There are many approaches to understanding urban resilience and an ever-growing literature seeing resilience as catalyst or metaphor, or identifying components or categories or facilitators. But there is surprisingly little work that defines and conceptualises resilience in a systematic way.
Based on a synthesis of past work, we built a new and comprehensive model of resilience: defined as “the ability to withstand and recover from short-term shocks, and to adapt to long-term trends“ and understood as neither a structure nor a function of systems, but as a property of systems.
Our model of resilience sees it consist of three foundational attributes or sub-properties: self-organisation that allows a re-arrangement of functions; robustness to withstand external stressors; and capacity for learning via feedback. Facilitating these are a set of enabling attributes: redundancy, rapidity, scale, diversity, flexibility, and equality.
An initial application of the model analysed ways in which community informatics – the use of digital technology within urban districts – could strengthen and weaken community resilience. Analysing attribute by attribute provided a systematic means to assess current evidence: geographic information systems that help planning of physical defences; use of social media to build local organising networks; application of online groups to support Learning and Action Alliances; etc on the plus side. But also creating external dependencies that can undermine local autonomy, and exacerbating inequalities within urban communities.
This current work provides only a general proof-of-concept, showing that this new urban resilience model is viable and applicable to urban development issues. Further work is being undertaken to roll it out in practice as part of RABIT (the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Tookit), but we hope the model already offers an integrated and standardised approach to urban resilience.
For more details, the paper “Analysing Urban Community Informatics from a Resilience Perspective” published in the Journal of Community Informatics is available via open access at: http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/1108/1135Follow @CDIManchester
Climate change impacts are posing the need to redefine the way in which we understand and approach development challenges. Ensuring food security amidst a changing climate is at the top of developing countries agendas. But most importantly and palpably, is a matter of survival for the millions of farmers, fishers, herders and foresters whose livelihoods are highly vulnerable to the occurrence of extreme events, changing temperatures and unpredictable seasonality, among other stressors.
Within resource-dependant contexts affected by more frequent and intense climatic manifestations, redefining the approach to food security involves embracing the notions of change and transformation. This includes the adoption of ‘climate-smart’ practices (1), the use of emerging tools and technologies, and in some cases, the return to ancestral or indigenous customs to better prepare for, withstand and recover from climatic impacts.
Above all, it involves identifying new ways of solving problems, of making decisions, of accessing and processing information, and of applying knowledge to agricultural practices in order to achieve more resilient production systems.
Emerging experiences from the field suggest that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are playing an increasing role as enablers of change and transformation within vulnerable contexts. Mobile phones, radio, Internet-based applications and social media are being integrated as part of strategies to adapt to, mitigate, and monitor climate change, especially within agricultural communities.
How can we ‘connect the dots’ between ICTs, food security and resilience?
These connections are illustrated through examples in the following table:
Expected Impact on
The realisation of ICTs’ potential towards enhanced food security and resilience is linked to a series of factors that include:
- acknowledging the role of ‘knowledge infomediaries’ or facilitators (e.g. extension workers, local trained professionals and youth) who can bridge the divide between scientific knowledge and technical climate change data, and their practical application in the field,
- building capacity of local stakeholders to benefit from the full potential of ICT tools (e.g. identifying and interpreting relevant information, establishing contact with broader agricultural networks and experts, exchanging technical information with local and external peers),
- raising awareness among policy makers on the importance of integrating ICT tools into climate change strategies, as well as into broader poverty reduction programmes that tackle the multiple stressors that threaten food and nutrition security at the local level,
- tackling issues of access and connectivity in remote rural areas, in order to ensure that developing country farmers, fishers, herders and foresters have access to a diverse range of ICTs services.
There is an important body of traditional knowledge and emerging adaptation and mitigation experiences that developing country communities can share and disseminate with the help of ICT tools. But making information available is not enough.
The main challenge for ICTs in regards to food security goes beyond the provision of information. It lays in ensuring that the knowledge and information that are made available actually reach the appropriate stakeholders, that they are appropriated by local audiences, and most importantly, that agricultural producers are able to apply it or act upon it in order to strengthen their livelihoods.
Ultimately, ICT-enabled information and knowledge should contribute to inform the decision-making processes of local actors, to strengthen their capacity to deal with uncertainty, and to build new bridges of collaboration and exchange towards more resilient, food-secure agricultural systems.
