A new study shows that a resilience assessment can provide a more dynamic systems perspective, enable discussions on global and uncertain threats, and help advance their work on sustainable development. In this video, the lead author My Sellberg explains how this was done in the Swedish municipality Eskilstuna.
Over the past decade, few concepts have gained as much prominence as resilience. This rise of interest has led to increased attempts to apply resilience in practice. Resilience assessment is frequently recommended as a way of operationalizing resilience and it is now practiced worldwide, but does it work and what does it actually do?
New research from the centre presents the first in-depth evaluation of what the practice of resilience assessment actually accomplished.
Addressing gaps in municipal planning
The study was carried out in Eskilstuna municipality, which was named "Environmentally best Swedish municipality" of the year in 2012 and prides itself on being a leader in environmental sustainability. In this spirit, two of the municipality’s strategic environmental planners, Lars Wiklund and Lars-Erik Dahlin, pursued an interest in exploring how resilience could be applied in the municipality.
In particular, they were concerned that conventional planning was not addressing how global threats, such as climate change, peak oil, and financial crises would affect the municipality.
In 2011, they started collaborating with Centre researchers and Louise Hård af Segerstad from Albaeco to explore whether a resilience assessment could be of use for their planning practice. The assessment, which was based on the Resilience Alliance’s own Resilience Assessment Workbook, was conducted in 2013 and evaluated as part of an attempt to further improve their planning for long-term sustainable development.
The assessment had four focus areas: food, water, transport and employment. All were assessed based on their capacity to deal with disturbances such as energy crises, economic crises, climate change and the struggle to stay within planetary boundaries.
The main part of the resilience assessment was conducted during a two-day workshop involving civil servants from the municipality. To evaluate the process My Sellberg conducted in-depth interviews with participants and conducted a survey pf all participants of the workshop.
Assessing the assessment
The evaluation of this resilience assessment is published in a new article in Ecology & Society by centre researchers My Sellberg, Garry Peterson and former colleague Cathy Wilkinson. It shows that from the perspective of the municipalities, a resilience assessment can provide a more dynamic systems perspective, enable discussions on global and uncertain threats, and help advance their work on sustainable development.
However, the assessment lacked guidance on how to identify threshold effects. For example, it was much easier for the participants to identify thresholds related to water, such as when lakes become eutrophic, compared to finding thresholds related to more social focus areas, such as employment.
"We urge researchers to continue developing the Resilience Alliance Workbook and engage in local transdisciplinary learning processes. This way we can create useful assessments applicable to a diverse set of audiences and purposes"
My Sellberg, lead author
A systems perspective
The resilience assessment gathered participants from different sectors within the municipality to focus on a shared goal. This laid the base for a better systems understanding than what the participants would otherwise develop in their day-to-day work.
"The workshop was partly about daring to think more freely, letting go of margins of expenditure, etc. Thinking more broadly than your own role, and about how we must act in a wider perspective," said one participant.
Specifically, the resilience assessment served as a bridge between crisis management and sustainable development. Bringing participants from both areas together was perceived as helpful because it provided help on how to consider both slow and fast changes.
"Current crisis management is often dealing with short-term shocks to the system, separated from strategic environmental and comprehensive planning, which focuses on longer term trends," says lead author of the study, My Sellberg.
Room for improvement
Although participants in the workshop found the assessment both new and useful, they also struggled to implement several aspects of it, for example how local, national and global climate change resilience are related. Further, the Resilience Alliance Workbook lacks guidance on designing, managing and facilitating a participatory assessment process, which is crucial in order to foster learning, dialogue and successfully address complex issues. With more municipalities expected to consider resilience assessments, there is a need to elaborate on this.
In summary, the resilience assessment workbook and resilience assessment processes are useful, but there are a number of areas that are critical for resilience assessment that need better practical tools: operationalizing potential thresholds, navigating participatory processes, and analyzing cross-scale resilience.
"We urge researchers to continue developing the Resilience Alliance Workbook and engage in local transdisciplinary learning processes. This way we can create useful assessments applicable to a diverse set of audiences and purposes," My Sellberg concludes.
Eskilstuna continues to collaborate with the Centre and has now performed a deeper resilience assessment process, focusing on local food security.
Sellberg, M. M., C. Wilkinson and G. D. Peterson. 2015. Resilience assessment: a useful approach to navigate urban sustainability challenges. Ecology and Society
20 (1): 43. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol20/iss1/art43/
My Sellberg is a PhD student at the Stockholm Resilience Centre focusing on the translation of resilience into practice, from regional planning, to bottom-up social movements.
Garry Peterson is Professor in Environmental Sciences with key focus on resilience in social-ecological systems.