Resilience Thinking in Practice

On the final afternoon of the Resilience 2011 conference last month in Tempe, Arizona, a panel session on resilience assessment packed out the room.This wasn’t surprising given that a recurring theme throughout the conference and in my own discussions with other attendees revolved around the practical applications of resilience thinking.

How do we take the growing number of insights from resilience research such as a better understanding of threshold indicators and dynamics, the roles of leaders and entrepreneurs in shaping transformation processes, and how social networks influence natural resource governance, and apply them to cases in a systematic way so that lessons learned can be more easily shared among researchers and practitioners?

One way is to use a common framework or approach to assessing resilience in a variety of systems over time. The revised “Resilience Assessment: Workbook for Practitioners” takes us one step closer by providing a framework and laying out the key concepts, questions, and activities involved in conducting an assessment. It is not the only approach, and there are numerous potential variations, particularly ones tailored for specific types of systems (e.g., coral reefs, dryland systems, and in a development context, to name a few), but it can facilitate the knowledge sharing that is necessary to test and apply resilience thinking in practice. And importantly, add to broader understanding around how, when and whether or not to intervene in the management of social-ecological systems to make them more resilient.

During the panel session Paul Ryan, from Interface NRM, drew from the dozens of resilience assessment projects he has been involved with in South-eastern Australia and described how he and Brian Walker, from CSIRO, have applied resilience concepts in planning processes with Catchment Management Authorities. Some of the challenges he identified reinforce the role of resilience assessment as part of a long-term process of guiding change that requires a level of commitment and on-going engagement from those involved.

Lisen Schultz, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and Ryan Plummer, from Brock University in Canada, presented an approach for identifying and engaging key actors using social-ecological inventories based on their work in Biosphere Reserves in Sweden and Canada. They are currently developing an SES inventory module for the resilience assessment workbook that will add to a growing set of tools and resources on the RA website.

Megan Meacham, a graduate of the Ecosystems, Resilience, and Governance Masters program at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, presented the resilience assessment resources she helped to develop on the RA website including an annotated bibliography, examples of key concepts, and a project database.

Finally, Xavier Basurto from Duke University shared a fascinating case study of the Seri pen shell fishery in Mexico through the lens of what he referred to as a ‘retro-fit approach to resilience assessment’. The fully integrated social and ecological characteristics of the system are key to understanding how this fishery has avoided over-exploitation while others nearby have not.

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