RABIT: A New Toolkit for Measuring Resilience

As the 21st century proceeds, countries – particularly developing countries – will face a growing series of short-term shocks (economic crises, climate events, violent attacks, health epidemics, etc) and long-term trends (climate change, migration, economic restructuring, new technologies, etc).  In abstract terms, we know the solution: countries must become more resilient.

That is because resilience is defined as the ability of vulnerable systems – countries, regions, communities, value chains, organisations – to withstand, recover from, adapt to, and potentially transform amid change and uncertainty.  Resilience will therefore play a crucial role in the achievement of development outcomes.  It provides a holistic and long-term approach that is rising up the development agenda.

That is the theory.  The challenge arises in practice: there are few credible guides that activists and researchers can follow which explain what resilience is, how to apply resilience metrics, and how to use those metrics to shape action.  The University of Manchester has therefore developed RABIT: the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Toolkit.

To understand resilience, RABIT identifies nine attributes – or sub-properties – of resilience.  Three are primary foundations of resilience: robustness, self-organisation, learning.  Six are secondary enablers of resilience: redundancy, rapidity, scale, diversity, flexibility, equality.  The stronger these are in a community, the more resilient it will be[1].

Each attribute has a series of key markers: indicators that we can use to assess the strength or weakness of each attribute.  These can be measured in two main ways:

  • Resilience benchmarking: at the pre-hoc stage of project design, resilience can be benchmarked to establish key areas for resilience-building action during an intervention.
  • Resilience impact assessment: RABIT can be used to assess the impact on resilience of interventions during or after their implementation, to draw lessons learned, and to inform future programming/strategising.

Data can be gathered by document review, focus group, interview, or survey.  It is then subject to enumeration that enables a variety of different visualisations, as illustrated in Figure 1.  These identify current resilience strengths to build on, and current resilience lacunae that need to be addressed.

rabit-visualisation-examples

Based on the visualisations illustrated in Figure 1 plus further analysis, RABIT then provides the basis for prioritising future interventions which will build resilience.  A sample is shown in Table 1, with interventions identified; typically following a discussion of the visualisations with key stakeholders.  An indication is provided of which stakeholders – in this case, community-level (C), municipality-level (M) and national-level (N) – will be involved.

RABIT Intervention Priority Table Example.png

Table 1. Sample priority actions to improve resilience

For full details of the Implementation Handbook showing how to use the RABIT toolkit plus case studies of RABIT’s application, see: http://www.niccd.org/resilience

We are happy to answer questions about application of the framework, and to provide support to those seeking to implement RABIT: niccd.project@gmail.com

 

[1] Our illustration will be at the level of individual communities but RABIT is applicable to all and any of the systems described from households to nations.

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Urban Resilience: Testing a New Framework on Community Informatics

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.

Resilience Attributes Block Model

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/1108/1135

Partner Sought for ICTs and Climate Change Resilience Pilot Test

Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics is looking for a partner organisation to help pilot a new tool that will assess the impact of ICT projects on the climate change resilience of low-income communities.

Resilience is increasingly understood to be an essential capacity of communities if they are to survive and thrive amid the environmental and other shocks likely to arise during the 21st century.  It provides a holistic, long-term and community-centred approach that is rising up the development agenda.

But we have so far lacked robust tools for baseline measurements of resilience, or for assessment of the impact on resilience of interventions such as ICT projects.

Developed from a combination of systems thinking and fieldwork in the global South, RABIT – the Resilience Assessment Benchmarking and Impact Tool (see sample scorecard below) – is now ready to move to full field testing.  This will likely involve some training/capacity-building plus use of the tool to assess and then guide an ICT project, towards the end of 2013/start of 2014.

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Only seedcorn funding has been provided by the University of Manchester, so we are particularly interested to hear from organisations with an ongoing commitment to resilience-building and an ability to scale results.  If successful, the pilot could form the basis for a longer-term bid for action research funding.

We are asking for expressions of interest by Friday 1st November 2013.  The expression can be brief:

  • Name and URL for organisation
  • Place of resilience within ongoing organisational agenda/strategy
  • Potential ICT project that could be used for RABIT pilot

You are of course welcome to contact us with any questions.

If you are not in a position to partner on pilot testing but are still interested in results from the project, do let us know.

A copy of this call is available at: http://www.cdi.manchester.ac.uk/research/resilience.htm

Richard Heeks & Angelica V Ospina

niccd.project@gmail.com; www.niccd.org

NICCD is the Nexus for ICTs, Climate Change and Development project, funded by Canada’s IDRC and managed by the Centre for Development Informatics at the University of Manchester.  CDI is the largest academic grouping researching ICTs and socio-economic development.  It is a joint venture between the University’s School of Environment, Education and Development, and the Manchester Business School.

Climate Change Resilience and Innovation: Learning from New Orleans

Five years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with devastating force and catastrophic consequences, important lessons about vulnerability, resilience and innovation continue to emerge.

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.

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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

Building Climate Change Resilience: the Role of Social Memory and ICTs

Remembering plays an important role in times of change.  It provides us with the necessary experience to move forward and with sources to seek renewal and re-organisation, which in turn are crucial for building resilience and strengthen the capacity of vulnerable communities to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Although the role of memory tends to be overshadowed by that of innovation, the two are in fact important foundations for change, and are equally relevant within contexts that are struggling to adapt to the uncertainty inherent to natural disasters and slow changing climatic trends.

In a 2006 article for the Global Environmental Change journal, Carl Folke stated that resilience was much more than being persistent or robust in the face of disturbances. It is also about the opportunities that disturbance opens up, the possibility to transform into more a more desirable state [1].