(1) FAO (2011) defines climate-smart agriculture as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”. http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1881e/i1881e00.pdf
The underlying sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ to a social group can play a key role in the ability of vulnerable communities to cope with and recover from the impacts of climate change.
Acknowledging the linkages between cultural identity and climate change resilience is particularly relevant within vulnerable developing contexts given the richness of their traditional knowledge and cultural heritage, the need for innovative responses to the challenges posed by climate change, as well as the new opportunities provided by Information and Communities Technologies (ICTs) to access, assess and use information and knowledge.
The notion of cultural identity is linked to the way in which we relate to the customs, practices, languages and worldviews that define a group or territory. It involves the conservation of social memory, the generational transfer of indigenous knowledge, the ability of a community to self-organise around common interests and shared values, and the maintenance of social networks that are based on trust and solidarity, among others.
All of these factors are pivotal in the capacity of vulnerable communities to deal with change and uncertainty, and to build resilience in the face of climate change.
The rapid diffusion of ICTs such as mobile phones and the Internet, and the growing adoption of social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace), online communities and social media tools (e.g. Blogs, photo and video sharing, Wikis), have prompted new ways of creating, re-constructing, seeking, strengthening and challenging cultural identities.
The use of ICTs, including the exposure to and interaction with global or expanded networks, can change the way in which we see ourselves and interact with others, and thus influences cultural identities. On the one hand, the use and appropriation of ICT tools can contribute to strengthen cultural identity through the documentation and sharing of indigenous knowledge and traditions, the production of local content, the improved access to updated information for decision-making, the facilitation of self-organisation processes, and the consolidation of effective communication networks, among others. But on the other, the increased penetration of ICTs could undermine the cultural identity of marginalised rural communities by introducing new forms of exclusion, or by fostering homogenization, youth migration, or the adoption of external practices and values that weaken or even contradict traditional customs.
So, how could ICTs help to strengthen cultural identity & build resilience within vulnerable contexts affected by climate change?
Much as the impact of climatic disturbances, the linkages between cultural identity, resilience & ICTs are complex and multi-dimensional. A series of short documentary films produced by LifeMosaic provide very useful indications of the importance of cultural identity within processes of resilience building. A 22 minute video called “Resilience’’ shows how indigenous communities can strengthen their resilience to climate change by building on key components of their cultural identity (traditional knowledge, customary law and local agricultural systems).
While the role of ICTs is not explicitly addressed in the video, it offers an opportunity to reflect on five key areas in which ICTs could contribute to resilience building while strengthening cultural identities:
(a) ICTs used to Archive and Disseminate Collective Memory
Maintaining and sharing a collective memory is an important component of cultural identity. By helping to record and disseminate local practices and traditional knowledge, ICT tools can contribute to the preservation of traditions and the inter-generational transference of cultural values.
(b) ICTs used to Produce, Access & Apply Relevant Knowledge
The ability to produce and disseminate local content, as well as to access information and knowledge that responds to local priorities contribute to strengthen cultural identity and decision-making processes in the face of climate change. ICT tools can facilitate the production of local content in creative, user-friendly formats (e.g. photo-stories and audio blogs), as well as the translation of relevant scientific content into local languages, fostering the participation of communities in adaptation processes.
(c) ICTs used to Foster Diversity
Diversity is one of the main attributes of resilient systems, and also an important component of strong cultural identities. ICT tools –such as Web pages, online communities and radio programs- can be used to ‘give a voice’ to local diversity, by sharing the adaptation needs and experiences of diverse members of the community. ICTs can also facilitate the sharing of new and traditional adaptation practices between communities at the regional, national and global level, fostering dialogue, learning and tolerance between diverse groups. ICTs can also be used in support of alternative adaptation practices that are linked to traditional customs (such as the diversification, protection and exchange of seeds).
(d) ICTs used to Strengthen Social Networks & Self-organisation
The use of mobile phones, text messages, e-mail and community radio can contribute to supplement and strengthen social networks, including the interaction and preservation of cultural links with migrant or geographically dispersed community members –who play a key role in mobilizing support and helping locals to cope with the effects of climatic disturbances. Tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Web-based mapping applications can contribute to the monitoring of local resources, facilitating the self-organisation of community members around the protection of water sources, forests and other common interests.
