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Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience

Our 2015 report Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience is intended as an accessible resource on the potential application of resilience science to urbanized communities for local leaders and activists in the United States. 

We were aided in its development by the feedback of many allies both inside and outside academia. In the interest of contributing to the larger public conversation about resilience in human communities, we provide below some of the most insightful critical feedback we received on the report in both its draft and final forms. (All are, of course, reproduced here with permission of the authors.)


(Some comments have been condensed.)

Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies

I thought a number of sections were strong, including ‘What is resilience, really’ bringing some depth and insight into the conversation… I think one of the limits of local community resilience strategies is that it has to complement or operate hand in hand with ‘community organizing and resistance’ strategies. The primary driver of the E4 crises is a brand of hyper extractive capitalism that is destroying nature, extracting wealth from communities and the commons, etc. So we can’t simply build the new in the shell of the old—Ghandi’s “constructive program”. We have to resist/interrupt (“direct action”) the extractive juggernaut that is destroying our commons and potential for a healthy transition. The fossil fuel extraction system, as you point out, is resilient (while obviously not sustainable). But as its failures emerge, we need to have constructive institutions in place and ready to offer alternatives. The more this community of practice exists, the smoother the transition. But organizing and resistance is essential to accelerating these failures.

Saharnaz Mirzazad, ICLEI-USA

Communities have developed systems to support their needs which have evolved gradually. There are many shortcomings in these systems but it is part of the being human. Replacing them with new systems does not mean that we will overcome the challenges. I would like to know how we can address the resiliency challenge without reinventing the wheel.

I think we cannot solve all problems at once. We should analyze a big picture, identify the most critical and immediate issues to be addressed and plan for the others with the reality in mind that the priorities may change. My main critique to 100 RC framework is the scope of it. It is hard to have a meaningful discussion with so many different things on the table. Cities already have process in place for visioning plan, general plans… How can we leverage those to develop a resiliency plan instead of redoing different components. I would like to see the mechanisms to address social and economic resiliency under capitalism. I know that it is a very challenging question!

Bruce Goldstein, University of Colorado—Boulder

It reads very smoothly, it’s well-organized and persuasive. The literature is plumbed at a considerable depth and in a way that is accessible to a lay audience, without soft-pedaling the complexity. I particularly liked the way you addressed scalar considerations, urging community-based initiatives while underscoring cross-scalar connectivity/complexity. The focus on six characteristics is very effective, it breaks things down into core perspectives or elements of emphasis. I like the way you wove together sustainability and resilience, and pulled in a variety of key perspectives, such as planetary boundaries, your E4 framework, and social/natural capital.

Hillary Brown, FAIA, City College of New York

I think it is both a well organized and a well written introduction to a complex subject and a useful primer. What it begs for now is an accompanying case study or three! These could be a couple thousand words each, where you can point specifically to the presence of some of these foundational aspects. I suspect that’s where it is going but if not, strongly urge that this becomes part of the trajectory.

I feel strongly that the “practical action” phase of resilience-building can only take place once people fully assimilate an understanding of “resilience thinking.” Knowledge before application. The education of a society in basic systems thinking, the notion of complex adaptive systems, appreciation of “panarchies”, the role of feedback loops and fostering diversity in developing stewardship, etc. is one of the key challenges we face. And this is a heavy life. Without those core understandings, the exercises of resilience building, a tool-kit or checklist cannot be truly effective and themselves adaptable to change.

Since I think about resilience questions mostly related to urban infrastructural systems, I believe that those systems need to be understood and “fortified” according to their nested scales: regional, urban, district, neighborhood. In that way, we can build a semblance of redundancy by looking to hybridize centralized and distributed systems at perhaps these multiple scales. The “Eco-district” initiative is a particularly good example of where both adaptation and mitigation can be achieved simultaneously. Perhaps the notion of resilience building exercises could be readily applied to those communities that have already undertaken self-definition and self-organization as “eco-districts” in the first place. (Maybe research into this area is a good way of studying the mechanisms of community building.)

Philippe Vandenbroeck, shiftN

On the whole it is a solid and readable thought piece… I have the impression that the concept of identity put forward by the paper is rather static. It encompasses certain essential aspects of what the community is and how it works. I think that identity is a dynamic notion. It’s a function rather than an attribute. As I explained in my comments on the first draft identity is the evolving resultant from discursive processes that involve both people working and living in the system as well as those outside of the system but affected by it… Personally I’m growing more and more dissatisfied with a rather narrow conception of systems thinking that orients itself on an outside-in, causal logic. Systems thinking and doing are inevitably intertwined and in that sense I think that a strength-based approach to building a resilience-oriented culture is a necessary complement. I recommend reading Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging. Here’s my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/489902383.

