All posts by Allyson Quinlan

Should we measure resilience?

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of measuring resilience since the conference in Montpellier last month where @vgalaz quipped “Resilience metrics is the new black @resilience2014”. Efforts to measure resilience are well underway while at the same time there are concerns about what exactly is being measured and whether this shift in focus misses the point of what resilience thinking has to offer. My own thinking on this is that it depends on what you are trying to achieve but a deeper understanding of both perspectives is likely to benefit both approaches in the long-term.

Approaching the dialogue from two perspectives
The Resilience 2014 conference aimed to facilitate dialogue among researchers and practitioners from the resilience research community and the development community. To date, resilience has been conceptualized and applied in a variety of ways. Research along the lines of Holling, Gunderson, Folke, and Walker as well as many others in the Resilience Alliance network and beyond, has emerged from a complex adaptive systems’ perspective and in particular, a focus on ecosystems and integrated social-ecological systems. By contrast, development communities tend to approach resilience from a more human-centered perspective with a focus on livelihoods, risk reduction, and human well-being. What both communities hold in common is a desire to operationalize resilience by applying theoretical insights to real world problems and changing the way we manage and interact with the environment for more sustainable and equitable outcomes.

The demand side of resilience in development
The rapid uptake of resilience thinking by development agencies and foundations has forced the issue of resilience implementation and challenged the research community to make the leap from theory to practice to metrics. While resilience practice is not entirely new (see Walker & Salt 2012) and case studies have informed theoretical advances over the years the wide-ranging application of resilience thinking to development issues, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Development programs and projects operate within a different realm and have their own established frameworks, protocols, and practices. Notably, development programs require well-defined mechanisms for evaluating interventions and more specifically, metrics for quantifying and judging the success of their actions and investments. Thus the challenge that presents itself is how to measure resilience, if indeed it can or should be measured? This is a nuanced question, and much like the concept it addresses, there are multiple dimensions and no easy answers but it remains a worthy pursuit.

To measure or not to measure?
There is a concern shared by many that resilience may not live up to its promise for a variety of reasons including the potential for narrow interpretations and a selective or limited understanding of what can be a relatively abstract concept, but also because of a what some have identified as a lack of quantifiable metrics for evaluation purposes. In Luca Alinova’s plenary presentation he spoke of the very real threat of resilience being adopted and applied in name only, whereby others capitalize on the current trendiness of the concept while much of the same ineffective practices continue under the guise of a new name. In his words “there is a big risk of labeling some bad habits with a new name”. Any failures of course, will have a handy scapegoat and an enormous opportunity will have been lost. Similarly, there is a real risk that in the rush to measure resilience and develop quantitative metrics for comparative purposes, what is actually measured may represent the same things that have long been monitored and measured but are now being packaged in the language of resilience to meet the demand.

The fact remains however, that resilience will and already is, being measured.

What exactly is being measured?
If resilience must be measured to be meaningful to the development community, then how best to measure it? Luca Alinovi suggests we need to measure resilience at the household level rather than at an individual level because it is the interactions that are important. He also cautioned though that we are still far away from the dynamic analysis that is needed as well as a general approach for different types of systems.

Much of the discussion at Resilience 2014 around the topic of metrics tended to focus on food security and crisis impacts. Alexis Hoskins presented on the progress being made by the Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Measurement Technical Working Group that has produced a framing paper outlining the challenges in measuring resilience. They have also produced a set of resilience measurement principles that echo Alinovi’s call for dynamic analysis and reflect both systems-based requirements (multi-level interactions, rates of change, inherent volatility) as well as human dimensions (e.g., desirability of system states, people’s perceptions, vulnerability connections). The recommendations and next steps that follow from the measurement principles appear promising because they account for the underlying concepts of complex systems dynamics and cross-scale interactions, while recognizing the need for both quantitative and qualitative data to understand causal mechanisms.

Other presenters similarly advocated for a mixed method approach to measuring resilience, combining qualitative and quantitative data, as well as steps for interpreting data and providing the necessary contextualization that metrics alone cannot fully capture. Yet another type of approach offered by Christophe Bene, was a resilience proxy based on the cost of impacts calculated from the sum of anticipation costs + impact costs + recovery costs. Bene’s postulate being “the more resilient an individual the lower the costs it takes to get through a specific shock”. Assigning monetary values as a means of measuring resilience has many parallels in the ecosystem services literature, which increasingly recognizes the need to also consider nonmonetary values.

