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Learning to Navigate Resilience: Building on Advances in Resilience Measurement

As the Resilience Measurement Community of Practice (RMEL CoP) transitions into the Resilience Knowledge Coalition, we offer three key contributions of resilience measurement in the past decade, and three challenges to advance resilience practice in the decade to come.

Written by: Dorcas Robinson and Simone Verkaart
GRP Value addition: Shared learning Theme: Measurement and Indicators Monitoring & Evaluation

The well-being of people and planet is intimately connected and under considerable pressure. This is starkly highlighted by the recent Human Development Report 2020, The next frontier: Human development and the Anthropocene.[i] The report offers the experimental Planetary pressures-adjusted Human Development Index to measure the people-planet well-being relationship, recognizing that ‘Complexity requires more lenses. New metrics help construct them’ and ‘hoping to open a new conversation on the path ahead for each country’.

Advances in resilience measurement have generated practical approaches, metrics and narratives that can guide such new conversations and action. The Resilience Measurement, Evidence & Learning Community of Practice (Box 1) provided a convening and innovation space for diverse resilience measurement initiatives. These initiatives offer empirically tested frameworks, measurement and process tools to navigate the complex adaptive socio-ecological systems within which humanity either survives or thrives.

As the RMEL CoP transitions into the Resilience Knowledge Coalition, we offer three key contributions of resilience measurement in the past decade, and three challenges to advance resilience practice in the decade to come. The contributions and challenges are discussed further in the downloadable paper here. Further insights from members of the coalition, presented during From measuring resilience to advancing resilience practice – hosted by the Global Resilience Partnership at the 7th Gobeshona Conference: Research into Action on Locally-led Adaption – can be explored through the slides and recording of the event.

Box 1: The Resilience Measurement, Evidence and Learning Community of Practice

The formation of the Resilience Measurement, Evidence and Learning Community of Practice (RMEL CoP) in 2016, created a remarkable opportunity. Collaboratively engaging 250+ resilience thinkers, researchers, evaluators, and practitioners from government, academia, civil society, and business, the RMEL CoP has provided unique multi-disciplinary and cross-sector spaces to learn together, and to inform, speed up, and scale-out the practice of resilience.

With its purpose to Strengthen the Evidence Base for Resilience Investments, the RMEL CoP took stock of the emerging resilience measurement field through Analysis of Resilience Measurement Frameworks and Approaches and Resilience Measurement-MEL Approaches in Practice. A living Timeline of Resilience Thinking in Action maps many of the events, tools, and knowledge developments that have moved resilience practice forward. The RMEL Innovation Awards stimulated new collaborations, and the RMEL in Practice series showcases organizational and program RMEL approaches. The RMEL CoP hosted three convenings (New York, Rome, Kampala), followed by the inaugural RMEL Conference and Convening 2018, Measuring up to the Resilience Challenge. Attended by around 200 delegates the proceedings offer rich insights and lessons for the evolving resilience measurement field.

In January 2021, the RMEL CoP, hosted and championed by the Global Resilience Partnership, was formally integrated into the Resilience Knowledge Coalition.

These resources are also available on the RMEL CoP website until March 2021: www.measuringresilience.org and on the RMEL Conference & Convening 2018 web-site until August 2021: www.rmelconference.com

Key contributions of resilience measurement to resilience practice.

Analysis of Resilience Measurement Frameworks and Approaches (2016) provides an overview of approaches, noting that each serves a diagnostic, evaluative and/ or planning function. While diverse in purpose, intended users, and application context, the evolution of these measurement approaches has contributed to resilience practice in similar ways, by:

