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Fernando, F.N.; Maloney, M.; Tappel, L. Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 30 May 2024).
Fernando FN, Maloney M, Tappel L. Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 30, 2024.
Fernando, Felix N., Meg Maloney, Lauren Tappel. "Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 30, 2024).
Fernando, F.N., Maloney, M., & Tappel, L. (2023, November 06). Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience. In Encyclopedia.
Fernando, Felix N., et al. "Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 November, 2023.
Community Resilience, Adaptive Resilience and Transformative Resilience

Resilience of human systems has increasingly gained ground as both a targeted process of societal development and as a research topic in its own right. As resilience often transcends both the natural and social sciences, it has become a basis for decision-making in studies examining the complex interactions between society, land use management, and policy. While a large body of literature exists on community resilience, there are still significant gaps in knowledge and an imminent need for further research, especially social sciences research.

community resilience basic resilience adaptive resilience transformative resilience disaster recovery

1. Introduction

The body of literature on resilience in general and specific to disturbance recovery is broad and can be found in a wide variety of disciplines from psychology to engineering and from behavioral sciences to environmental sciences [1]. Resilience literature also examines a range of scales from an individual to planetary systems (and systems in between such as public infrastructure and regional economies) [1]. Recently, there has been a proliferation of community resilience research focusing on natural hazards and disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, or earthquakes [2][3]. Such research examines how specific social systems, built environments, or ecological systems individually or collectively contribute to resilience [3]. The synthesis of the literature discussed below focuses on the conceptualizations, manifestations, and operationalization of community resilience. The research abridges literature relating to disaster recovery, community change adaptation, and factors that enable disaster recovery and adaptation. For this purpose, a community is identified as a collective dynamic entity of constituents living within certain geographic boundaries (or space), sharing common interests and a shared fate [2][4][5][6].

2. What Is Community Resilience?

Holling [7] (p. 14) is credited as one of the first researchers to coin resilience as the “measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables”. Subsequent research describes the ability as the ability to absorb, resist, or deflect the impacts of a shock [1]. Folke [8] contends that “Resilience is about cultivating the capacity to sustain development in the face of expected and surprising change and diverse pathways of development and potential thresholds between them”. Vulnerability, described generally as susceptibility to harm, might be considered as inversely related to resilience: the more resilient, the less vulnerable [9].
While no broadly accepted single definition of community resilience exists, the varied definitions commonly focus on a communities’ ability to plan/prepare for (and identify vulnerabilities), withstand, absorb, and rapidly recover from disasters to successful long-term adaptation towards changing social–economic–environmental conditions, as central to resilience [4][5][10][11]. Within this view, community resilience could be perceived as a strategy for promoting effective disaster readiness and response; or as a model consisting of a set of capacities; or as a process that links a set of adaptive capacities to a positive trajectory of functioning [6]. It can be imbued that as a strategy, or as a model, or as a process, the three dynamics represent critical and interconnected facets of community resilience.
Compared to other definitions, Wilbanks [12] (p. 10) provides a broader definition of community resilience as “one that anticipates problems, opportunities, and potentials for surprises; reduces vulnerabilities related to development paths, socioeconomic conditions, and sensitivities to possible threats; responds effectively, fairly, and legitimately in the event of an emergency; and recovers rapidly, better, safer, and fairer”. This broad encompassing definition highlights how resilience could be viewed as an umbrella concept consisting of different precautionary, reactive, and recovery measures to be undertaken in reference to a disturbance event or changing conditions. In an attempt to better structure these different measures, some of the literature adopts a three-class typology of resilience: basic (bouncing back to a similar state), adaptive (adapt to new or dynamic conditions by changing fundamental characteristics of the system), or transformative (substantial and explicit changes to social–ecological systems) [9][13][14][15].