Stephanie Mills, Neahtawanta Research and Education Center

Because we appreciated its humanity, common sense, tangibility and clear engaging prose we decided to make Six Foundations for Community Resilience the basis for a workshop at the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center. The workshop included discussion of each of the six foundations with emphasis on their interconnections and complexities, emphasizing the need to keep in mind that each of the foundations supports the process of building resilient communities, not static outcomes.

We randomly divided the participants into two discussion groups and asked them to brainstorm, utilizing Systems Thinking, Adaptability, Transformability, and Sustainability (foundations two through five) as heuristics, what developing resilient systems for food security and for water quality, respectively, in Northwest Lower Michigan might entail. We reserved the broader, more philosophical topics of People, Community, and Courage for discussion over dinner and following. Thoughts about the practice of nonviolent communication, personal experiences from organizing relief among the homeless, observations on what works (or doesn’t) in reaching across different land ethics, and stories from the Valdez, Alaska pipeline frontier were all in the mix.

Steve Whitman, Resilience Planning & Design

Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience will serve a critical function in educating diverse populations on the value of planning for community resilience. From university students to local decision makers and professionals engaged in long range planning there is something for everyone. While helping the reader understand the depth of resilience as a concept the text also communicates a scalable and participatory approach. I believe this will encourage communities of various sizes to view increasing resilience as a core strategy and a necessity. We need to take the time to understand the complex socio-ecological systems we are part of so we can better plan for and guide change in our neighborhoods, villages, cities, and watersheds. Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience shows us the way that we can accomplish all of that while also building social capital and reducing our vulnerability to a range of challenges that lie ahead.

Kay Robison

Very scholarly and a nice high altitude view. A few years ago I took a workshop class about developing community. A large part of the class work centered around the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky and two of their books, Leadership without Easy Answers and Leadership on the Line. I found the information invaluable as I realized that a problem I was working on didn’t really have community support. Our solution, while well meaning, had not had the input of the community and thus was not supported.

One of the touchstones that Heifetz and Linsky used to identify a real community problem was the notion that there had to be some shared pain that needed to be addressed. Without the shared pain there was no community investment. This proved to be true in my case and our solution withered. Your work touches on this I think, but not in a very visceral way and I don’t mean scare tactics.

I hope your work will include what the local pain of climate change or environmental limits might look like. Most of the solutions that I have seen seem to involve a lot of money as if green consumerism would save us. Social issues seem to be the most obvious and easiest to organize around (much acute shared pain), but larger issues like climate change and living within our ecological boundaries don’t seem to create a lot of pain in most communities or at least, not much obvious pain. Nor do people seem even remotely willing to sacrifice anything to a greater good. Even Katrina and Sandy don’t seem to have shifted things very much in New Orleans or New York. I am sure that will change over time, but by then meaningful change might not be possible.

Andrew Baker, Western Mass Green Consortium

I think it’s a good framework — the 4Es particularly pop out and are memorable. While the 6 foundations are comprehensive, the treatment is quite general. I think addition of specific examples and mini-case studies would help people engage more deeply with the 6 foundational ideas. That is, mini-case studies or examples to go with each of the 6 and then perhaps some examples at various scales and in various cultural contexts to illustrate the dynamic interplay of the 6. For example – the Amish provide one model of the 6 foundations at work in a small society in which common values is perhaps the strongest of the 6. The Dutch might be another example – identity and values build around seawalls.

A few quick thoughts re examples and discussions you might insert: What happens when the Rich go first? in or society that is the model for innovation and adaptation in many cases – cell phones, solar panels and electric cars begin as luxury items. While low on the equity scale, the benefit is that the rich pioneer new tech by early adoption and help bring successful technologies to scale for the middle class and hopefully on down. Market approaches can support adaptation and resilience even though they may have limits and downsides re equity and sustainability. Individual actions, while low on the systemic solutions scale, can also make a difference if early adopters become thought leaders and movement builders and generate tipping point behavior.

