Fostering Dialogue to Support Community Resilience

By Emily Jack-Scott, Aspen Global Change Institute, and Susan Moser Research Consultancy

The term ‘resilience’ has been adopted by many different disciplines in recent years to embody many different meanings and objectives. The use of the term ‘resilience’ in published literature has increased tenfold in the last decade alone, begging the question:

What is resilience?

Many different things to many different people! For many, resilience captures that positive sense of persisting and thriving in the face of adversity and unknowns. It is in part because of the versatility of ‘resilience’ that resilience planning affords opportunities for dialogue and partnership among diverse stakeholders. Resilience offers the potential of a unified approach to addressing environmental and social vulnerabilities as communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Despite the urgent need for progress, however, that potential can go unrealized when disagreements arise over what resilience means and what its specific goals are. To help bypass these barriers, we’ve developed some recommendations on how to foster productive conversations and partnerships around building community resilience. We’ve outlined them below, as well as in this Resilience Explainer video

Navigating the discourse

People approach resilience from different perspectives and with different goals, resulting in very different policies and actions. Consider how resilience might be used by different individuals. One may think about resilience as an outcome and focus on maintaining a particular situation, such as a viable economic sector, or on improving a situation, such as the health of a community during both normal and extreme conditions. Another may think of resilience as a process and be most concerned with how the community works together to anticipate and respond to shocks and longer-term stresses and changes. Yet another may use resilience to describe a system property andbe most concerned about maintaining some key function.

Improving the resilience dialogue

Finding common ground can be difficult but important when communicating about resilience. Here are four ideas to get started:

  • Explore Your Own Thinking – This crucial step can be harder than it sounds! Consider asking yourself the 5W’s: For Whom, What, Where, When, and Why are you using ‘resilience’? Are you thinking about resilience as a system property, a process, or an outcome?
  • Acknowledge Differences & Complementarities - Chances are you won’t have the same vision of resilience as everyone else, so foster a conversation that brings to the surface legitimate differences in perspective. Recognizing when someone is talking about resilience as a system property vs. a process vs. an outcome may help to interpret and organize the dialogue.
  • Find Shared Values & Goals - Move towards a consensus on core principles and common goals. This could include a focus on improving adaptability to a changing economy and environment, improving social justice, or collective learning and action.
  • Build Partnerships & Continue the Dialogue – Once you’ve found common ground around resilience, build on it! Keep the conversation going, and find opportunities for partnerships to broaden, enrich, and improve your work.

Ultimately, the dialogue around resilience gets us to look at the bigger picture, and take a systems perspective when thinking about how to strengthen communities and combat the effects of climate change. Planning for resilience should be a collaborative process, so that we’re not alone in working towards more robust communities.

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Credits: Emily Jack-Scott, Aspen Global Change Institute, Susanne Moser Research & Consulting