(e) ICTs used to Empower Youth
New generations play a pivotal role in the continuity, re-construction and renewal of cultural identities. ICT applications such as online training can help to strengthen the capacity and the confidence of local youths to adapt to the changing circumstances posed by climate change. ICTs tools can also provide access to relevant information about rights and responsibilities in the management of natural resources, fostering youth leadership and pro-active engagement in these processes.
Emerging research and experiences suggest that ICTs can play a supportive role within processes of climate change adaptation, including the strengthening of cultural identity as an important component of resilience building. The sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘connectedness’ that ICTs enable can contribute to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty associated with climate change impacts, as well as to improve the local responses through stronger networks, flexibility and self-organisation, among others.
While the global scope and openness of ICTs can make them valuable tools for communities to resist homogenizing trends and reconfirm their cultural identity (Diamandaki, 2003), issues of limited access, lack of relevant content, training and effective appropriation are among the challenges that still need to be addressed in order the benefit from their full potential.
Dealing with change requires the capacity to self-organise, while embracing novelty and experimentation.
When the need for change and transformation is exacerbated by external disturbances, such as those related to climate change, the ability to plan, learn and develop creative solutions become key attributes of resilient systems.
At the same time, the high rates of adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are enabling novel ways of community organisation, and the re-arrangement of processes and functions through innovative mechanisms for online collaborative planning, learning and problem solving in the face of climatic impacts.
With the increasing diffusion of social media or Web 2.0 tools (such as Twitter, Facebook, video and photo-sharing sites, wikis and blogs, among others) processes of self-organisation, volunteerism and citizen engagement are helping to re-define the way in which disaster risk preparedness and response are implemented.
Communities of practice from around the world have a new set of tools at their disposal for real-time online collaboration, content creation, information sharing, and networking towards common development objectives.
A 2010 report by the World Bank and the GFDRR suggests that a growing networks of experts are volunteering their skills in times of crisis (such as flooding or earthquakes) towards imagery processing, mapping and geolocated posts, among others, that are shared via social media, contributing to immediate response and early recovery efforts.
Initiatives such as the International Network of Crisis Mappers, OpenStreetMap (OSM), Ushahidi, Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), are testimony of the wide reach and potential of these tools, especially within developing contexts.
Early evidence of their role suggest their potential towards self-organization, enhanced diversity, flexibility and learning, which are important components of a system’s ability to withstand, recover and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Areas of potential of Volunteer Technology Communities towards climate change resilience include:
- Borderless Community Action
Web 2.0 tools are facilitating the emergence of a new wave of ‘borderless community action’ by networks of experts and practitioners that collaborate, both virtually and face to face, towards identifying and solving pressing problems to vulnerable populations.
- Awareness and Information Sharing
Virtual networking and exchange can help to raise awareness on local priorities and foster a culture of information sharing and collaboration around climate change topics. Dynamic information sharing and discussions through Web 2.0 tools can also foster problem-solving skills.
- Effective Resource Allocation
Solutions that are developed collectively and that are widely shared in almost-real time (e.g. community mapping) can contribute to a more efficient, effective and transparent allocation of resources (from humanitarian aid in times of crisis, to long-term adaptation funds), as well as to inform decision-making processes at the local level.
- Multi-sectoral Partnerships
Responding to the need of engaging a diverse set of actors as part of climate change strategies, VTC can foster new multi-sectoral partnerships and cross-level information sharing practices, which play a key role in disaster response and adaptation.
Virtual communities of practice in climate change-related fields (e.g. mitigation, disaster preparedness and response, monitoring and adaptation) can provide greater flexibility in the response to an external disturbance, by allowing access to a wider set of (human and economic) resources and expertise.
- Rapid Response
As suggested in the WB/GFDRR report, the bottom-up/decentralized structure of these communities allows for more rapid responses, as community members interact online, develop and share solutions without the bureaucracy of other types of organisations.
The increasing role of these communities in the response to climate change-related events reminds us of the importance of volunteerism, self-organisation, and ultimately, of community engagement towards more resilient and adaptable systems.
This is an area in which the supportive role of ICTs, and specifically of Web 2.0 tools, will likely continue to increase: enabling more effective collaboration and sharing, strengthening networks, empowering local actors through access to new information and skills, and supporting novel mechanisms of participation that enhance resilience at the local, national and international levels.