What is missing?
There is clearly something to be gained by measuring resilience, but any formula attempting to capture a dynamic system property will inevitably involve tradeoffs for simplifying purposes and something will be lost. Understanding exactly what is missing from resilience metrics or what is potentially lost with a shift in focus from understanding the resilience of a system to measuring the resilience of a system remains to be clearly articulated. In resilience assessment, a main objective of the exercise is to re-conceptualize a system, place, or issue from an alternative perspective, i.e., through a resilience lens and focusing on interactions such that new insights emerge and interventions can be better informed. How a system behaves is not a function of the sum of its parts so it follows that measuring component parts cannot capture what is meaningful about resilience.

To date, most metrics being proposed focus on social variables and the human dimensions of resilience, as opposed to taking an integrated social-ecological systems (SES) approach. Conceptualizing humans as part of nature and placing people within ecosystems, instead of keeping them separate, represents an important advance in resilience research and sustainability science more broadly. Metrics for resilience and more generally, the application of the concept in practice also stands to benefit from taking an SES approach.

Some considerations for developing resilience metrics
It has been said before that resilience is an overarching concept that encompasses many other core concepts. Biggs and colleagues (2012) identify seven principles for building resilience of ecosystem services. Assuming a given bundle of ES is desirable (and knowing for whom it matters), these seven facets can be managed to strengthen and enhance the resilience of the system. They include: maintaining diversity and redundancy, managing connectivity, managing slow variables and feedbacks, fostering complex adaptive systems thinking, encouraging learning, broadening participation, and promoting polycentric governance systems. To the extent resilience metrics can effectively address these seven principles, they would provide valuable information to anyone wanting to characterize and monitor the capacity of the system to maintain a desired set of ecosystem services in the face of continued change or disturbance.

A final consideration is that resilience is not always a good thing. As Brian Walker stated in his plenary presentation, part of the understanding required is knowing where we need to build resilience, and where we need to reduce it to enable transformation. A range of different types of traps characterized by rigid social and ecological processes that are tied to environmental degradation and livelihood impoverishment make change a real challenge (Boonstra and de Boer, 2014). Where traps exist, the goal may be to reduce the resilience of the current state of the system and build transformative capacity, which may require monitoring and measuring a different set of variables.

Measuring resilience should be possible but finding suitable indicators and metrics that retain key attributes of the concept will also need to reflect the fact that resilience is a means and not an end.

Biggs et al. 2012. Towards Principles for Enhancing the Resilience of Ecosystem Services. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 37:421-48.

Walker, B. & D. Salt. 2012. Resilience Practice: Building capacity to absorb disturbance and maintain function. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Remembering Elinor Ostrom 1933 – 2012

Lin Ostrom will have a lasting effect, not only on those who were privileged to know her. The following comments from friends and colleagues in the RA community have several common themes and one doesn’t have to read far to gain a sense of her legacy. More reflections will be added here in the coming days. I hope reading them brings a small measure of comfort.

Lin showed us how someone with extraordinary intellectual power and the highest international recognition can also be a kind, friendly, and supportive human to all. Thank you, Lin, for teaching us so much, in so many ways.
Gary Kofinas

The words that I have most frequently heard when someone describes Lin: energetic, enthusiastic, tireless, and insightful. We can clearly add many more – kind, caring, collaborative, and so on. I’d like to focus on something else, something that always brings a smile to my face. In discussions with many others, I’ve heard mention of this, but I’ve never seen it written…it’s the Sounds of Lin. She chuckled, chortled, cackled, laughed with great mirth, and commented enthusiastically. Her discussions of lab experiments and “cheap talk” often came with a rejoinder about “scumbuckets”. Her frustrated sighs during presentations gave pause to many orators. Her “oohs and aahs” in the middle of formal presentations – both her own and others – always brought a smile to my face. She added more lively sound effects – whams, pows, umphs – than anyone that I know, and her grad students and colleagues just ate it up. One of my fondest memories was going to a hotel gym to get a short run in before a conference. The TV was blaring sports highlights. A few minutes later Lin came in. She started exercising and watching the highlights too. Soon every dunk, goal, or home run was emphasized with a wham, pow, or umph from our little gym too. The memory still makes me smile.
Mike Schoon

