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Thoughts on Building Community Resilience

Over the last month or two I’ve had a various conversations with people about community resilience. These are focused on ideas of resilience being tied into either economic or psychological states, the expert knowledge of various groups – including community practitioners and bureaucrats – and the importance of getting ‘community’ on side.

While there’s quite a lot to unpack here, for this post I’ll just focus on how 4 points sum up how I see it.

As a professional working in the community resilience space, I don’t own knowledge and experience. I have different assumptions, ideas and experiences that I bring to the table, along with others. Therefore, a foundational part of this thinking is that I have things to contribute, and with others I can contribute and collaborate in the search for community resilience. Disagreement or different perspectives are important parts of the mix.

What this means hopefully is that we move away from that professional model that assumes professional, technical knowledge which we use to ‘create’ resilient communities.

My own ideas are influenced by the following:

  1. Most importantly, all communities have range of attributes  that support or enhance resilience. A significant part of my professional practice is identifying what they are and how these community ‘assets’ can be harnessed. Note that this doesn’t assume communities are straightforward things – they are problematic, meanings are contested between groups and there are some who are on the margins for a range of reasons.
  1. Communities are in constant change, which can be a positive or a negative thing. For me, this stems back to my social science training and explanatory frameworks which emphasise that things change and are changeable, and this is a ‘constant’. What this means is that I look at stability as an outcome of change. The stability we might find in a community might be because of its economic base – let’s say a large employer in the town means there’s little unemployment. But this stability is the outcome of a very changeable economic system, one which might impact on the employer in that town. Hence the things that are driving this stable employment are by definition, changeable. The loss of the employer would have a significant impact on the resilience of the town. It also emphasises that many processes impacting on community resilience are found well outside the community.
  1. As a community resilience practitioner, part of my role is to look at the relationship between these community characteristics (for example, little unemployment) and the forces of potential change which are beyond the reach of community influence (for example, the dynamics of the economic system). This is where I use my knowledge of the social sciences and different definitions of community resilience.
  1. Another part of my role is to, with communities, assess potential challenges and bring community groups together to see what can be done. This is where ‘building community resilience’ comes into it.
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