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Resilience Alliance, a global network of social scientists and ecologists including Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom has focused their research on complex adaptive systems in social ecological systems at the regional scale.


the ability of an interdependent social and ecological system to absorb disturbances and maintain the same structure and function.

Other context:

  • A resilient system copes well with shock
  • As a system’s resilience declines, the size of the shock from which it can recover gets smaller
  • Resilience shifts management focus from growth and efficiency to adaptability
  • An overemphasis on growth and efficiency leads to a dangerous rigidity and fragility
  • A resilience focus is increasingly important as the magnitude of the shocks in the world get bigger and more unpredictable
  • Learning and flexibility are important to the ability to recover and thrive
  • The aim of resilience management is to keep a system in a regime so that it continues to deliver the desired ecosystem services and is not easily pushed into an undesirable regime from which it can’t recover


  • Nonlinearity, alternate regimes and thresholds –  SESs include nonlinear dynamics. A system can shift dramatically into an undesirable regime from a small change if a threshold is crossed. Attention to thresholds is critical.
  • Adaptive cycles – A metaphor of systematic change that proposes that systems cycle through four phases: growth and conservation (resources committed, stable, slow change, predictable), release and reorganization (resources freed up, chaos, fast change, opportunity).
  • Panarchy – multiple scales and cross-scale effects – function at multiple scales of space, time and social organization. You must understand the cross-scale interactions to manage effectively at a specific scale.
  • Transformability – If a SES is pushed into an undesirable context and can’t be returned to it’s former state, the capacity to create a fundamentally new systems with new variables, new livelihoods, and different scales of organization.
  • General vs. specified resilience – Specified resilience is resilience of a specific part of a system to a specific shock. Focus on resilience of one part the system can come at the expense of other parts of the system. Balance between the two forms of resilience is important.
  • Social-ecological system – an integrated system in which the dynamics of the social and ecosystem domains are strongly linked and of equal weight .


  • Assessment: understanding the regime the system is in, where it is in the adaptive cycle, where the system thresholds are, what the key variables are, and how the cross-scale interactions either increase or decrease resilience
  • Management: how to avoid an undesirable state or get from an undesirable state to a desirable one, and how to transform a system when that’s the only option.

Adapted from Shareable post on Resilience Thinking and from Resilience Alliance Site


From Resilience Alliance Website - Urban Resilience

What this work aims to provide is a multi-level understanding of the resilience of urban systems which recognises the role of metabolic flows in sustaining urban functions, human well-being and quality of life; governance networks and the ability of society to learn, adapt and reorganise to meet urban challenges; and the social dynamics of people as citizens, members of communities, users of services, consumers of products, etc, and their relationship with the built environment which defines the physical patterns of urban form and their spatial relations and interconnections

To learn more about the Urban Resilience program you can download the prospectus below from Resilience Alliance.

Urban Resilience Research Prospectus (475 KB)


  • Resilience research database.  Find people studying social ecological resilience.


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