As you mention, resilience and sustainability can be examined with examples at different scales. Not just the rural Amish but also the urban Dutch. The English city now building a 6 mile seawall to generate tidal energy offers a model of urban scale resilience, adaptation and sustainability that could be applied to Boston, New York, San Francisco. If such cities did muster the courage to make that kind of foresighted dual investment, not just in protection against rising water but in generating renewable energy at the same time, it would offer a powerful and literally concrete example of common wealth. As communities see the effectiveness and transformative power of these common wealth investments, the strengthening of common values and identity around these efforts can lead to further investments in commonwealth building — for fresh air, clean water, free health care, etc. etc.


My Sellberg, Stockholm Resilience Centre — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

Ben Brangwyn, Transition Network — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

Michelle Colussi, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

Laird Christensen, Green Mountain College — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

Michael Lewis, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

Jack Santa Barbara, Atamai Village — [JUMP TO COMMENTS]

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.


In general I think it is great that you describe resilience-building with a goal of creating more sustainable societies in the long term, instead of only presenting it as disaster risk reduction. This is also my intention in my work with resilience assessment processes. I think it is helpful to think of resilience as a concept (that can be both desirable and undesirable depending on the situation) within the broader framework of resilience thinking (that includes the normative goal of sustainable development). Doing resilience assessment is then not only about assessing resilience and finding strategies to build resilience, but about using the resilience thinking framework, incl. e.g. also transformation. The principles are a good foundation, I think, but I’m wondering whether you think they are accessible to communities, or if they are more interested in practical tips.


Page 1: So it seems community resilience should also reckon with long-term, abstract uncertainties that may emerge and shift without warning.

  • Very good to also address these longer-term and maybe also slower changes, since so often resilience of communities and cities is only about disaster risk reduction and not tackling root causes!

Page 1: Who decides, who benefits, and who pays for these decisions to make the community more resilient?

  • Important questions to raise: what we mean by resilience is determined a lot by how we frame it, e.g. resilience of what? To what? For what purpose? For whom? Where and on what scale? Important to be transparent about the framing, which you are.

Page 2: Renewable energy is a real but imperfect alternative, as it would take decades and many trillions of dollars to scale up deployment to all sectors of the economy and retrofit transportation and industrial infrastructure accordingly.

  • I know that you have a lot of work behind this statement, but still I would like to challenge it a bit. There are definitely risks of severe declines in affordable energy that we need to prepare for, but I don’t think that we know yet how this will play out, e.g. how fast these changes will happen, how fast alternative energy sources will be able to scale up; I think many people have been surprised by the solar energy expansion lately for example. Based on the complex systems thinking, I would rather be very clear about the different risks, but then also say that we don’t know how it will play out!

Page 4: Thus, resilience building necessarily starts with decisions about what we value.

  • Values are an important starting point, also deciding on the purpose of the assessment, which in this case is partly set by the overarching problems and responding to these. But it might be important to also translate them to a specific local context and add specific local issues–in that case, defining the purpose of assessing/building resilience can also be a step in the beginning of the process.

Page 5: Resilience thinking offers a complement to sustainability thinking in that it is explicitly focused on the challenges of humans coexisting with ecological systems; it was developed for practical use in the messy, unpredictable real world.

  • Yes, I think these differences between sustainability and resilience are (at least partly) because resilience is founded in the social-ecological systems and complex adaptive systems thinking. Gaudreau and Gibson 2010 have a quite nice comparison between sustainability criteria and resilience principles. They find that resilience does not address equity and democracy for example, but is rather refining the sustainability principle on social-ecological system integrity.

Page 6, sidebar: Most of the residents recognize that things need to change, but they don’t want to lose the things about their community they most cherish…

  • I think there will always be things that need to change and things that we want to maintain. In many cases though, there will not be agreement between all the actors in the system; the results you get depend a lot on who you invite, etc. I know this is a simplified example, and maybe you mention it later that it is also fine to include different ways of understanding and valuing “the system”, that there is no one right way of doing this. Then it’s important to just be very clear about the disagreements and agreements, “agree that we disagree” and maybe be open to further explore the different ways of understanding, or decide to work together on a certain goal that actors have in common and work separately on other goals that are not held in common, for example.

Page 7: …although through discussing needs, aspirations, and capacity it should quickly become apparent if the scale should be expanded or contracted.

  • Usually in resilience assessment we have one focus scale, but then also include scales below and above that — since they are all interrelated! Community resilience cannot be understood in isolation, e.g., aggregation of smaller scale events, or access to resources on higher scales could have a significant impact. And I also think, as you argue in the beginning, that we should take the global scale into account, since we now are so interconnected (but I’m not sure how common this is in resilience assessment practice).

