Resilience Assessment in Strategic Planning for Sustainable Development

Abstract: The framework of resilience thinking within sustainability science highlights ability to deal with change and uncertainty, and promotes more adaptive forms of management and governance. While the concept of resilience is increasingly being adopted into policies and planning, as well as by grass-roots movements, environmental and development organizations, many practical approaches to resilience lack theoretical backing. In contrast, the Resilience Alliance’s approach to resilience assessment, described e.g. in the Resilience Assessment Workbook for Practitioners, has a strong theoretical foundation in resilience thinking and builds on empirical research of social-ecological systems. However, few scientific studies have evaluated the usefulness of resilience assessment in practical contexts, such as planning. This raises the question of how to operationalize and apply resilience assessment in contexts outside of academia, and whether it can deliver on the theoretical promise of resilience thinking to help practitioners in local and regional planning address sustainability challenges on multiple levels. To investigate this question, this thesis adopts a transdisciplinary approach, and a focus on practitioner perceptions. The thesis includes two papers. Paper I presents a novel comparison of the Resilience Alliance and Transition Movement’s approaches to apply resilience thinking, and combines them in collaboration with a regional rural development organization in Sweden. Paper II synthesizes lessons across eleven regional natural resource management organizations in Australia that have implemented a resilience assessment approach in their strategic planning processes. Paper II confirmed the suggested potential in participatory resilience assessment to build systems understanding and contribute to features of adaptive governance, e.g. through strengthening partner networks and developing multi-level planning processes (local-regional). The two papers confirm the weakness of resilience assessment in addressing transformations, particularly those needed for Earth System resilience and global sustainability. In relation to this gap, Paper I identifies opportunities for method development, e.g. defining a purpose and system boundaries that open up more for change and highlight connections to higher scales and other places. The difference between the experimental pilot project (Paper I) and the larger-scale, more mainstream application of resilience assessment (Paper II), shows how diverse contexts afford different types of resilience assessment applications. This points to the complementary use of the two types of applications to improve the potential of resilience assessment to facilitate sustainability transformations. In conclusion, the thesis shows the usefulness of engaging practitioners in evaluating resilience assessment applications grounded in specific contexts.

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