Community Resilience

Buoyancy, flexibility, toughness, elasticity. The capacity to adapt to change. The capability to absorb shocks to the system without losing the ability to function. The aptitude to thrive in turbulence. A form of creative resistance to adversity.

These are defining characteristics of resilience. Scientists have long understood that the possibility of resilience is inherent in the natural world. More recently, they have documented ecosystems that have the capacity to respond to disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly.

If the possibility of resilience is inherent in nature, is it not inherent in us? How, then, can we recognize and cultivate resilience in human communities?

This question offers a new focal point for the Island Institute’s programs. Years of engagement with the nature of vital communities, together with current global circumstances, have prompted us to sharpen our inquiry to explore resilience thinking and apply its key tenets to human communities. Undertaking this important work will enable us to help each other—neighbors, colleagues, community leaders, families, friends—adapt more effectively to the magnitude of change we all can expect in coming decades as simultaneous transformations in society, politics, economics, culture and nature alter the world as we know it.

Resilience implies innovation, creativity, positive responses to difficult situations. It encourages constructive, ingenious ways to cope with challenging circumstances. It is a characteristic to be celebrated as well as a goal to strive for. It asks us for new language, new stories that can ground us in a changing world. It is a quality we can nurture in ourselves individually as well as in our communities.

The Institute’s first resilience event was the Resilient Communities Roundtable July 18–20, 2012. Core ideas from that gathering are documented in the Roundtable Report. This summer we hosted a group of women writers to explore a Literature of Resilience. Ongoing community activities include a forum on local investing options and our partnership with the Sitka Community Food Assessment working group.