Page 7: One community’s experiment can inspire thousands of other experiments, providing valuable insights and best practices and ultimately building support for larger-scale changes.

  • I think the power of the good example is really important, but wonder also how much connections to higher scales and wider networks are important here — to communicate your good example to others, for example!

Page 8: Some of the central concepts of resilience science tell us why this particularly applies to urban communities…

  • I’m wondering if there are also other arguments here for the local level: empowering people to organize themselves and act collectively in their communities, to respond to changes and be part of shaping their future, builds resilience, I think! Maybe the changes we make will be more lasting, also, if they are rooted on the local level and not imposed upon us.

Page 8: But local decision-making doesn’t always lead to equitable outcomes; indeed, one of the weaknesses of decentralization is that parochialism and local prejudice can flourish if unchecked.

  • Interesting tension between local decision-making and broader values of equity, democracy, sustainability, etc. Might be a constant negotiation and dialogue between these broader values, as decided on a more societal level, and the local values?

Page 9: We define community resilience as the ability of a community to maintain and evolve its identity in the face of both short-term and long-term changes while cultivating environmental, economic, and social sustainability.

  • Integrating resilience and sustainability more than other definitions — interesting! Even though they might be partly overlapping. In this definition I see resilience as something inherently good, not as a descriptive concept as it is often described in the resilience literature. But probably more described as normative in the community resilience literature! Just good to be aware of. This goes a bit against what you say in the section on resilience, where you describe resilience and sustainability more as separate things. Another way would be to keep resilience and sustainability as two different things, but say that resilience is a sub-set of sustainability – one aspect of becoming more sustainable, + that “resilience thinking” adds an emphasis on social-ecological interactions and complex adaptive systems (incl. tipping points, unpredictability, uncertainty etc.) to sustainability. More practically in the process, you could say that the overarching goal of building resilience is sustainability. Another thought, is there room for also transforming in “maintaining and evolving a community’s identity”?

Page 17: “[S]olutions tend to hurt sometimes more than they can help because we aren’t looking at the entire system.” —Nikki Silvestri

  • Yes, we become more aware of that there might be unintended consequences when we consider how things are interconnected. I think systems thinking also is about dealing more with root causes then only treating the symptoms. Fundamentally I think it’s about being aware of our interconnectedness and interdependence. This helps us take more responsible actions.
    I also think that the uncertainty and unpredictability can seem less scary if you consider that this means that the future is not set in stone — what we do now will have an impact! Complexity means also that no one has all control, but everyone influences. By presenting it in this way, I think complexity thinking also can be something more empowering. Even if, of course, it is also something quite humbling.

Page 18: In human systems, resilience-building efforts aim (in part) to cultivate such characteristics—but if those efforts themselves don’t adapt to changing circumstances, they may unwittingly cultivate the resilience of things that aren’t desired.

  • Good point. Sometimes in the literature adaptability and transformability are presented as different degrees of change along a continuum. Sometimes they are more described as contradicting each other — if the system adapts it might make it less prone to transform. I think there is some merit to both of these descriptions, depending on the situation. If I think of myself, smaller changes in behavior could for example lead to bigger changes, but at the same time, I might choose to either adapt to a given situation or decide to try and change it.

Page 19: Adaptability is both about responding to change (both external and internal) and learning from the experience.

  • Learning is both about asking: Did we do this right? Did we do the right thing in the first place? And, How do we decide what is “right”? Different levels of asking questions — see [Stockholm Resilience Institute’s, Principles for building resilience, http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/2-19-2015-applying-resilience-thinking.html]

Page 20: In contrast, the U.S. political and economic system has been quite resilient…

  • The way you define community resilience on p. 9, I wonder if it can be a bad thing…? Is this system coping with change but without cultivating sustainability?

Page 22: In resilience science, transformability depends on three attributes…

  • Some scholars describe transformation as something that can be both intentional and unintentional (e.g. Folke et al. 2010). There are a lot of different transformability attributes in the literature, e.g. discontent with status quo, having a common vision etc. There are also those who describe the phases of the transformation process (e.g. Olsson et al. 2006). Interesting emerging field of research, and therefore also no consensus reached on attributes. Think these are fine, since they are pretty general!