3. Basic Resilience

Basic resilience refers to bouncing back or recovering to a similar state that existed before the disturbance event. Within a disaster recovery context, the pertinent literature describes resilience as the qualities (or characteristics or the ability) of a specific entity (such as a community and its constituents or an individual) that enables it to recover from a shock [3][4][16]. To that end, the IPCC [17] (p. 37) defined resilience as “the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization, and the capacity to adapt naturally to stress and change”. As evidenced by the literature, maintaining functions, relationships between actors, and capacity for recovery following a shock is critical for basic resilience. Similarly, Kirmayer et al. [2] (p. 72) define community resilience as the “ability or the capacity of a community to withstand, recover from, and respond positively to a collective crisis or adversity”. Resilience of essential community infrastructure systems (such as transportation, water, energy, sewer, and natural gas systems) is largely focused on minimizing the magnitude of impacts and restoration/recovery to pre-existing fully functioning conditions [1][5].
The idea of “bouncing back” to pre-status-quo of broader complex systems (such as a community) has been criticized as being too narrow and recreating the original vulnerabilities [1]. Comparatively, learning, re-organizing, adjusting to change to minimize the effects, and coping are considered as critical components of proactive or forward-looking resilience [1][5].

4. Adaptive Resilience

Folke et al. [13] (p. 1) describe resilience as “the capacity of a social-ecological system to continually change and adapt yet remain within critical thresholds”. Sometimes referred to as “change at the margins” or “incremental reform”, this approach entails an acknowledgement of risk and adaptation undertaken, but limited to those that do not threaten the core attributes of the system [18]. Adaptive resilience concentrates on learning processes and medium-term/moderate adjustments to pertinent systems in response to drivers of change through policy changes [19]. According to Folke et al. [13] (p. 7), “while adaptability is part of resilience, it represents the capacity to adjust responses to changing external drivers and internal processes and thereby allow for development along the current trajectory”. Fazey et al. [20] notes that adaptability and flexibility, such as having a range of response options is going to be crucial in such a context. Preference for near-term stability over sweeping reform provides a strong incentive for adaptive resilience [18]. However, trying to adapt a community and its systems in a fast-changing complex environment could be challenging as the critical thresholds of the existing systems might not be able to withstand the pressures of new conditions. In addition, incremental adaptations might not be adequate in some communities if vulnerabilities and risks are significant, which may require transformational changes [21].

5. Transformative Resilience

As described by Folke et al. [13] (p. 7), “transformability is the capacity to cross thresholds into new development trajectories”. Transformative resilience represents the capacity of communities to change/reshape its systems, forms, functions, processes, structures in a deliberate and conscious way [19][22]. Transformative resilience involves a status change in which the structures, institutions, processes, and identity of a community evolves into a more-desired configuration that carries the communities’ values and functioning forward [2][23][24]. Transformative resilience requires a community intentionally altering social–ecological systems and material resources, which could be desirable when it is congenial with societal goals, but requires tremendous social agreement and political will [18].
Transformative resilience approach is sometimes referred to as bouncing forward and conducive when conditions are changing rapidly, such as due to climate change [14]. As the frequency and magnitude of climate disasters increase with devastating effects on communities, built infrastructure, and natural environments, communities would need to increasingly focus on transformations to become more resilient [20]. Transformative resilience as a response to climate change is at the forefront of many policy initiatives on climate adaptation and disaster risk mitigation, and opens a range of novel policy options that require further research attention [19][25]. Meeting the challenges of climate change in some communities will require unprecedented transformative solutions with careful consideration for implementation [26]. Catastrophic events could act as catalysts for community transformation or formation of novel communities especially in high vulnerability contexts (such as repeated storms or repeated wildfires) where collective action spurs the reconstruction process [4]. However, community-level actors cannot be left alone to guide their own resilience pathways, and in most cases, the public officials and the political leadership have to at least play some guiding and influencing role in the transition processes [27].

