Motivation and emotion/Book/2023/Community resilience
What is community resilience and how can it be fostered?
Overview[edit | edit source]
During the monsoon season of 2018, Kerala, a state in India, experienced heavy rainfall leading to severe flooding. Over a million people became displaced. Most first responders were primary-educated fisherman with little prior rescue experience. Yet, their social capacities, shared goals, and common knowledge resulted in a level of community resilience that facilitated effective recovery efforts (Joseph et al., 2020).
Community resilience is a population's shared ability to adapt effectively following hardships. People may be brought together by embracing differences, finding a common sense of purpose, and employing a concerted effort to form a sense of community that facilitates shared resilience. Where high levels of community resilience are present, communities have a greater potential to function effectively both day-to-day and following disasters. As a result of its many social and practical benefits, increasing community resilience has become of great interest to researchers, planners, governments, and community organisations. Efforts to increase community resilience centre around fostering a shared sense of identity, embracing cultural differences, and ensuring organisations are in place to provide social support. Community resilience largely falls within the realm of social psychology as it inherently centres around the interactions and relationships between multiple people. The primary theoretical framework that applies to community resilience is the Social Identity Approach (SIA). The SIA is a concept from social psychology which deals with group membership and individuals' sense of belonging and relatedness within their community as determinants for their actions.
What is community resilience?[edit | edit source]
Community resilience is a fuzzy concept and is difficult to fully define (Zamboni, 2017). The concept of resilience originated in psychiatry in the 1940s as an individual trait and has since expanded to include an ecosystemic perspective, as is the case for community resilience (Waller, 2001; Kirmayer, 2009). Community resilience can be understood as a population's capacity to join together to accomplish a shared objective (Berkes & Ross, 2013). It represents a connection between the capacity to adapt, and actually being able to adapt following adversity (Norris et al., 2008). Because of its broad consequences, community resilience is not only relevant in psychology, but also in various other disciplines such as environmental sciences, engineering, and economics (Koliou et al., 2020). When faced with hardships, such as a natural disaster, the ability for a community to take collective action greatly impacts the effectiveness and quality of its disaster response and recovery (Joseph et al., 2020). Rather than simply "bouncing back" from adverse events, community resilience facilitates a process of moving forward as a community, creating a new, more developed sense of stability (Bennett et al, 2018; Gallopín, 2006). Consequently, research has begun to focus on the potential for community-level improvements to primary prevention (intervening before negative effects occur) and wellness (Norris et al., 2008).
The key social psychological frameworks for conceptualising community resilience are social capital and the social identity approach (SIA). Social capital refers to the societal resources available within a community (Ntontis et al., 2020), which influences the ability for a community to be resilient. Meanwhile, the SIA has a broad framework and is useful as a tool to describe the way in which groups work in society (Reicher et al., 2010). This applies to community resilience as it is dependent on the actions of individuals as members of a group with a common community identity.
Applications of community resilience[edit | edit source]
Community resilience can be an essential factor in determining how well a community is able to respond to adversity. Adverse events can include acute to mid-term disasters like floods, bushfires, and industrial accidents, that are common throughout the world. This is the area in which most research into community resilience is conducted. However, there is also an effect on longer-term issues resulting from ongoing adversity such as from intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal Australian communities, broad consequences of climate change (e.g., rising temperatures), and the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, community resilience is not only relevant to improving action taken following disasters. It also has a significant positive impact on proactive risk response (Xu et al., 2022), and general individual wellbeing (Ehsan et al., 2019). It is also worth mentioning that adverse events do not need to be serious, and community resilience can assist in allowing groups to better cope with the day-to-day demands of life. Increasing community resilience may also be useful in reducing strain on local governments by increasing social empowerment (Platts-Fowler & Robinson, 2016). As a result of its varied potential benefits, community resilience has gained interest within the field of public health as governments and non-government organisations seek to improve communities' wellbeing and ability to cope (Allmark et al., 2014).
Natural disasters, climate change, and COVID-19[edit | edit source]
After the 2010 Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand, local Māori recovery responses were not only collaborative and effective, but shaped by cultural values such as a principle to extend love to all: "aroha nui ki te tangata". This represents an exemplar of best practice to disaster response, and New Zealand’s overall disaster response could benefit from incorporating Māori understandings that lead to resilient communities (Kenney & Phibbs, 2014).