Page 25: Sustainability can be a guiding light for resilience building,…

  • Yes, I think so; sustainability more as the overarching goal

Page 31: Resilience is, in a way, the original aspiration of human communities.

  • Does community resilience also refer to the communities that aren’t place-based?

Ben Brangwyn is a co-founder of Transition Network.

I really enjoyed reading this. I very much liked the sections on complexity, your definitions of “community” were helpful to me and the style of writing was very accessible.

There were two things that I felt could have had more emphasis.

First, in the “What is resilience” section, you say “… resilience building necessarily starts with decisions about what we value” and you foreshadow further discussions about it. However, I don’t feel that you had that discussion properly. I would think it would be a golden opportunity to talk, for example, about Max Neef’s model of human needs and wants. This is a critical area because if we can’t distinguish between true needs and pseudo satisfiers, “what we value” is going to be murky, highly susceptible to external influence and potential very divisive.

Second, I saw insufficient emphasis on dealing with difficult emotions and dealing with burnout. I was expecting to see both of these areas developed in the “Courage” section. Our learnings so far on “inner transition” point so strongly to the importance of dealing with what’s inside while we deal with what’s outside, that I think any document about resilience and community is incomplete without substantial sections on this. Sections covering this could be “non-violent communications”, “creating places of trust”, “navigating the 5 stages of grief”, “courage to say ‘I can’t do any more” and to look after yourself”, “creating an emotional safety net”, “why celebration matters”, “giving space to ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’”.

In general, I commend the writing because I found the document very accessible despite the often complex concepts being discussed. In fact it was so good that only a single sentence grated – I saw this sentence twice “Identity is the touchstone of a community’s resilience” and I didn’t really understand it and it felt like it was delivered as an absolute fact, yet wasn’t sufficiently backed up or evidenced in my view. It grated badly for me because the rest of it was so good.

Michelle Colussi is with the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal and co-author of The Community Resilience Manual: A Resource for Rural Recovery & Renewal

We see more and more the notion of community groups self-defining their geographic boundaries. So, setting limits to start with (that make sense in their context and based on their resources etc) and then over time –following their adapt-apply-learn process and using emergence principles– they tend to expand that notion either across the whole initiative or for some parts of it, such as food where you really need to think and act locally and bio-regionally.

Even in our Resilient Neighborhoods program in Victoria we have started at that scale with a clear understanding of its limits and include the characteristic of “The community looks outside itself to strengthen and secure relationships, resources, policies etc. for change.” This will be more or less important depending on the priority issues the neighborhood is tackling. So a neighborhood food group can plant boulevard orchards and community gardens etc (which is great!) — but unless they are connected up to a broader network of other urban food actors they miss out on the potential replication, learning, influencing policy, access to research, resources etc. Our municipal food policy is about to be changed and we have regional food policies only because of the organized effort among various actors at the base and leveraging influence from outside too (provincial food groups).

Our Resilient Streets (Transition Streets on acid) program is so lovely as a way of supporting neighbor to neighbor engagement and projects (like the orchard) but it is also quite limited. This scale is an accompaniment, but can’t ever be the whole picture if you are serious about strengthening community resilience. There IS a lot that needs to happen at the mezzo and macro levels and we need to be working continuously in and between all three. I think it is important to introduce this question of scale and the benefits and limits, and encourage communities to start where the energy is –where they have assets, resources and need combined– while they keep their eye on the larger system and surrounding scales at the same time. The practice of seeing the forest and the trees and working in and between both is a critical aspect of what we see in successful systems change leaders.

Consider if the folks using the tool are community activists or technical or scientific folks. Thresholds come from ecosystems and we use them in socioeconomic systems but they do tend to make people’s eyes glaze over. I have had better success getting people to frame the desired outcomes within a consideration of “how much change is reasonable and acceptable, by when”. The language you use is really important to think about within the context of your intended audience. Backcasting from long term population or condition level change in order to identify incremental change is a common approach in many of the tools.

One of the ways our model differs from Walker/Salt is in its attention to community capacity — the focus on “pro-active action”. Resilience is both an end state or set of conditions and a set of practices and approaches (I sometimes describe these as the resilience muscles). We include attention to community engagement, planning, leadership, collaboration and conflict resolution as critical process factors linked to adaptive capacity and resilience. Communities may have the technical know-how but lack the ability to unite the community around a common agenda for change (we all know lots of plans that never got implemented); without that, we are not nearly as resilient as we could be.