Lin’s departure is a great loss to everyone conducting trasnsdisciplinary environmental science, but hopefully we will be able to carry her ideas and determination forward. When I was preparing a speech in honour of Lin’s Nobel prize I spoke to many colleagues and one of the fundamental contributions of Lin’s work which emerged was that it created a platform for transdisciplinary academic research. Many ‘young’ academics said that coming into contact with Lin’s work early on in their careers was crucial for the development of their research. In many ways her work served to legitimize efforts of those seeking to address environmental issues in the field of political science. But it also inspired others, outside the political sciences. Furthermore, despite her many engagements and her high academic standing, Lin always has time to chat to students and offer friendly and sometimes critical but always constructive advise. She also served as a wonderful female role model for all of us (more or less) young women in academic settings.
Another of Lin’s great contributions to research on natural resource management was her use of multiple methods. Although not the only one, she has been very prominent in employing and promoting a multi-method approach to understanding issues of resource management. This has open the eyes of many young scientists from across the natural and social sciences to the value of this approach – and it is one of the important contributions of Lin’s work to our group here at Stockholm Resilience Centre. It has also opened the eyes of many ecologists to the fact that social values, such as social relations and trust-building are in fact very important for understanding resource management outcomes. In summary – Lin has had a tremendous, and fundamental, impact on natural resource management research as we know it today.
Beatrice Crona

Among the many profound lessons that Lin taught by example was that humility is a basic ingredient in human cooperation.
Xavier Basurto

It is rare to find a person, whose achievements were as notable as Lin’s, as interested in others as Lin was. One of my fondest memories of Lin was at the Mock Court that the RAYS organized in Gabriola. She entered into the spirit of the event unreservedly, her eyes shining, her face alight, giving her all in a playful yet deeply serious manner. She always wanted to help and loved to watch young scholars developing their arguments and their expertise. I also remember several personal conversations with her; her life was not always an easy one, and yet she was so glad to be alive, so grateful for the opportunities that had come her way. How rare to find such a spirit of humility and glad grace in someone who had every right to be arrogant and proud! I will miss that enlightening mind and that joyous spirit, very much. We were all lucky to have her with us.
Frances Westley

Lin you are an extraordinary role model and forward thinking individual. You have inspired so many of us to take the bold step into interdisciplinary science. You have also shown us the importance of living life and loving what you do.
Emily Boyd

Her scientific brilliance and analytical sharpness was combined with true curiosity and lack of prestige. In our interactions, she challenged me to think harder, i.e. to be more clear in defining my research questions and to better link theories, methods and data with these questions while simultaneously greatly inspired me to do so. In short, she helped me to be a better scientist, and I will always be grateful to her for that. Her passing is a great loss.
Örjan Bodin

Lin exemplified the very best in the fabulous effectiveness of brilliant curmudgeons in driving attention to the neglected.
Ken Wilson, Christensen

Elinor Ostrom’s work challenged a cultural myth that remains as one of our biggest challenges as a species to learning to live sustainably, and the influence of this contribution will continue to be revealed and realized for decades if not centuries. She is an icon.
My condolences to all feeling this loss,
Philip A Loring

It is difficult for me to write a personal reflection about Lin Ostrom because I am so devastated by the news of her passing that it will take me a long time to recover. I can only speak of her in the present tense. Many others will speak to the brilliance of her scientific work and the profound impact it has had, and will continue to have, on so many branches of science. I want to speak to how Lin is the most amazing person I have ever met. For example Lin visited the University of Wisconsin arriving in the morning of October 5, 2011 and leaving at the ungodly hour of 5:45 am on October 7. The very intense schedule of activities would have completely exhausted any other scientist, but not Lin. I bet that even the bleary-eyed taxi driver who took her to the airport ended up wide awake and simply entranced at the end of the drive. I am sure that the large number of people who experienced her visit were thrilled to be a part of it. As another example, I was part of a group that worked on articles for a special feature collection for PNAS in 2007 that was organized by Lin. Working under her direction was one of the best experiences of my life. Her generosity to everyone that I’ve seen in my experiences with her is unmatched. I don’t know of any words that can describe how special she is.
Buz Brock

