Things to Make You Go Hmmm – About Community Resilience

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Republished with permission of: Community & Regional Resilience Institute

With continuing apologies to – and appreciation of – Grant Williams. If you’re not reading him, you should be!

Resilience is the science and technology of dealing with change, especially surprises.

Someone observed that climate change is the parent of weather and if weather kills then trying to constrain the climate will avoid extreme weather events. That’s a bit like saying that spanking the father will assure the son’s good behavior. It might work, but …

As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, we can think of “community competence” as the ability to use resources effectively within a given domain. This is different from “skill:” skill is doing things right; competence is doing the right things.

Competence is a compound of planning and connections. Thus, a manifestation of leadership.

A community is a system of systems. Its resilience is not the simple sum of the resilience of each of its components. The interconnections and interdependencies among these systems means that a community’s resilience has many more degrees of freedom. That results in many more paths to success, but many more to failure as well.

A community system is a group of people connected to accomplish a common purpose, i.e., a network with an attitude.

When talking about planning to increase a community’s resilience, many of us call for a “Whole Community” approach; i.e., making sure that each part of the community is represented. Seldom do we recognize the importance of teamwork: the willingness to work together to improve the community. In practice, these often work against each other; in many communities there is a fundamental distrust among the significant parties.

Cooperative action requires trust among all parties. Trust is the residue of positive memories; as distrust is of negative ones. Mistrust is the lack of any positive memories which leads to suspicion; i.e., mistrust is a manifestation of the fear of the unknown.

A community’s “adaptive capacity” can be thought of as the application of resources for positive change. In this sense, adaptive capacity is something like potential energy. The community’s adaptive capacity will depend on the resources available to it and how competently it can use those resources, in the time it has to adapt.

Too many of us think of resilience as a passive, feeble virtue. We need to begin thinking of resilience as the civic virtue with big shoulders, a willingness and an ability to do the hard work to strengthen our communities. For resilience is a manifestation of strength; becoming more resilient thus means nurturing our strengths and shoring up our weaknesses. And in doing that we sometimes find strengths we didn’t know we had.

There are many ways to parse a community to achieve a “Whole Community” view. The problem should determine which approach is best. For high level planning, the Triple Bottom Line may suffice. However, more detailed planning requires a much finer grain approach.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, money is not the only resource involved in community resilience. The “Seven Capitals” are a convenient way to capture this. Included are social, cultural, human, political financial, natural and built. These reflect the types of investment communities can and do make in themselves.

However, the idea of “capital” entails the idea of currency, i.e., the unit of exchange for each of these. At the most basic level, for each capital this is the time and energy “invested” in that domain.

The value of each currency (its denomination, if you will) is determined by how much it enables – or inhibits – community growth; a physicist might describe this as the amount of useful work the currency facilitates. For cultural capital, the currency might be societal norms; for human capital, skills; for political or governmental, it might be laws and regulations. Clearly, money is the currency of finance (though others are possible); and, as I’ve said many times, memories are the currency of social capital.

Science is the Art of Approximation.

Another chart…

I’ve plotted male life expectancy as a function of median household income for US counties below (data normalized as described in a previous post). A couple of points that interested me. There was a middling correlation – R2 = 0.32 (skinny line). As we’ve seen before, however, it appears that the relationship may be non-linear.

For 99% of the counties, the MHI placed a “floor” on male life expectancy; i.e., the median household income sets a lower limit for a county’s male life expectancy (Holds true for females as well). Not too surprising; what’s interesting is that almost all of the outliers are counties in Virginia. Does this mean that Virginia is measuring one or both differently than other states? Again, an exercise for an enterprising grad student.

Learn More About the Author: Dr. John Plodinec

John Plodinec Community Resiliency ExpertJohn Plodinec, Ph.D is the Associate Director for the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI) at Meridian Institute.

In this role, he is responsible for identifying and evaluating technologies useful for enhancing community resilience.

CARRIHe also is playing a leading role in development of CARRI’s Community Resilience System. He has also been heavily involved with CARRI’s engagement with the Charleston, SC, region. John recently retired from the US Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), as its Science Advisor. In this position, he led SRNL’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program, as well as developing strategic partnerships in areas aligned with the laboratory’s primary thrust areas.

As part of this effort, he developed CARRI’s Resilient Home Program, aimed at improving the survivability of American homes to disaster. This built on earlier work he did while at Mississippi State University, where he led the University’s efforts to establish programs related to severe weather. Dr. Plodinec helped his research group become the first entity in the state of Mississippi – and one of the first in the nation – to win a competitive award from the Department of Homeland Security… (learn more)


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