Resilience Theory

Complexity theories have strongly influenced the development of ideas and theories that relate to complex social-ecological systems.   Resilience theory contains many elements of complexity science and system dynamics, and now stands as a foundation for the study of real world systems. Resilience thinking addresses the mindsets needed to manage and implement change according to underlying dynamical principles. The main elements of resilience theory and thinking are:  

  • Resilience- the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance, undergo change and still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks - making it a key condition for understanding sustainability.

  • Complex Adaptive Systems - systems with inherent uncertainty in their dynamics tend to have multiple stable states and exhibit self-organisation.
  • Adaptive Cycle - a metaphor of systemic change that proposes that systems cycle through four phases: rapid growth, conservation, collapse, and re-organization.

  • Panarchy - a nested set of adaptive cycles at different scales that exhibits cross-scale interactions.
Adaptability  - the capacity of a social-ecological system to adjust its responses to changing external drivers and internal processes and thereby allow for development along a desirable trajectory.
  • Transformability - the capacity of a social-ecological system to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, economic, or social conditions make the exiting systems untenable. 

The Resilience Alliance has created a website that elaborates upon these ideas and concepts.