Elinor’s rare brand of kind compassion and scholarship endured until her last days. In her final commentary “Green from the Grassroots”, published on-line on 12 June 2012, she wrote: “sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability”and “time is the natural resource in shortest supply”. Her influence stretched far beyond her own country. Her work for example contributed the emergence of many of the community wildlife management programmes in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, which catalyzed a number of innovative natural resource management policies throughout southern Africa. This ultimately changed the lives of tens of thousands of rural people and might one day become the basis for sustainable land reform in the region.
Christo Fabricius

As many others have noted, she was a wise and inspirational scholar and colleague, who brought forward and helped shape many important ideas. Personally, I always appreciated her unbounded enthusiasm and thoughtfulness not just for her work, but for life in general.
Phil Taylor

What so many of us aspire to, Lin achieved: to make our home in the universe a better place. I am grateful for the transforming insights she developed and shared, the people she equipped to continue exploring the path she opened up, and the trust, inspiration and constructive questions she brought to every encounter with students and colleagues. Lin has left us, but her imprint will continue to grow.
Lisen Schultz

My most cherished memory is of breakfast with Lin at the Gabriola meeting. We sat with two RAYS – PhD students – and Lin listened intently and asked about their research. She was so genuinely interested and attentive to what they were doing. Her generosity of spirit and commitment to mentoring new researches was so evident. A towering intellect and a true inspiration, who really has changed how we think, I feel so privileged to have known her.
Kate Brown

When I started my PhD, my supervisor gave me “Governing the commons” to read. And I think it really shaped 20 years of my academic and private life. Elinor Ostrom’s legacy goes far beyond her major academic contribution on Common Pool Resources and Socio-Ecosystem. Her constant willingness to challenge predefined boundaries or established methods constitutes such a Fountain of Youth. She has always been serious about paying attention to any idea, whoever it was coming from: a colleague, a farmer, a student… Her optimism and interest to put to the front all the arrangements that make social life easier changed our ways of doing research, building on the distributed innovation capacity across the world. Let’s keep such kind and open-minded attitude in our further works…
Olivier Barreteau

We can thank Lin for investing so much thought, time and resources in building and guiding a large cohort of successors to continue her quest for understanding, using and protecting our precious commons. Even so we are bereaved by the loss of her intellect, imagination, drive and compassion.
Nick Abel

Lin Ostrom at Gabriola Island, 2009. Photo by Garry Peterson.

We read Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” during my undergraduate program in Environmental Studies and it shaped so many careers of fellow students. I am proud to be part of Lin’s legacy in expanding my own students’ frames of reference towards collaboration as a solution. My favorite moment with Lin was on Gabriola Island, where she eagerly took on the role of cross-examiner, slamming her arm down on her desk and taking those of us “on trial” to task for our use of loose definitions. What a brilliant way to learn, and what a wonderful and generous person she was.
Chanda Meek

I remember at Gabriola Island not knowing who the speaker was, and listening rapt. On introduction Lin Ostrom was warm and delightful. What a privilege to have met and listened to her.
Tally Palmer

I, too, have a vivid and intense memory of Lin on Gabriola Island where I met her for the first time. I was in awe of her towering intellect and impressed by her academic leadership. But Lin was also so surprisingly down-to-earth and invited me to join her for lunch. We sat merrily talking about how to make more nudges in the world, and if and how to really determine whether the fish we eat was sustainable or not. Such curiosity and generosity of spirit. A huge loss.
Gail Whiteman

June 2011, Montpellier, at the end of Elinor Ostrom’s conference.
Last question – “Professor Ostrom, can your Nobel Prize make a difference for a better world?”.
Lin’s answer – “That depends more on the young people in this audience than on me. Frankly I’m 77. I’m still working I’m still teaching, I’m still writing but there is only a few more years that I’m going to be really productive and in this audience are young people that have 50 years ahead of them, at least, some maybe 25 but you’ve got lots of future time and if you work together, trying to think how to cross disciplines, how to use multiple methods, how to take on these sorts of things. Is there a problem near where you were born and raised ? is there something near here that you could be studying ? and where could you be doing a one-year overseas ? Go and really get into this. And we have the chance of making a huge difference over time.”

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.

