Towards a typology of community resilience activities

Written by Katy Wright

The idea that we need to develop resilience to a range of environmental, economic, political and security crises seems to have increasing purchase across academic disciplines and in policy and practice.  In particular, there has been a developing interest in the concept of community resilience, which refers to a capacity within social groups to adapt to and recover from crisis “without flipping into another state or phase “(Cote & Nightingale 2012: 475).  This might include, for example, coping with flooding; transport/infrastructure damage; terrorist attack; economic downturn and financial crisis; demographic change; climate change; and/or political upheaval (e.g. see OECD 2009; Young Foundation 2012; Stockholm Resilience Centre 2013).  However, there is considerable variation in the ways the metaphor of resilience is interpreted and employed, and amongst definitions of the characteristics of resilient communities.

Resilience is understood to take different forms along a spectrum from resistance (‘holding the line’) to transformation (‘owning a need to change’) (Collingwood Environmental Planning 2011), and different resilience building initiatives might aim to develop any or all of these different types.  Different initiatives are driven by different stakeholders, and are embedded in social and spatial contexts characterised by highly specific configurations of risks and vulnerability (Thrush et al. 2005; Reid et al. 2009; Lindley et al. 2011).  Hence understanding different approaches to building community resilience requires an understanding of the differences between different initiatives and their underlying conceptualisations of resilience.

With this in mind, here we present a provisional typology of community resilience initiatives, in particular those which are focused on resilience to climate change.  These are:

  • Emergency planning and response
  • Adaptation
  • Relationship building
  • Developing of sustainability
  • Tackling disadvantage

Not all of the functions outlined here characterise all initiatives which seek to build community resilience to climate change: instead different initiatives will aim to develop one or more of the five functions identified.  These functions can be mapped on to the different ‘types’ of resilience referred to earlier.

Emergency planning / response


  • Development of strategies to cope with climate change-related disasters when they hit
  • ‘Holding the line’
  • ‘Bouncing back’

  • Raising awareness and providing information on local risks
  • Promotion of, and guidance on, emergency planning
  • Development of community action groups / emergency planning groups
  • Development of emergency plans on local/community levels



  • Behaviour and attitudinal change to adapt to and limit climate change effects
  • ‘Adjusting to a new normal’

  • Changing social norms and attitudes around energy, food production, transport and waste – through providing information and relevant resources (e.g. energy efficient lightbulbs or recycling services)
  • Developing skills relevant to adaptation initiatives
  • Lowering carbon emissions

Relationship building and community engagement


  • Developing relationships within and amongst communities and organisation
  • ‘Bouncing back’

  • Encouragement of shared action
  • Developing networks of support
  • Building a sense of community

Developing sustainability


  • Localising energy and food production
  • ‘Owning a need to change’

  • Local food projects
  • Developing ‘greener’ transport, housing and energy infrastructure


Tackling disadvantage


  • Addressing health, well-being and poverty
  • ‘Bouncing back’

  • Reducing costs to address fuel poverty
  • Promoting healthy living

Further to this typology of existing approaches, we suggest a different approach could be taken to building resilience, which focuses on political and institutional dimensions of vulnerability and resilience (Berkes et al. 2008; Hall & Lamont 2013), as well as distributions of rights and entitlements (Sen 1981; 1984; Adger 1996; 1999), and which engages more effectively with factors functioning at different levels of analysis (Watts & Bohle 1993; Bohle 2001).

Rights and redistribution


  • Addressing institutional dimensions of vulnerability, inequality and disadvantage

Might enable development of all ‘types’?

  • ‘Holding the line’
  • ‘Bouncing back’
  • ‘Owning a need to change’
  • ‘Adjusting to a new normal’

  • Social security mechanisms to reduce vulnerability and inequality
  • Individual and collective rights
  • Collective responsibilities to tackle risks (of all kinds)
  • Challenging marketization and ‘responsibilisation’

These ideas are currently being developed into a paper which outlines this typology and a rights based approach to resilience in more depth, and which locates different approaches to resilience within broader trajectories of policy and practice.