Amidst the magnitude and uncertainty that characterizes the climate change field, trust is a topic that is often overlooked, despite being one of the cornerstones of resilience building and adaptive capacity.
Trust is an essential element of effective communication, networking and self-organisation, and thus is indispensable in efforts to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change-related manifestations, being acute shocks or slow-changing trends. It’s an equally important basis for vulnerable communities to be able to adapt, and potentially change, in face of the -largely unknown- impact of climatic occurrences.
Associated with the belief, reliability, expectations and perceptions between people and the institutions within which they operate or interact, trust often acts as an underlying cause of action or inaction, constituting an important factor in decision-making processes.
With the rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Internet, the unprecedented speed at which information is produced and shared is posing a new set of possibilities -and challenges- to communication management and trust building, both essential to the development of resilience and adaptation to the changing climate.
Adaptation experiences suggest that vulnerable communities are more prone to act upon information that they can ‘trust’, a complex concept that could be linked to factors such as the source of the information -and the local perception of it-, the language used to convey the message, the role and credibility of ‘infomediaries’ or local facilitators that help disseminate the information, the use of local appropriation mechanisms and community involvement, among others.
Climate change Adaptation Strategies and National Programmes of Action are increasingly called to foster trust-building processes by engaging local actors and gaining a better understanding of local needs and priorities. Thus, trust building in the climate change field involves finding new collaborative spaces where the interests of all stakeholders can be heard, and both scientific and traditional knowledge can be shared and built upon towards more effective adaptive practices, and potentially, transformation.
The widespread diffusion of ICTs -such as mobile phones, Internet access and even community radios– within Developing country environments could be opening up new opportunities to use these tools in support of trust-building processes, a necessary step towards change and transformation.
So, how can ICTs help to build trust within climate change resilience and adaptation processes?
Research at the intersection of ICTs, climate change and development suggests the following aspects in regards to the supportive role of ICT tools towards trust:
- Multi-level Communication: ICTs can facilitate communication and trust-building between and across actors at the micro (e.g. community members), meso (e.g. NGOs) and macro levels (e.g. policy makers), fostering participation in the design of adaptation -and mitigation- strategies, as well as accountability and monitoring during their implementation.
- Network Strengthening: The role of social networks is key within processes of adaptation to climate change and resilience building. Trust is at the core of networks functioning. The use of ICTs such as mobile phones can help to enhance communication and the bonds of trust within and among networks, which can in turn contribute to the effectiveness of community networks’ support and the access to resources.
- Self-organisation: The ability to self-organize is a key attribute of resilient systems, and involves processes of collaboration that require trust among stakeholders and institutions. By facilitating access to information and resources through both point-to-multipoint and point-to-point exchange, ICTs can be important contributors to self-organisation and to the coordination of both preventive and reactive joint efforts in face of climatic events. They can help climate change actors to verify or double-check facts if the information source is not entirely trusted, diversifying their potential responses to the occurrence of climatic events. Additionally, ICTs can play a role towards trust by enabling the assessment of options and trade-offs involved in decision-making.
- Appropriation and Infomediaries: The role of actors that ‘translate’ or ‘mediate’ the technical and scientific information to suit the needs of the local context, is vital for the appropriation of information. Tools such as the Internet, GIS or mobile phones can support and strengthen the role of agricultural extension workers, deepening the relationships of trust that they have established with local producers affected by climate change manifestations by offering them a broader set of options and information, for example, on crop diversification or plague management, including more immediate response to their queries.
- Transparency and Fluency: Online platforms that provide new channels for citizens to voice their views and concerns, and that allow an interaction with decision makers, are an example of ICTs potential towards transparency and information fluency, which is an important factor in the local perception, expectations and ‘trust’ on local, regional and national institutions.
While at the onset of extreme events we are quick to recognize the importance of communication, we often fail to acknowledge the pivotal role of trust towards adaptation and resilience, as well as the potential of innovative tools such as ICTs to help fostering trust, strengthening networks and collaboration.
But as important as discussing the potential of ICTs towards trust building in adaptive processes, is discussing the risks associated with their use.
Ensuring the quality, accuracy and relevance of the information is key to avoid maladaptive practices and poor decision-making, which could potentially lead to deepen existent vulnerabilities and inequalities. Issues of power and differential access to information also need to be addressed when considering the potential of these tools towards trust building, network strengthening and participatory processes –including those related to climate change.
