The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Advancing Resilience Measurement

GRP’s Programme Officer, Shuchi Vora reflects on the principles and priorities of advancing resilience measurement.

Written by: Shuchi Vora
GRP Areas of work: Knowledge Policy Theme: Measurement and Indicators

From time to time, I reminisce about the times I have spent in the field working with communities, facilitating their recognition of their resilience while supporting them with the necessary knowledge and information to bring systems change. I am transported back to my conversations with Vaishali Tai, a farmer who invited us to have Puran Polis (bread filled with a sweet lentil and cardamom stuffing) at her place while we stood staring at the Dimbhe Dam on the Ghod river on the fringes of the Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to the endemic Malabar Squirrel, which is dependent on canopies of the groves sacred to Vaishali’s community, and a temple dedicated to the spring that emerges from the ground and forms the source of the Bhima river. Vaishali and her husband are subsistence farmers who depend on soil moisture and rain to grow cereal and lentils. The river’s water, she tells us, is for the bigger farmers who grow sugarcane.

As a conservationist, one of my biggest challenges was to talk about conservation with the most disenfranchised communities. They were directly dependent on the sanctuary and its resources historically victimised under the garb of encroachment but also holding similar aspirations as you and me in this hyper-connected world. What kind of information would help Vaishali negotiate for a better future? This has been my moral compass throughout my work in the years since.

As we release the consultation report today, I reflect on the meeting, my takeaways, and some learning agenda items for us as lifelong learners of resilience measurement.

About the Advancing Resilience Measurement Meeting:

The Advancing Resilience Measurement meeting that GRP co-convened with the University of Arizona and USAID was held on May 17-18 in Washington DC with about 55 measurement experts in attendance. The meeting built on past progress by the measurement community on advancing resilience, notably the efforts of the RMEL COP. GRP colleagues had also co-authored a paper in the same name as the meeting that was published in Nature Sustainability last year.

In this meeting, old voices and new, from the Global South and the North, showed tremendous energy to share and learn from each other’s experiences on resilience programming and measurement. There was a palpable sense of urgency as well, to advance the way we track progress and share evidence on resilience. We broke into smaller groups in the four sessions over the next two days: Demand-driven Resilience, Psychosocial Resilience, Systems level Resilience, and Climate Adaptation Measurement. The four sessions are reflected in this report that we release today.

My Learning Journey on Advancing Resilience Measurement:

  • How do we ensure that the users’ needs for evidence are heard? In all three sessions that I attended, there were a lot of conversations around listening to end users – be it policy-makers or grassroots communities – but we still seem to struggle to identify ways in which we can track progress and repackage evidence that is suitable to the audience. One suggestion that has remained with me as I reflect on my learnings is the need for “Evidence Harmonisers” or those who can play the role of translating, synthesizing, amplifying, and re-packaging evidence based on user needs. As the coordinator for the Resilience Knowledge Coalition, co-led by GRP, CDKN, and ICCCAD, I am excited by the opportunities this presents to us as a “network of networks” that aims to act as a bridge between research, policy, practice, and investments. We look forward to co-creating events at the Resilience Hub at COP27 and the Evidence Forum in 2023 that focus on amplifying evidence needs and synthesizing and harmonizing available evidence for adaptation and resilience.
  • Measurement tools are fitfor-purpose and context. There is an implicit recognition in the expert community that we need to move beyond the debate on which tool is the best. Based on needs and demands from the end-users, we can choose RCTs, stories, or anything in between to track the impacts and outcomes of resilience programming. In many of the groups that I was a part of at the workshop, we spoke about the need for open data, the role of citizen science in data-scarce scenarios, and the importance of sharing contextual results with decision-makers (whoever the decision-makers are in that context, whether policy-makers or communities). The Resilience Knowledge Coalition is working with resilience experts from the Global South to identify, map, and create a decision tree for resilience measurement approaches and tools. This is an exciting contribution that we hope to make to this space, and we are keen to share the results with this community.
  • People are already coping, adapting, and thriving in the face of change. How do we capture their agency-in-action? We need to move away from techno-centric, straight-jacket approaches to measure resilience. Conversations in every session were peppered with questions on mapping power dynamics, justice, and equity in resilience measurement. “Are we able to capture people’s agency to be resilient?” was a question I was left pondering over during breaks. Initiatives such as the World Bank’s Atal Bhujal Yojana in South Asia recognise this agency of the farmers in changing the way they manage groundwater and enhance community resilience. Many such community-based approaches are challenging the frontiers of how the collective agency of communities is tracked, and a lot of those stories emerge from the Global South, as strongly illustrated by the Voices from the Frontlines initiative.
  • In an uncertain future, can measurement anticipate the need for change in direction? We have often complicated systems by introducing resilience solutions that have brought about new externalities. Based on these learnings, many in the group believed that it is up to us as resilience measurement experts to be able to define pathways, robust and flexible at the same time, that enhance the resilience of communities at risk. However, the group still felt the need to be able to track the direction and progress of the transition to more resilient pathways. New experiments with transitions, futures and complexity thinking, and systems change (the Project Urban Living Labs is one such example) bring a glimmer of hope to a scenario that has otherwise been exasperatingly slow to change. I wonder what the resilience measurement community stands to learn from these experiments too.

My mind goes back to Vaishali Tai’s warmth and openness to sharing her meals with me. Her sense of abundance despite little material wealth helps her cope with the vagaries of the Indian monsoon every year. To enhance resilience for people like her, it is this sense of abundance that we as a community of experts can learn from. Only by opening our hearts, minds, and ears to what she has to say, and acknowledging our human connection will we be able to accept her agency and be truly accountable to her in advancing resilience measurement.

Read the full Advancing Resilience Measurement Consultation Report here.