Collective action by individuals within a community plays a key recovery role following emergencies such as natural disasters (Bergstrand et al., 2015; see Figure 1). Regardless of their type, natural disasters are inherently traumatic for the communities affected, yet this trauma is not inevitable. Communities who maintain resilience can attenuate the degree to which trauma is experienced and increase their capacity to respond to disasters productively (West et al., 2020). Collective resilience is set to play a pivotal role on how well communities will be able to respond to inevitable climate change-related negative events (Erfurth et al., 2021). In one applied example of longitudinal change, by drawing on traditional knowledge and adaptability that has been historically utilised for seasonal hunting behaviours, the Inuvialuit people have long demonstrated community resilience in adapting to a changing arctic climate (Berkes & Jolly, 2002). Social support, as an aspect of community resilience, plays a key role in maintaining higher levels of individual wellbeing when faced with adverse events like floods (Erfurth et al., 2021).
Another example is that of community-level responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 served not only as a difficult trial for public health systems and resources, but also as a serious of worldwide tests of community resilience. Following the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, community action and shared resilience became a major contributor to stemming the impact of the pandemic (Xu et al., 2022). In particular, two contributors to community resilience that became particularly salient during the COVID-19 pandemic were social connectedness and community organisations as facilitators of disaster response such as providing supplies and social support (Yip et al., 2021).
Minority groups[edit | edit source]
Importantly, community resilience can be observed in societies throughout the world, regardless of the presence of minority and majority groups. However, marginalised or minority groups are one focus group for determining the role of resilience due to their often unique situations and high levels of cohesion and mutual support. As research on community resilience is a relatively recent Western construct, community resilience is often framed according to Western frameworks.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that communities around the world did not possess shared resilience for thousands of years. A modern application of this concept is that a shared connection to culture, community, ancestry, and land contribute to community resilience in Aboriginal Australian communities facing transgenerational grief and inherited adversity (Usher et al., 2021). Despite past and ongoing hardships faced by First Nations cultures worldwide, many groups have utilised community resilience as one crucial technique in order to survive throughout the events of modern history (Kirmayer et al., 2009). Notably, community resilience within minority or First Nations cultures is not only limited to the result of direct cultural adversity but useful in other domains of life. The Māori people of Murupara, New Zealand demonstrated the use of cultural practices like Rāhui to adapt to COVID-19 while also leveraging general aspects of community resilience; despite vulnerability in past pandemics, they maintained community health (Rewi & Hastie, 2021; see Figure 2). Finally, people in remote and disadvantaged communities (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) demonstrate a high level of resilience in the face of climate change and resultant resource variability, even though they are often considered the most vulnerable (Maru et al., 2014).
General wellbeing[edit | edit source]
Although much of the discussion about the principle of community resilience is centred around disaster response, there are general day-to-day benefits of being a member of a resilient community. Community wellbeing is a concept related to community resilience and represents a snapshot state of how well a community is performing, in areas such as mental health, social aspects, and general prosperity (McCrea et al., 2014). An improved overall sense of health forms a central pillar of improvements to general wellbeing resulting from community resilience; reducing trauma after adverse events, and increasing everyday mental health. Because community resilience can act as a facilitating factor for the mobilisation of shared resources in response to a range of varied demands, it contributes to the overall wellbeing of individual group members (McCrea et al., 2014). As a result, community resilience acts to improve and maintain the stability of higher levels of community wellbeing over time, and greater quality of life for people living in resilient communities.
Fostering community resilience[edit | edit source]
Although community resilience has been shown to be an important protective factor against adversity, and a beneficial quality for day-to-day living, fostering community resilience is not necessarily a straightforward process. Several contributing factors must be considered, such as a community's resources and interconnectedness, which can be difficult to research and seek to change. Therefore, public health planners, governments and community leaders must identify not only which processes are most applicable to their community, but those which are likely to have practical value.
Influencing factors[edit | edit source]
Due its potential broad applications, it is of great interest of government and local organisations to increase community resilience so that people can better cope with disasters and ongoing adversity. Efforts to improve a community's resilience requires progress and improvements in several domains. Facilitating community resilience requires coordinated efforts from individuals, government, and social organisations to enhance cohesion (Norris et al., 2008). One of the core concepts to keep in mind when attempting to increase a community's community resilience is that individual communities respond differently when confronted with the same challenges (Ross & McGee, 2006). Regardless of the group in question, community resilience is dependent on social constructs and the services available within a community. For example, deciding factors for how well a community can respond to adversity are varied. These factors could include social networks and support services, shared cultural beliefs, cohesion, community spirit, a sense of purpose, community leadership and embracing differences (Buikstra et al, 2010; Gil-Rivas & Kilmer, 2016; McCrae et al., 2016). Additionally, general proactivity and capacity to adapt appear to be related to social organisation and shared values between group members (Little & Krannich, 1988, as cited in Buikstra et al, 2010), indicating another area of potential influence on the degree to which resilience may manifest.