Ultimately, ICTs could play an important supportive role helping to build and strengthen trust within vulnerable communities affected by climate change impacts, as well as in National Adaptation Plans and Programmes of Action seeking to build long-term climate change resilience with a multi-stakeholder, participatory base.
Despite the fact that this disaster took place in the context of a developed nation, its effects on poor and marginalized populations reminded us that prevailing vulnerabilities can act as threat multipliers, and suggest key lessons in terms of the ability of a system –at the household, community and national levels- to withstand, recover and adapt to short term hazards and long term climatic trends.
These lessons are becoming increasingly relevant for developing countries, struggling to cope and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
What can developing contexts learn from disasters such as Katrina in terms of the role of resilience and innovation?
The lessons are multifold. A recent article by Andrew Revkin identifies eight key resilience findings from New Orleans, all related to the challenges posed by climate change and associated hazards. The following are some of the main issues drawn from Robert Kates’ findings, which can in turn be used to reflect on the potential of ICTs towards climate change resilience:
- Understanding and tackling existing vulnerabilities play a key role in the response to climate change, in both developed and developing contexts.
- Building community resilience is a long-term process that involves much more than ‘bouncing back’ in the aftermath of a disaster, including the capacity for anticipation (e.g. early warning systems), emergency response, rebuilding and reconstruction.
- Surprises should be expected, and resilient communities learn from them in order to strengthen future anticipation, response and recovery strategies.
- The importance of scientific and technological knowledge resides in the extent to which is effectively disseminated and used at the micro, meso and macro levels.
- Multi-stakeholder partnerships and social networks constitute important foundations of resilience in vulnerable environments.
- Disasters accelerate pre-disaster trends, including issues such as declining livelihoods sustainability and migration.
- Vulnerability has numerous dimensions, and the impact of climate change-related events is hardest when geophysical vulnerability is matched by vulnerability at the social, economic and political levels.
- Increased adaptation to short term, frequent threats can increase long-term vulnerability to rare disasters or changing trends. This suggests the need for systemic, longer-term perspectives in climate change strategies.
These findings evidence the important role of resilience to strengthen the ability of vulnerable communities to anticipate, respond, recover and adapt to climatic events. But the rapid diffusion of mobile phones and the widespread adoption of Internet and Web 2.0 tools, pose the challenge of rethinking these findings in light of the potential (and risks) of innovative tools such as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within vulnerable environments impacted by the effects of climate change.
Therefore, based on Kates’ findings we could ask:
How can innovative approaches using ICTs tools help us tackle existing vulnerabilities in the face of both short and long term climate change threats, help vulnerable communities to better anticipate and respond to climatic uncertainty, facilitate the dissemination and access to relevant knowledge, and foster partnerships and collaborative networks to help reduce climate change vulnerability?
One approach to analyzing the linkages between ICTs and resilience is based on the set of resilience sub-properties identified in a recent paper produced by the University of Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics with the support of Canada’s IDRC, as follows:
- the role of ICTs to strengthen the robustness of vulnerable systems (e.g. increasing preparedness through applications such as GIS or modeling applications);
- the role of ICTs in broadening the scale of assets to which communities can have access (e.g. integrating local producers with broader supply chains through mobile applications);
- the role of ICTs fostering redundancy of resources (e.g. facilitating access to additional financial capital through Internet applications);
- the role of ICTs increasing rapidity in the access and mobilization of assets (e.g. through mobile-based communications networks or mobile banking);
- the role of ICTs supporting flexibility to identify and undertake different actions (e.g. by enhancing access to knowledge and supporting livelihood diversification);
- the role of ICTs in support of processes of self-organisation (e.g. facilitating social networking and collaboration);
- the role of ICTs fostering learning (e.g. enhancing local skills and dissemination of traditional and new knowledge).
Most of these sub-properties can be related to the resilience findings that Kate highlights from the experience of New Orleans, and play an important role in the exploration of the role of ICTs and innovation towards resilience building within vulnerable contexts.
For additional information on resilience lessons from New Orleans see:
Colten, C.E., Kates, R.W, and Laska, S.B. (2008), “Community Resilience: Lessons from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina”, CARRI Research Report 3. Available at: http://www.resilientus.org/library/FINAL_COLTEN_9-25-08_1223482263.pdf