Resilience and Adaptation

Greenway is an advocate of planning communities and organizations that are resilient and adaptable in the face of expected or unforeseen change.  Resilience is the ability to undergo a shock or disruption and to rebound with most if not all of the prior system dynamics still intact.  While this should be a feature of all well-designed communities, it is especially important in light of the potential for sudden environmental impacts and/or economic disruption.

The economic development of communities and regions should be considered in the context of a broader, integrated approach to rethinking how humans can most effectively, resiliently and adaptively live in a given bioregion.  This broader approach can be developed in the following ways:

1. thinking about communities and bioregions as social-ecological systems (SES)

2. conducting a resilience assessment of the SES

3. initiating a public process to create new stories and visions for a particular SES

1. Social-Ecological Systems

There is considerable research underway in studying the dynamics of social and ecological systems (SESs).  Basically, an SES is a system of people and nature (e.g., the redwood region’s plants, animals and people).  A related idea here is adaptive co-management (ACM).  In this field, practitioners (government or otherwise) develop working relationships with resource users and other stakeholders to develop and acquire their knowledge, as well as scientific knowledge, about the SES.  Institutions, stakeholders and processes on different levels of society, from local to regional and beyond, would be involved.

The idea is that how to live well in any SES is a complex problem, and the key to solving complex problems is to find solutions that appeal to and can be promoted by and within different stakeholder groups–aligning people with different interests–for example, people with a values/principles approach and people with a more material interest.

2. Resilience Assessment

A key goal of regenerative economic development is to build resilience and adaptive capacity in the SES.  Key characteristics of resilient SESs are biodiversity, knowledge networks, and social trust.  This approach begins with a “resilience assessment” that seeks to identify the dynamics of the SES to better identify (and foster the development of) these key characteristics.

A resilience assessment is a participatory exercise that engages stakeholders in a process; and by effectively engaging stakeholders, the process itself can be as valuable as the outcome.  For example, stakeholders and practitioners could be involved in a participatory process of developing an understanding of the dynamics of a given SES and how it has changed over time.  This assessment would involve identifying the key ecological characteristics and change dynamics, and other economic, cultural and historical issues associated with the SES in question.  One of the goals of this process is to identify critical ecological thresholds and different management interventions (e.g., resource use or economic development strategies) that can promote adaptive capacity and resilience.

3. Scenario Planning

Because the future is uncertain, this stakeholder engagement process can use scenario planning to develop plausible future scenarios.  Scenario planning helps us shape our ideas of how the world works or could work in the future into a coherent story.  It also asks us to consider: 1) what the uncertainties are that we face today and how we currently deal with them, and 2) what kinds of uncertainties, risks and opportunities we might face in the future, and 3) what can we do to prepare for the future and avoid risks and/or build capacity to cope with them.

Scenario planning is a way of engaging people to think about complex problems through stories that are accessible (not, for example, by engaging them with stories about computer models or rebate incentives).  And the more people that are involved the more interesting stories we can find!  Also, getting people to talk amongst themselves helps them create better scenarios and better connections among themselves—to break down barriers and, in effect, envision and ultimately create a better future.

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