Laird Christensen is Director of the Masters in Sustainable and Resilient Community Development (MRSC) program at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont.

What do you think of our argument that many current resilience initiatives focus excessively on climate impacts and infrastructure, and that building true resilience for communities should instead prioritize (a) social-equity-focused community member involvement and (b) a broad approach that considers the depth of the global sustainability crises?

I agree absolutely. In fact, we made a special effort to weave social justice and systems thinking through our graduate program –as well as quantitative literacy and the critical thinking skills necessary for our graduates to assess information, projections, and proposals. This is exactly the way we need to go to achieve resilience. I would add that there is a larger educational component to this: reaching beyond people who are already interested in such issues (such as the college graduates enrolling in our program) to the general population of a community requires a multi-tiered educational approach, both within and beyond established curricula in established schools and colleges. Community education will be essential, and it comes with its own set of challenges.

…My old friend, Tony Leiserowitz, directs the Yale University Center for Climate Change Communication, and I’m almost always left a bit depressed by the reports from his office, in terms of how well (or how poorly) Americans understand even just issue of climate change. It seems to me that the first step is for people to learn what’s going on in terms of energy use, the effects of climate change, and social justice issues, and that these threads need to be woven together in a way that makes sense (and is of genuine interest) to the general population. To me, this is more about story-telling than about formal education, and about the kinds of stories that are powerful enough to capture the interest of a population that is pretty happy to be kept distracted by an evening in front of the television.

After that comes what we usually think of as education, though I want to emphasize the need for community education, which can serve everyone–not just students enrolled in one school or another. As I mentioned to Kate Seeley the other week, the thing to do–at least what we did here–was to begin by identifying the knowledge areas and skill sets that people can use to work toward community resilience, and then to figure out how to incorporate training in those areas across the board: from games for students at community fairs (and, believe me, the basic concepts from Walker and Salt could make one hell of a board game!…

The other point, which I noted several times in my marginal comments, is that the mechanism for determining the “collective aspirations” of any community need to be articulated better than I’ve seen in any of the literature. There’s another issue involved in this: those collective aspirations will probably only lead toward greater resilience if the people have been educated about the inter-related vulnerabilities of their own communities in some way. Some people might even suggest that these aspirations might need to be managed, directed toward the specific goals that the most informed, most involved, most committed minority of theoretical organizers have in mind. There are questions implicit in there having to do with the wisdom of the populace, in terms of their ability to make the best decisions, that reach back at least to Plato. It is complicated, but fortunately we’ve got philosophers such as Bill Throop and Steve Fesmire to help our students through the tangle of ethical concerns.

Having spent my activist years working in forest defense issues, playing the loud-mouthed antagonist to communities of well-meaning timber workers, I’ve since come to think of finding common ground between multiple stakeholders as a very slow path forward, though the most morally legitimate one. So, in regards to this project, providing education can then lead to accessing opinions from the population (and you’ll need a social scientist here), which can lead to finding a small set of common goals, which then leads to engaging in public participation processes. From there the route is a little clearer: it’s those first few steps that may be more complicated than we’d like.

Michael Lewis is with the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal and co-author of The Resilience Imperative

What do you think of our argument that many current resilience initiatives focus excessively on climate impacts and infrastructure, and that building true resilience for communities should instead prioritize (a) social-equity-focused community member involvement and (b) a broad approach that considers the depth of the global sustainability crises?

I think framing the options in such a way is not so useful. First, transition and resilience efforts must be multi-level. Resilience is a result of interactions between many levels. One cannot ignore what thwarts resilience or what promotes it, whatever the level. For example, consider RESO (Chapter 7) in The Resilience Imperative. This democratic and multi-sector community economic development corporation would not have had such impact if not for the policy changes and the subsequent positive impact on public and, eventually, private investment. True, their ability to build an engaged and broad based membership (an indicator or resilience) was fundamental to mobilizing the political pressure that led to policy and budgetary changes.

Further, I would ask you to consider Via Campensina the Chantier l’economie sociale (Quebec) in Chapter 9. While rooted in particular places, their success is much more than just the result of communities alone. Without federating and acting to resist that which countered their interests, and secondly, build broad capacity and collective tools and resources that reflected their needs and interests, they too would not have succeeded to become as effective as they have. The federating and coalition building of their work is fundamental to their ongoing contribution to democratic ownership and greater social equity. I would suggest it is arguable that strengthening community resilience requires a GLOCAL perspective and actions targeted at change where it is appropriate. This does not in any way take away from the community level as a strategic domain but it does stand as a caution regarding the way you have framed the discussion.