Building Resilience in Ontario – more than metaphor or arcane concept

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s latest annual report entitled “Building Resilience”. This was a pleasant surprise. Off the top, the Commissioner’s report credits Buzz Holling and the ecological origins of resilience and offers the example of forest fire regimes in Northern Ontario and the systems’ inherent capacity for renewal. Further on the report applies resilience thinking to specific issues including biodiversity conservation and implications of a new MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) biofibre policy to burn forestry “wastes” for fuel:

“Transforming waste to energy and revenue certainly is attractive from a short-term efficiency standpoint. But there are long-term cycles in play too. An appreciation of resilience dynamics would encourage managers to think hard about the long-term ecosystem functions of these “wastes,” including their role as reserve capital, held in store for the next generation. If nutrient-rich branches, needles and leaves are increasingly harvested rather than left on the forest floor to decompose, what will be the consequences for nutrient cycling? What increased stresses may this place on forest soil fertility, on communities of soil micro-organisms and on future forests?”

Inadvertently, the report also amused with its initial introduction of resilience as an “arcane concept that has lurked in the dank halls of ecological academia for almost four decades”. I’d prefer to think of it as a concept that has been simmering. At any rate, resilience thinking appears to be finding a place in Ontario.

The spring issue of Alternatives journal, Canada’s national environmental magazine, echoes the title “Building Resilience” and offers both a “Hardcore Guide to Resilience” and an interview with Buzz Holling. In addition a piece by Andrew McMurry on “The Rhetoric of Resilience” offers some insight from a linguistic perspective on why perhaps the term itself might be resonating so strongly at this particular point in time:

“Resilience answers nicely to the real and rhetorical exigence. To be sure, resilience is in one sense merely the capacity of systems to absorb stress and maintain or even repair themselves. But resilience is also metaphor that embodies a number of characteristics that Aristotle required of all good figures of speech: it is active, primordial, concise and appropriate.

Resilience implies action, as in “building resilience”. To be resilient suggests an inner toughness: the strength, as its etymology tells us, to “jump back” to a previous state. Sustainability, by contrast, suggests a defensive posture: a desire to stay the same, to resist change, without the attractive ability to push back against change and win out. Resilience also connotes a measure of risk, while sustainability suggests that systems are set: they simply need to be cared for and so carried forward. Resilience acknowledges that risk is a constant, and that systems are always in a struggle against dissipation. If the seas are always calm and the weather mild, you don’t need to be resilient. But in this world, you must be resilient to survive.”

Resilience 2011

It’s official! Resilience 2011, the second international science and policy conference will take place March 11-16, 2011 in Tempe Arizona. The conference title “Resilience, Innovation, and Sustainability: Navigating the Complexities of Global Change” gets right to the point. Resilience 2011 is an open conference that will bring together a diverse community of researchers and policy-minded people who are advancing resilience research and its application.

The conference website is up and running with more information forthcoming. I sent a few questions to the Chair of the conference organizing team, John Marty Anderies, to see if I could find out a little more…

AQWhat sets Resilience 2011 apart from other conferences?

JMA: Resilience 2011 will build on the success of Resilience 2008. Resilience 2008 fostered broad engagement of a range of participants from different academic fields and policy arenas and Resilience 2011 will do the same. I think one of the key features of Resilience 2011 that may set it apart will be the focus on reaching out to scholars from different disciplines who aren’t deeply involved with resilience ideas and asking them the work closely with scholars who are deeply involved to find common intellectual ground, common language, and common problems to generate new research ideas and form new collaborations. In this way, Resilience 2011 will hopefully enrich the resilience knowledge base as well as enriching the several disciplines with which it may interact through such collaborative efforts.

AQGlobal change is a key theme of the conference – why? Can you tell us anything about the other conference themes?

JMA: Global Change is a key theme of the conference because it unites several intellectual themes within the knowledge domain that includes and surrounds resilience ideas. Global change connects ecological, economic, technological, and social forces, all of which figure prominently in resilience research. Right now, we have developed 5 preliminary themes. Soon we will be sending out a call for additional themes. The preliminary themes are:

1. Thresholds, regime shifts, and transformations
2. Adaptations, resilience, vulnerability, and coping with change
3. Knowledge management, innovation, and social-ecological learning
4. Governance, polycentricity, and multilevel challenges
5. Complex systems, resource management and economic development

Within each of these themes will be several panels that address subtopics relevant to each theme. As with the themes themselves, we will be sending out a call for panel proposals later this spring. As you can see, the themes are organized around key aspects of social-environment interactions and key theoretical issues that are core to resilience thinking.