[edit | edit source]
The principle of social capital stipulates that communities with greater existing support networks are better able to prepare, respond, and recover from disasters (Ntontis et al., 2020). To increase social capital, improvements to various factors must be made at community-level. In particular, social networks must facilitate trust, respect, effective communication and reciprocity between members (Maulana & Wardah, 2023). By increasing social capital, such as by encouraging these social aspects, social capital may be increased to improve community resilience in turn. Another focus area involved in increasing community resilience is building a shared sense of social identity, a concept borrowed from social psychology. Social identity compliments the principle of social capital, increasing connectedness within a community. By following the SIA, a shared social identity can be a powerful contributor to mobilise social support and improve self-efficacy, improving wellbeing at community level (Ntontis et al., 2020). If community members feel a sense of belonging to their society, they are more likely to be motivated to work collaboratively to recover from shared adversity and feel better supported by their peers (see Figure 3). This conceptualisation of community resilience is reasonably recent, so research into building social identity as it relates direct to community resilience is somewhat limited. Namely, social identity has been widely researched in its application to psychological resilience, such as emergencies, but not specifically from a community resilience lens (Drury et al., 2019). Nevertheless, general principles used for increasing a sense of social identity in this context include increasing members' sense of belonging, overall inclusivity, and individual participation within the community. Unfortunately, many of the underlying principles of community resilience are interrelated and co-dependent so it can be somewhat of a challenging task to seek to increase them intentionally.
Criticisms[edit | edit source]
Community resilience appears to be a positive characteristic that should be strived for. However, public health authorities seeking to improve community resilience may need to do so cautiously (Allmark et al., 2014). This is not necessarily because authorities are likely to do harm from their attempts to increase resilience, but rather that their efforts may be ineffective due to the fuzzy boundaries of the concepts of community, wellbeing, resilience, and community resilience. It can be difficult for researchers and public health workers to separate community wellbeing and community resilience, in order to know which factor is influencing how well a community is performing (McCrae et al., 2016). In practice, it can also be challenging to separate knowing that a community is being resilient in times of adversity, and fully understanding the factors that lead a community to resilience (Allmark et al., 2014).
With this in mind, it is proposed that an over-reliance on improving resilience within communities, rather than addressing the root cause problems that initially lead to adversity, is dangerous in that it potentially blames communities for their handling of issues facing them (Platts-Fowler & Robinson, 2016). This risks perpetuating the fallacy of the just-world hypothesis, a well-established bias that incorrectly states that people deserve the fate that befalls them, based on their actions in life (Furnham, 2003). Following the just-world hypothesis, the adversity faced by groups and the effects of this adversity are dependent fully on a community's actions in life, and its resilience. This potentially places an onus onto a community to do better with the resources they already have, rather than attempting to properly address the broader source of the adversity itself. Considering events such as natural disasters for instance, disadvantaged communities may have little avenue to improve resources before or after they occur, but a just-world view would ignore this fact. Suffice to say, this view is extreme, but it is important to be sensitive to the idea that community resilience cannot be used as the sole tool for recovery following adversity.
Additionally, it cannot be suggested that community resilience can solve all of a society's problem's when faced with adversity, as several variables are always at play. For example, it is worth noting that groups who have higher access to resources and exist in more privileged positions tend to be less vulnerable to disasters, and are better prepared for when they do occur (Gil-Rivas & Kilmer, 2016). Similarly, groups which already maintain higher levels of wellbeing tend to possess greater community resilience (McCrae et al., 2016), which may be unsurprising.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Community resilience is an important aspect to consider in how well a population will be able to respond to an acute or chronic adverse event or disaster. Put simply, communities which are resilient will cope better day-to-day and in the face of adversity, regardless of its manifestation. It is not satisfactory to simply engage in disaster preparedness in terms of tangible resources. Despite criticisms, it is worthwhile to aim to facilitate high levels of resilience within a community. To better prepare for hardship, attention needs to be allocated to the availability of social support, community networks, and particularly promoting a shared sense of connection through a shared identity. This can be derived from a number of sources such as common values, embracing differences, shared cultural constructs, and a concerted effort from community leaders to implement social supports such as organisations people can contact to receive assistance. Ultimately, to possess community resilience, communities must hold a sense of cohesion and connectedness, and feel supported as individuals within a larger group.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Community resilience (Wikipedia)
- Natural disaster (Wikipedia)
- Psychological resilience (Book chapter, 2011)
- Psychological resilience during COVID-19 pandemic isolation (Book chapter, 2020)
- Social cure (Book chapter, 2022)
- Social needs (Book chapter, 2011)
References[edit | edit source]
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[edit | edit source]
- Community resilience (US National Institute of Standards and Technology)
- Community resilience (RAND Corporation)
- Is building community resilience an inside job, external, or both? (TEDx, 18 mins)