What is Resilience?

Mulutseribu Seaweed Farms, Indonesia. Photo © Kevin Arnold

Resilience is defined as the ability of a system to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures by resisting to and then recovering or adapting to change. ref  It can be applied to all ecological systems, including temperate, tropical, and polar regions, and can also be applied to social systems (e.g., human communities).

Resilience includes three components: 1) resistance; 2) recovery; and 3) transformation. Resistance refers to the ability to absorb or resist impacts and recovery refers to the ability to recover from them. Transformation refers to changes that affect the function of the socio-ecological system. The concept of transformation is at the forefront of debates about responses to climate change. It has been recognized as a key component of resilience in response to the need for humans to develop solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges, and it acknowledges the active role that humans play in shaping their future. Transformation is a complex process that involves changes at the personal, cultural, organizational, institutional, and system levels. ref

The concept of resilience has evolved from an ecological definition, emphasizing the persistence of the ecosystem structure and function in a changing world, to an emphasis on the ability of coupled social-ecological systems to adapt. Most recently, the concept of resilience includes the ability of society to transform in the face of global change.

Resilience, therefore, refers to a system’s capacity to persist in its current state of functioning while facing disturbance and change, to adapt to future challenges, and to transform in ways that enhance its functioning. ref

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