Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy attempt to simplify the complexities of why some people, systems, and societies bounce back from adversity. 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.” They merged the resilience construct for social policies to “wicked problems”, inferring a risk adaptation strategy from a resilient mindset. Simply, individuals and institutions are better prepared for uncertainties with a flexible, educated and adaptable mindset to manage disruptions and imbalances.

The book, Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative, defines resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” The publication provides six actionable recommendations for building a ‘culture and practice of disaster resilience’ and offers a vision with listed characteristics of a more resilient nation. Of interest was the discussion on decision making for short and long term investments of resources prior to an incident.

In scholarly literature, different meanings can be traced as the term transitioned from engineering and ecology through psychology to social science, including systems and/or networks. The concept, resilience, appears to be adaptable and all purposeful in use and context. It can be used as a metaphor, condition, ideology, process or quality and is even more difficult to measure. For example, a key characteristic is the capacity to adjust to adversity, but to what measurable degree — continuation, adaptation or transformation?

In contrast to the divergent perspectives and conditions, my simple definition focuses on preventive measures, recovery, mitigation, and disaster risk and emergency management — it is a working concept.

Resilience is the ability to recover from crisis.

· Crisis is a core threat to the system that presents strategic and operational challenges because of uncertainty.

· Recover means a capacity to become functional or anew.

Please add your comments. Next posts will be on how to enhance resilience.

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