Resilience 101

A system’s capacity to maintain its self-organizing capacity, its identity, or its regime.

Resilience is not good or bad, it is just a systems’ property, making the system stay in a desirable or undesirable regime

Diversity is the bedrock of resilience

![Resilience Ball Graph](assets/Resilience Ball Graph.png)

Basins of attraction represent different possible regimes that a system may end up in (some will be more resilient than others)

![Basins of Attraction](assets/Basins of Attraction.png)

Resilience arises from a rich structure of many feedback loops that can work in different ways to restore a system even after a large perturbation. A single balancing loop brings a system stock back to its desired state Book - Thinking in Systems - Donella Meadows

Course - Planetary Boundaries

Earth System Resilience

Three Core Dimensions of Resilience

  1. The amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain in the same state.
    • The lower the resilience of a system, the more likely it is that small shocks will cause tipping points
  2. The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization.
  3. The degree to which the system can build up and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.

Principles to Make Systems More Resilient

  1. Maintain diversity and redundancy (trade off with efficiency)
  2. Manage connectivity (allow disturbances to spread too)
  3. Manage slow variables and feedbacks (e.g. climate change, soil quality)
  4. Foster complex adaptive systems thinking
  5. Encourage learning
  6. Broaden participation
  7. Promote Polycentric Governance Systems

Probing Boundaries

  • You maintain resilience in a system by allowing it to probe its boundaries.
    • You make a forest more resilient to fire by burning it
    • You make children more resilient by exposing them to their environment
      • If you overprotect them they become fragile
  • Usually there are feedback loops in place to prevent a system to go over its boundary of resilience (e.g. human body doesn’t go above 42 degrees)

Resilience Thinking

  • capacity to live with abrupt or incremental change, and continue to develop
    • accepting complexity, uncertainty and surprise
    • adapting to change more than resisting it (Wu Wei)

![Resilience Thinking.png](assets/Resilience Thinking.png)

More on Making Systems Resilient

  • Continuous Learning
  • We need to build resilience to deal with the unexpected
    • Diversification
  • We need to build capacity to navigate change
    • Improve collective decision-making
    • Capacity to self-organize
  • Talking about optimizing or maximizing is usually moving away from resilience thinking

Assessing Resilience

No Set Methodology

  • Resilience does not lend itself to measurement
  • You can assess, not measure resilience, but there is not set methodology
    • Adaptive and flexible method
  • Assessments tend to be
    • Context specific
    • Interdisciplinary
    • Participatory (include different perspectives)

the simplest and cross-system indicators used are based on recovery time 131718]. Complex systems when close to critical transitions leave statistical signatures in the time series of its observables known as critical slowing down 11920]. It means that the system takes longer to recover after a small disturbance, which translates into increases in variance, autocorrelation, and skewness or flickering

Rocha, J. C. (2022). Ecosystems are showing symptoms of resilience loss. Environmental Research Letters, 17(6), 065013.


  • Resilience of What?
    • What social-ecological system?
      • Structure, key actors etc…
    • Where do you draw boundaries (time, space, governance)
  • Resilience to What?
    • Is there a specific shock we are interested in?
    • How did the system respond to change in the past (timelining)?
  • Resilience for whom?
    • Who is going to be affected by shocks?



Created on: 2020-12-20 Inspired by: Course - Planetary Boundaries Related: biosphere stewardship | complex adaptive systems | Earth System Resilience