I would further ask you to consider that in some domains strengthening community resilience may well require giving priority to a sector approach. Note the Seikatsu co-operative in Japan (chapter 6). While rooted in communities and engagement of citizens and co-op members their amazing efforts to transform the food system and the overall approach to social care would not be possible with a community only approach, at least I don’t think so. Their sector focus and diverse interventions to reshape supply chains have been hugely important to strengthening the resilience of the small regions they operate in throughout the country. Also important is the fact they have aggregated functions to regional and national levels where appropriate, all the while maintaining local engagement and democratic ownership.

With respect to your question as to whether resilience efforts are too focused on climate change and infrastructure, I am afraid I just do not get it. Why? Are not both critical to protecting and advancing resilience? You certainly would have to set out the basis for hypothesis more clearly for me to comment further.

So in terms my comments under this second point, my summary would be that part of our job is to help people see the whole picture a bit more clearly. You certainly emphasize this. We all need to improve our understanding of how to ally our efforts with people, organizations and networks giving priority to different dimensions and priorities, a great many of which are critical to strengthening community resilience. Where we may differ is my view that politically and practically, resilience action cannot be confined to a ‘local only’ approach if we expect to achieve durable results.

My third and last point is related to the how question. Some of my previous comments are relevant to the how but I want to refer you to the importance of helping people/communities begin to grapple with an assessment of their community’s resilience. Some of your points regarding analysis of thresholds etc are important but can be a difficult place to start, especially since it requires significant expertise in many cases to undertake the research.

Less research intensive methods for securing a picture of their current ‘state of resilience’ can be a powerful way of animating and shaping relevant community level action, though it does not replace the threshold research, analysis and action.

To this end, I refer you to the Community Resilience Manual. It has been adapted in various parts of the world (and still is, including the work of Transition U.S. where Michelle Colussi (CCCR) has been helping out). Also important has been the adaptations taking place in some Transition Towns, especially Victoria, where the 2nd TT in Canada emerged, largely due to CCCR sponsorship of the first TT training in Canada and Michelle living there.

It would be useful to review the Community Resilience Manual (CRM), its definition of community resilience, its 4 dimensions, 23 characteristics and the related indicators. We have been amazed over the years at how applying this process in diverse contexts never seems to fail in provoking a different discourse. The process yields a snap shot of the community from its own point of view. How often does a community get to stand in the mirror and have their collective reflection staring back at them, a portrait that reveals how they see themselves? It makes for some very interesting and often surprising conversations and often has a major role in reshaping priorities.

The original manual was framed by a community economic development perspective and model. It thus included both social and economic aspects of the community. We have revised the characteristics to take more fully into account climate change and infrastructure but have not yet had a chance to fully test it. I could ask Michelle to share it with you if would like. She could also share some of the adaptations to the street and neighborhood level in Victoria.

Jack Santa Barbara is a cofounder of Atamai Village, an evolving resilient community outside of Motueka, New Zealand.

Many thanks for an opportunity to comment on the document. I have a number of comments derived from myself, Joanna a couple of other villagers who have had time to have a look.

Jo and I were very pleased to see the addition of the Equity issue as foundational.

All of us who reviewed the document felt the overall foundations were valid enough, but not carried far enough to inform decisions or plans.

We felt the document was too abstract and did not offer more specific, useful proposals, plans or tools to advance community resilience. When we thought of how we might use this doc, either within the village where building a resilient community is very relevant, or in the broader community where we are trying to influence local council etc., it was not clear to us what the document offered.

This raises the question of who the target audience is. For people like villagers here, who are already aware, it doesn’t really help us with “ so what do we do now”? For people like those on local council who have not thought much about these issues, it appears too abstract and cerebral, and doesn’t really address in a way they might understand, why building resilience is a priority.

Another question that occurs to me is how is this approach different from Transition Towns? What are the similarities and differences? What has been learned from the TT experience that will be helpful to move it to the next stage?

In addition to the above, which a few of us shared, I had some other points.

