Resilience 101

A system’s ability to maintain its self-organizing capacity, its identity, or its regime.

Resilience is not good or bad, it is just a systems’ property, making the system stay in a desirable or undesirable regime

Diversity is the bedrock of resilience

Resilience Ball Graph

Basins of attraction represent different possible regimes that a system may end up in (some will be more resilient than others)

Basins of Attraction

Resilience arises from a rich structure of many feedback loops that can work in different ways to restore a system even after a large perturbation. A single balancing loop brings a system stock back to its desired state [[ Book - Thinking in Systems - Donella Meadows ]]

Course - Planetary Boundaries

Earth System Resilience

Three Core Dimensions of Resilience

1) The amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain in the same state. - The lower the resilience of a system, the more likely it is that small shocks will cause Tipping point -nonlinear- effects 2) The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization. 3) The degree to which the system can build up and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.

Principles to Make Systems More Resilient

  1. Maintain diversity and redundancy (trade off with efficiency)
  2. Manage connectivity (allow disturbances to spread too)
  3. Manage slow variables and feedbacks (e.g. climate change, soil quality)
  4. Foster complex adaptive systems thinking
  5. Encourage learning
  6. Broaden participation
  7. Promote [[ Polycentric Governance ]] Systems

Probing Boundaries

  • You maintain resilience in a system by allowing it to probe its boundaries.
    • You make a forest more resilient to fire by burning it
    • You make children more resilient by exposing them to their environment
      • If you overprotect them they become fragile
  • Usually there are feedback loops in place to prevent a system to go over its boundary of resilience (e.g. human body doesn’t go above 42 degrees)

Resilience Thinking.png

More on Making Systems more Resilient

  • Continuous Learning
    • Not assuming that we know - [[ Embrace Uncertainty ]]
    • Set up social and institutional learning
  • We need to build resilience to deal with the unexpected
    • Diversification
  • We need to build capacity to navigate change
    • Improve collective decision-making
    • Capacity to self-organize
  • Talking about optimizing or maximizing is usually moving away from resilience thinking

Assessing Resilience

No Set Methodology

  • Resilience does not lend itself to measurement
  • You can assess, not measure resilience, but there is not set methodology
    • Adaptive and flexible method
  • Assessments tend to be
    • Context specific
    • Interdisciplinary
    • Participatory (include different perspectives)


  • Resilience of What?
    • What social-ecological system?
      • Structure, key actors etc…
    • Where do you draw boundaries (time, space, governance)
  • Resilience to What?
    • Is there a specific shock we are interested in?
    • How did the system respond to change in the past (timelining)?
  • Resilience for whom?
    • Who is going to be affected by shocks?



Created on: 2020-12-20 Inspired by: Course - Planetary Boundaries Related: Regeneration | Complex Systems | Earth System Resilience

Digital Garden

Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.