AQAt the Resilience 2008 conference we were told to “Expect the Unexpected”, what should we expect from Resilience 2011?

JMA – Again, lets hope for the “unexpected”. The conference organizing team is working very hard to develop a range of activities around the conference involving local art and culture as well as providing opportunities for conference participants to connect with the beautiful desert environment within and around Phoenix. We also hope to exploit the rich archaeological heritage of the Phoenix Basin to expose conference participants to the dynamics of past societies and how they navigated the resilience challenges that they faced living in an arid and harsh environment.

Resilience Assessment in Roghun, Tajikistan

kukobulokhEarlier this month Christo Fabricius and I were in Tajikistan to conduct participatory workshops with Mountain Societies Development Support Program (MSDSP) staff and community members from two rural villages in the District of Roghun as part of a resilience assessment that began with an initial visit to the area last October. Tajikistan is a fascinating place for a resilience assessment for many reasons. The first being that it is relatively under-studied in the context of applying emerging theories and tools for examining the biophysical and human dimensions of environmental change. The second reason is that the country and region in general is experiencing rapid change across a range of sectors.

Climate change impacts will vary across Tajikistan but the average annual temperature in the region is expected to increase greater than the predicted global average. Evidence of receding glaciers and land degradation are coupled with the start of a mass-migration of workers returning home from Russia, episodic energy crises, and large-scale industrial development. These current dynamics are layered upon its relatively recent independence from Russia, Civil war in the 1990’s, and longstanding cultural traditions.

While the challenges to resilience can be readily apparent, there are also opportunities to draw upon the many forms of natural, social, and human capital in the region to build adaptive capacity. The resilience assessment process helps us to identify these opportunities and consider them in the context of existing constraints and the need to address imminent and expected system shocks alongside long-term uncertainty.

The resilience assessment in Tajikistan is focused on two rural villages (Kalay Nav and Kukobolukh) in the Roghun District east of the capital Dushanbe, in the Vakhsh River Basin. The foothills of the low mountainous area offer unstable slopes for crops and landslides occur regularly. Unreliable water and electricity supplies in the villages along with the poor condition of infrastructure and ecosystem degradation contribute to the village’s vulnerability. A steadily growing population is stressing the natural resource system and a shock looms with the potential sudden return of more than half of Tajikistan’s workforce over the coming months in response to Russia’s declining economy.

Part of the resilience assessment process involved participatory workshops with village members. The workshop activities stimulated thinking about water availability issues in the villages in the context of dynamic change, taking into account past adaptations, and considering ways to increase their capacity and options for coping with future uncertainty. Village members who participated in these workshops were really engaged and the workshops yielded valuable insights. More information about the assessment will be available in the coming weeks on the RA website.

A regional resilience assessment of the Goulburn-Broken Catchment

Earlier this month one of the first integrated assessments of regional resilience based on the workbooks developed by the Resilience Alliance was published in Ecology and Society.

Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia, by Brian Walker, Nick Abel, John Anderies and Paul Ryan uses an approach that follows and also builds upon the workbook guide.

One important aspect of the approach used by Walker and colleagues was to deal with both specified and general resilience. After identifying ten thresholds in the Goulburn-Broken catchment the authors go on to consider the overall resilience of the social-ecological system and offer the following explanation and word of caution about responding solely to specific and known potential system shocks:

“Because of uncertainty about the specified thresholds, regions must be prepared for a wide range of disturbances. By building targeted resilience, regions may inadvertently be reducing other kinds of resilience. It is well known that in feedback systems (of which social–ecological systems are an example) increasing robustness to disturbances at a particular frequency range may reduce robustness to disturbances at another range. It was shown long ago that this is necessarily the case for linear, time-invariant systems (Bode 1945). This idea has been extended to more complex systems recently. For example, Carlson and Doyle (2000) illustrate that biophysical systems that become robust to frequent disturbances become necessarily less resilient to those that are very infrequent. Anderies et al. (2007) have applied these ideas to simple, nonlinear, renewable-resource management problems and illustrated fundamental robustness trade-offs to different types of disturbances. It is, therefore, sensible to consider, in addition to resilience to specified thresholds, whether general resilience is declining.”

