From resilience thinking to Resilience Planning: Lessons from practice

Author(s): Sellberg, M.M., Ryan, P., Borgström, S.T., Norström, A.V., Peterson, G.D.
In: Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 217, 1 July 2018, Pages 906–918
Year: 2018
Type: Journal / article
Full reference: Sellberg, M.M., Ryan, P., Borgström, S.T., Norström, A.V., Peterson, G.D. 2018. From resilience thinking to Resilience Planning: Lessons from practice. Journal of Environmental Management Volume 217, 1 July 2018, Pages 906–918. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.04.012


Resilience thinking has frequently been proposed as an alternative to conventional natural resource management, but there are few studies of its applications in real-world settings. To address this gap, we synthesized experiences from practitioners that have applied a resilience thinking approach to strategic planning, called Resilience Planning, in regional natural resource management organizations in Australia. This case represents one of the most extensive and long-term applications of resilience thinking in the world today.

We conducted semi-structured interviews with Resilience Planning practitioners from nine organizations and reviewed strategic planning documents to investigate: 1) the key contributions of the approach to their existing strategic planning, and 2) what enabled and hindered the practitioners in applying and embedding the new approach in their organizations.

Our results reveal that Resilience Planning contributed to developing a social-ecological systems perspective, more adaptive and collaborative approaches to planning, and that it clarified management goals of desirable resource conditions. Applying Resilience Planning required translating resilience thinking to practice in each unique circumstance, while simultaneously creating support among staff, and engaging external actors. Embedding Resilience Planning within organizations implied starting and maintaining longer-term change processes that required sustained multi-level organizational support. We conclude by identifying four lessons for successfully applying and embedding resilience practice in an organization: 1) to connect internal “entrepreneurs” to “interpreters” and “networkers” who work across organizations, 2) to assess the opportunity context for resilience practice, 3) to ensure that resilience practice is a learning process that engages internal and external actors, and 4) to develop reflective strategies for managing complexity and uncertainty.

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