I still have a problem with thinking of resilience as a process and sustainability as an outcome. To me, sustainability is a dynamic equilibrium and not just an all or nothing state; while there is a definite threshold between sustainable and unsustainable, there are degrees of both sustainability and unsustainability. On the negative side, if we violate the sustainability threshold too severely, then we risk irreversible changes (the situation we now face). On the positive side, higher degrees of sustainability mean we are more resilient, capable of withstanding external pressures more easily because we have a substantial safety margin from the sustainable – unsustainable threshold. I see resilience as a special case of sustainability – achieving a balance between providing an ecological safety margin and meeting basic human needs. To me, thinking of resilience as a process confounds the discussion. I am not grasping what such an approach adds.

In reading the document I also felt that the most important bits were left till last – the sustainability and courage sections. I would put these up front and more clearly identify what goals we are trying to achieve and what it is going to take to achieve them. It is only in the latter parts of the document that the limits issue is clearly raised. But the implications of exceeding these limits is not really addressed. This doesn’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, a gloom and doom section. Rather it could articulate a vision of the future were all humanities’ basic needs are met, and in doing so laying the foundation for humanity coming to terms with the natural world and all the abundance it has to offer – if only we could learn to respect what it already provides, and can continue to provide for us. Such a foundation would allow us to rebuild our whole approach to what human civilization could achieve.

If the sustainability and resilience goals and their importance are the starting point of the doc, then anything that follows can be absorbed in relation to those goals and their urgency. Otherwise the process doesn’t have the same emotional impact- it makes the document feel sterile.

I also think it is critical to distinguish between ecological and social sustainability. This distinction allows for prioritizing of ecological sustainability – as this is essential for human well-being (as well as preserving all living systems). Without ecological sustainability it is impossible to meet basic human needs. Basic common needs is mentioned but there is no discussion of what these might be and how important they are as priorities. While people and groups will argue about “what they value” it should be somewhat easier to coalesce around basic needs. It is only when basic needs are equitably met that we can collectively aspire to higher needs. If basic needs are not met, then achieving ecological sustainability will be very difficult if not impossible.

I don’t think this document sufficiently addresses these distinctions and the urgency of providing for basic needs in the face of the profound threats to achieving this simple goal. We now take basic needs for granted in the developed world. But most of humanity still struggles with meeting these on a daily basis. The E4 crises are already beginning to challenge the capacity to meet basic human needs and the situation will only get worse if changes are not dramatic and quick.

While it is impossible to predict timing with these changes it seems to me prudent to err on the side of preparing sooner rather than later, as the consequences of being a bit late are profound – irreversible changes to global ecosystems which sustain us is not a pleasant thought. To me, this should be a powerful part of such a document. Then a more detailed description of how to begin to approach this challenge. The above are general comments, here are some re specific phrases in the doc.

1. “A community that adapts to change is resilient” – this statement does not seem correct to me. A community can “adapt” but if does not adapt in the right way it will not be resilient. I would think it more correct to say that adaptation is essential for resilience – but not sufficient

2. Pg 8 communities are “where the majority of us who do not wield major political or economic power can most directly affect society” – this statement is correct but it seems to ignore the reality that changes are the larger levels are required to allow the local to function in a resilient manner. As long as the larger system is based on continuous economic growth and a militarized trade dominated imperialism, the local will be very limited in what it can achieve. While it is arguable that such a local approach can change the larger systems, it could also be argued that the larger will always dominate the smaller. This is an important debate that in my view we need to have rather than simply assuming the local will provide examples for the larger.

3. Pg 19 “U.S. political and economic system has been quite resilient” – yes, by the definition of R as preserving identity. But at what cost to the planet and its living systems? The reason the US is “R” is that it has exploited global resources and destroyed R for many other people, and has doing this for decades. For me this is an example of distorting the concept of resilience to justify an unsustainable way of being that is corrupt and destructive and gives no value to the importance of meeting the basic common needs of the global population. The Transformability key begins to speak to this and seems to me central to getting on to the task of creating resilient communities. If our understanding of the risks associated with the E4 crises does not give us an understanding of the central importance of basic common needs as a priority, and we are going to argue about preserving ”identities” that are actually destroying what resilient capacities we have left, then I have little hope for a favourable outcome.

4. Pg 24 – Sustainability “how our actions need to change over the long term.” While we need to take a long term perspective the changes needed are required over the short term if we are to avoid irreversible changes to ecosystems that sustain us.

5. Six foundations – where is the issue of anticipating the future? Part of Systems Thinking? Part of Sustainability?

Sorry if these comments are not more positive as a lot of work and thought has obviously gone into producing it. They are offered not to be critical but to make a contribution to what I know is our shared goal.