  1. Generating measurable understandings of resilience for development: Resilience measurement has increasingly been framed around definitions such as ‘resilience is the capacity that ensures adverse stressors and shocks do not have long-lasting adverse development consequences’.[ii] Such definitions point to measurable components in systems that can promote or undermine resilience, such as a particular development outcome, a specific shock, or a set of capacities to be resilient.
  2. Providing empirically tested, accessible and user-friendly resilience metrics, guidance and training: There is no single resilience metric or resilience measurement system. However, a number of resilience measurement platforms now exist, providing tools and resources for their target users. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Resilience Index Measurement Analysis (RIMA), the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance’s Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC), and the USAID-funded Resilience Evaluation, Analysis and Learning (REAL) Award. In some cases, resilience measurement is also being used to model returns on investment for target users and decision-makers.[iii]
  3. Deepening the understanding of how to program with resilience in mind: Resilience measurement, alongside monitoring and evaluation of resilience initiatives, is helping implementers and funders to understand what resilience practice involves. Increasingly, organizations use design and implementation practices that emphasize: identifying potential impacts of shocks or stressors; exploring opportunities to integrate, link and sequence interventions; and applying an ‘evaluative monitoring’[iv] approach to enable adaptive management.

Key challenges for advancing resilience measurement and practice.

As highlighted by a panelist at the RMEL Conference & Convening 2018, ‘today, most resilience measurement tools look at resilience from a reactive perspective: we look at a shock, and responses to that shock. We need to understand resilience in a proactive way: we are working in a fast-evolving evolving environment’. Three key challenges need deeper attention to help shift resilience measurement and practice into a more proactive mode:

  1. Measure and act on dynamics within and between systems and scales: Resilience programs and resilience measurement systems generally appreciate that relationships within and between systems, or scales of action, impact desired outcomes. However, they are not necessarily set up to assess, understand and act for change within systems themselves. Opportunities to advance this systems practice could be speeded up through interdisciplinary and multisectoral engagement, leveraging, for example, the work of socio-ecological resilience thinking.[v]
  2. Invest more meaningfully in learning: Learning by doing and learning through failure are essential to resilience practice. However, all too often vulnerable people are not in the driving seat of resilience measurement systems. Or program teams on the ground do not have the time and resources to work through reflective learning processes with communities and decision-makers. Resilience measurement systems need to be designed to ensure learning and action by target users is front and center.
  3. Deepen appreciation of what it takes to promote transformational change: The concept of transformation is integral to advancing resilience for development. However, initiatives struggle with what transformative capacities entail and what interventions can best promote transformation. Transformational change thinking needs to become part and parcel of resilience measurement, evaluation and learning systems.[vi]

The conceptual and practical interrogation of ‘resilience’ during the past decade has generated a number of empirically tested, accessible, and user-friendly resilience measurement approaches. Each, in its own ways, offers a set of metrics and processes that can guide action through complexity. There may be ways in which these approaches could benefit from further consistency and alignment around what is being measured and how.[vii] There is a real opportunity and need for resilience measurement to move into a bolder, more proactive mode, fit for the challenges faced by communities around the world.This is where the Resilience Knowledge Coalition is stepping in to ensure that resilience measurement is practical, adaptive and ready for the challenges ahead.

End notes

[i] United Nations Development Programme (2020) The next frontier: Human development and the Anthropocene
[ii] Constas, M., Frankenberger, T., & Hoddinott, J. (2014) Resilience Measurement Principles: Towards an Agenda for Measurement Design, Technical Working Group for Resilience Measurement, Food Security Information Network Technical Series No.1
[iii] For example, Courtenay Cabot-Venton for the USAID Center for Resilience (2018) Economics of Resilience to Drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia
[iv] Leavy, J., Sword-Daniels, V., Silva-Villanueva, P., & Wilson, D. (2018) Tracking and measuring resilience in large programs: Lessons from BRACED, BRACED Knowledge Manager
[v] For example, Enfors-Kautsky, E., Järnberg, L., Quinlan, A., & Ryan, P. (forthcoming) Wayfinder – A new generation of resilience practice, discusses the application of Wayfinder: a resilience guide for navigating toward sustainable futures
[vi] Williams, A., Dickman, J., & Smurthwaite, R. (2020) Advancing Evaluation and Learning on Transformational Change: Lessons From the Climate Investment Funds’ Transformational Change Learning Partnership, American Journal of Evaluation.https://doi.org/10.1177/1098214020970283
[vii] Jones, L., A. Constas, M., Matthews, N., Verkaart, S. (2021) Advancing resilience measurement. Nat Sustain. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-00642-x