6. Systems, Resources, Assets, and Processes Considered as Important for Community Resilience

This subsection outlines key resources from pertinent literature that are considered critical for community resilience, in addition to community infrastructure systems. Numerous research recognize the impact of chronic stressors (such as unemployment, food access, lack of affordable housing, poverty, water shortages, disinvested communities, and lack of transportation, etc.) as pre-existing or underlying community conditions that weaken a community and make it more vulnerable to acute shock events such as earthquakes, fires, and floods, etc. [1][16][28]. Sometimes coined “social vulnerability”, the potential for harm from a disaster event could be unequally distributed among the impacted population, based on larger social and cultural conditions [29]. Bergstrand et al. [30] measured community resilience and social vulnerability in counties across the United States and found that the most vulnerable counties also tend to be the least resilient.
It is important to note that social vulnerability factors often overlap or intersect [29]. For example, some ethnic minorities are more likely to be poor, less educated, and lack access to resources. The case of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans provided vivid evidence of how intersecting chronic stressors made certain neighborhoods more vulnerable, led to greater harms, and recovery more difficult [29]. Systemic discrimination of different forms can contribute to greater social vulnerability in neighborhoods over time [29].
Numerous research attribute the ability to withstand and recover with minimum impacts and damage as emanating from a set of community capacities or resources (such as social capital, economic infrastructure, and communication) that can support the maintenance of certain critical functioning after a disturbance [4][5][31]. Some related research identify these community resources as different forms of capital or a network of adaptive capacities that could be collectively leveraged for resilience [5][6]. Different forms of capital include natural capital (ecosystems or natural environmental stocks that provide valuable services), social capital, as well as other economically defined forms of capital [23].
Multiple research exemplify the importance of social capital to community resilience. The role of social capital in community resilience could be complex and could be considered a key component of community resilience [4]. Rapaport et al. [32] examined the interconnections between social capital and residents’ perceived resilience and found that the nature and type of social relationships and interactions embedded in a community are stronger predictors of community resilience. Other studies, such as [33], arrived at similar conclusions. Sherrieb, Norris, and Galea [34] (p. 233) define social capital as the “set of adaptive capacities that can support the process of community resilience”. But this definition discounts the role of other important systems or factors such as communication infrastructure, assertive community leadership, and natural systems [4][6]. Social capital embodies the idea that social relations, social networks, voluntary associations, sense of community, place attachment, sense of inclusion, sense of belonging, citizen participation, and the structure/diversity of social relations can have synergistic constructive benefits to a community [5][6][20]. To this end, Aldrich [35] conceptualizes social capital as consisting of bonding, bridging, and linking interconnections that can help community members to self-support and self-organize during and after disaster events. The concept of social capital manifests the idea that resilience is a clustered phenomenon that occurs in groups of people embedded in a web of meaningful relationships that is crucial to facilitate the flow of resources and ideas [2][23]. Community activities, such as creating community gardens or green spaces, foster resilience through the establishing social networks [23]. In addition, citizen participation (involvement and engagement) in formal and informal community organizations is widely believed to be a fundamental element for building social capital [6].
Good strategic communication is essential for community resilience [6]. Communication within the context of resilience could accomplish the transfer of information to residents during emergencies, the coordination of recovery personnel, or the provision of opportunities for members to articulate needs, views, and attitudes on long-term community challenges [6]. Top–down (e.g., government agencies providing emergency information to citizens) and bottom–up (e.g., neighbors connecting with each other to recover following a disaster) communication is important for building resilience [36]. Access to timely and accurate information on the threat implications of a disaster, what residents could do to minimize impacts, support resources available, and recovery efforts in place is critical for responding to and recovering from disasters and for building trust [16][23][36].
Synthesizing the above literature, several points can be highlighted that are pertinent and important within the context of this research study. It is evident from the literature that planning for and preparing prior to a disaster and maintaining community functioning, relationships between actors, and capacity for recovery following a disaster are critical for basic resilience. Staying within the bounds of current systems while proactively adapting for changing conditions provides strong motivation for adaptive resilience. However, incrementally adapting a community and its systems in a fast-changing complex environment could be challenging. While transformative resilience, especially within the context of climate change, opens up a range of novel policy options, transformational initiatives require tremendous social agreement and political will. Frequent climate disasters could act as a catalyst for transformation, but the process needs to be carefully guided by public officials and political leadership. The presence of certain community assets or qualities (such as strong social capital, or effective communication) seems to enhance a community’s ability to withstand, maintain critical functioning, and recover after a disturbance. Conversely, the extent of (and overlapping) chronic stressors impacting a community makes its residents more vulnerable to harm from a disturbance event. Within this context, the main aim of this research was to explore the similarities and differences in community resilience perceptions held by the residents and the public officials along the three-class typology of resilience and what factors might undergird such perceptions. The next section outlines the methods adopted and describes the research site.


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