Biocultural Conservation at the end of the earth merits 2008 SPES Award

Ricardo Rozzi is this year’s recipient of the Science and Practice of Ecology & Society award for his team’s research activities at Omora Ethnobotanical Park on Navarino Island just off the tip of South America. Rozzi’s contribution to biocultural conservation in the Cape Horn archipelago is detailed in the article Omora Ethnobotanical Park and the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve by Eugene Hargrove, Mary Arroyo, Peter Raven, and Harold Mooney.

Rozzi’s non-linear career path included studies in biology, philosophy, music, and a Ph.D. dissertation on indigenous knowledge of plants and birds in the Cape Horn archipelago. This transdisciplinary perspective appears to have formed the foundation for all of his work that has followed. Ricardo Rozzi (now Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas and Investigator at the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile) is recognized by his peers as having played a central role in creating Omora Ethnobotanical Park and the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. The park itself hosts a Miniature Forest Garden trail that showcases the region’s mosses and liverworts (the Magallanes region has the highest diversity of bryophytes in Chile), promoting the value of native biodiversity amongst a spectacular backdrop of forests, fjords, and mountains. The region is also home to the Yahgans, the indigenous people with whom Rozzi has worked closely with, as Darwin himself did a century and a half earlier. Rozzi’s approach combining the human and biological dimensions of place has led to a variety of programs, partnerships, and initiatives that promote biocultural conservation through ecotourism, study abroad programs, research, and guidebooks including a Childrens Illustrated Dictionary of the Yahgan World.

An interconnected social and ecological system perspective is reflected in Omora Ethnobotanical Park’s goal – to link scholarly work with a long-term commitment to a place, thereby allowing academics to become engaged citizens as well as researchers – as well as in the park founder’s vision of – socially relevant science that focuses on research, education, and conservation, as embodied in the park’s mission statement: Integrating biocultural conservation with social well-being from the end of the earth.

The Science and Practice of Ecology & Society (SPES) Award is an annual award that recognizes an individual or organization that effectively bridges scholarly work on the science of human-environment interactions with practical applications. The award of 1000 Euro includes an article in Ecology and Society devoted to the recipient and written by those who send in the nomination.

Radio Feature: Resilience, Adaptation and Transformation in Turbulent Times

Mark Sommer, host and executive producer of A World of Possibilities, interviewed scientists and researchers from around the world at the Resilience 2008 conference last month in Stockholm, Sweden.

The 55 minute long radio show can be heard online and includes interviews with Buzz Holling, Brian Walker, Carl Folke, Charles Redman, Will Steffan and Frances Westley.

Their combined wisdom provides insight into how societies can become resilient in the face of traumatic change and unprecedented transition.

World of Possibilities is an award-winning, nationally and internationally syndicated radio program, that is part of the Mainstream Media Project. The show’s website includes links to other guest interviews that were recorded at the conference.

Wiki launch of the practitioner’s guide to resilience assessment

resilience assessment logo
Last week at Resilience 2008 in Stockholm, I gave a presentation on the Practitioner’s workbook Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems. The workbook incorporates key principles underlying resilience thinking and provides a framework for assessing the resilience of social-ecological systems and considering options to set the system on a sustainable trajectory. The workbook builds on research by RA members and others and while it offers neither a recipe for effective management nor a panacea for resource problems, it does provide a foundation for integrated resource management that takes into account cross-scale interactions, alternate regimes, change, and uncertainty.

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, and collaboration, a wiki version of the workbook was launched last week. The workbook wiki is aimed at those who have experience applying resilience concepts to social-ecological systems and who want to contribute to the on-going development of the resilience assessment guide.

Feedback from those who have used the resilience assessment workbook (first made available last July), identified some of the strengths and weaknesses of the original version as well as a few gaps. The wiki editorial team will begin organizing the development of new content and a bunch of new material that will be linked to the workbook including: thematic versions of the workbook (e.g. urban resilience, coral reef resilience); modules on participatory research, adaptive co-management, assessing ecosystem service tradeoffs, etc.; research methods; translations (Spanish, Russian, Swedish); new examples and case studies.

Discussions among those who have used the workbook highlight the need for many more examples and case studies of completed assessments. People want to know how others are applying the assessment process in different settings, how they are adapting it, what problems have arisen, and how they were dealt with. A large network of people who have completed resilience assessments will be encouraged to contribute their examples and case studies to the wiki. These entries will include authorship and be reviewed by editors.