And part of the ability to identify and act on those opportunities is based on the role of our ‘Social Memory’, which Folke defined as “captured experience with change and successful adaptations embedded in a deeper level of values, and actualized through community debate and decision-making processes into appropriate strategies for dealing with ongoing change” [2].

Social memory is therefore key for linking past experience with present and future adaptation actions, and in turn allows for novelty and innovation.

Although emerging evidence on the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within the climate change field indicates their potential in processing and accessing climate change information, making sense of scientific data and relating it to the local context [3], less has been documented in regards to their role in building social memory within vulnerable contexts to climate change. So the following question emerges:

How can ICTs contribute to strengthen social memory and build resilience within vulnerable contexts to climate change?

ICTs could play a role mobilizing social memory from past adaptive experiences, capturing local traditional knowledge and facilitating innovative responses based on lessons from the past.

Mobile phones and emerging Web 2.0 applications (e.g. social networking sites, Blogs, wikis) can become useful tools recording the adaptive experiences and the history of marginalized communities impacted by the effects of climate change; thus helping local stakeholders to identify options, re-organise and implement novel solutions in the event of present and future climatic disturbances.

ICTs can also help fostering community debate around climate change issues, as well as more transparent and inclusive decision-making processes that lead to adaptation strategies relevant to the needs of the local context.

The role of social memory is closely linked to the concept of resilience, as it contributes to the robustness of the system to resist the occurrence of climatic disturbances, but also fosters its ability to self-organise, learn, and ultimately adapt. In turn, the linkages between ICTs and resilience sub-properties (e.g. robustness, self-organisation and learning, among others) have been reflected in the e-Resilience Framework recently developed by the University of Manchester Centre for Development Informatics with the support of Canada’s IDRC.

Within the emerging field of ICTs and climate change, the role of the past is not to be discarded.

While much remains to be explored about the links between collective memory, resilience and innovation, ICT tools offer a still untapped potential for local communities to capture, disseminate and learn from past adaptation experiences, and to foster novel, yet locally appropriate solutions to the challenges posed by the changing climate.

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[1] Folke, C. (2006) ‘Resilience: The Emergence of a Perspective for Socio-Ecological Systems Analyses’, Global Environmental Change, 16:253-267.

[2] Folke, C., Hahn, T., Olsson, P. & Norberg, J. (2005) ‘Adaptive Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30:441-473.

[3] Labelle, R., Rodschat, R. & Vetter, T. (2008) ICTs for e-Environment: Guidelines for Developing Countries with a Focus on Climate Change. International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Geneva http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/cyb/app/docs/itu-icts-for-e-environment.pdf.

e-Resilience: Rethinking the Potential of ICTs towards Climate Change Adaptation

The concept of Resilience occupies an increasingly prominent place within the climate change debate.

Defined by the Resilience Alliance as “the capacity of socio-ecological systems to absorb disturbances, to be changed and re-organise while maintaining the same identity”, resilience means much more than just bouncing back after the occurrence of a climatic event.

It entails the ability of the system to learn from the disturbances, to change and adapt; ultimately acquiring the flexibility necessary to deal with the uncertainties and the opportunities posed by climate change.

The attributes of resilience are particularly relevant within developing contexts, where the effects of more intense and frequent climate change-related events exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, further limiting their capacity to withstand, recover, and adapt to the changes.

But, how can vulnerable contexts that are already facing the burdens of poverty and marginalisation, build resilience?

The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones and the Internet, is adding new angles to this debate. Effective access and use of ICTs could pose new opportunities for developing countries that are at the forefront of climate change impacts to build resilience and achieve adaptation.

According to a recent paper titled Linking ICTs and Climate Change Adaptation: A Conceptual Framework for e-Resilience and e-Adaptation, ICTs have the potential of contributing towards climate change resilience and, therefore, could help to enable livelihood strategies that allow adaptation; that is recovery and adjustment in the face of climate change.

Defined as “a property of livelihood systems by which ICTs interact with a set of resilience sub-properties, enabling the system to adapt to the effects of climate change”, e-resilience is suggested as an emerging area of study to understand how innovative ICT tools and approaches can strengthen the response of vulnerable systems to the challenges and uncertainty posed by climate change.

According to this approach, ICTs have the potential of contributing towards a series of resilience sub-properties (namely robustness, scale, redundancy, rapidity, flexibility, self-organisation and learning), thus helping to strengthen the adaptive capacity of vulnerable systems affected by climatic disturbances.

Although much remains to be explored in terms of the role of ICTs towards systemic resilience, the introduction of this concept constitutes a positive first step towards a debate that could shed light not only on the role of these tools within climate change, but also on the extent to which ICT4D initiatives have addressed and contributed towards resilience building in the field.

Evidence on the role and challenges posed by ICTs within climate change are still, for the most part, anecdotal and scarce, particularly in regards to adaptation. But as research continues to advance in this topic, and the linkages between the fields of climate change, ICTs and development continue to strengthen, the concept of e-resilience will likely re-emerge, to be discussed and transformed.

As the impacts of extended periods of drought, heat waves, extreme storms or slow-changing climate trends continue to intensify, so will the need for developing countries to build resilience, a complex concept that goes well-beyond ‘bouncing back’ in the aftermath of a climate-related event. Resilience increasingly entails finding innovative solutions, with the help of tools such as ICTs, that enable vulnerable contexts to learn, adapt and possible transform in face of the uncertainties posed by the changing climate.