Re-thinking a systems resilience approach

 As evidence of the negative impacts of global recession on social and health inequalities accumulates, health policy attention has turned to the question of how the resilience of communities bearing the brunt of these inequalities can be enhanced.  However, the terms ‘individual or community resilience’, and the language that surrounds it, sends out ambiguous messages. There is a risk that resilience initiatives can increase the existing burden of responsibility already felt in disadvantaged places. People bearing the brunt of social injustice may resist such initiatives if, as the poster illustrates, they experience them as a call to ‘Do It Yourself’

An alternative approach is to understand resilience as a characteristic of “systems” defined in terms of a particular geography (e.g. a neighbourhood), which include both people and institutions living, working and located there.  This way of thinking about resilience requires those working in the public, private and third sectors, and the organisations that employ them, to operate differently, in order to forge more equal and inclusive relationships with local communities.

In ten Neighbourhoods for Learning, the Neighbourhood Resilience Programme aimed to shift the policy and practice focus beyond the resilience of individuals and communities.  This has involved engaging with neighbourhoods as systems and attention to how the collective resilience of those living/working in neighbourhoods can be enhanced.

Street poster “Stop calling me RESILIENT.” Reproduced with the permission of Tracie L. Washington New Orleans, USA

“So systems based is more to do with the way the local authorities, organisations, statutory bodies interact with people in the community, and change can be influencing those systems to improve people’s health and wellbeing.” (Local authority professional)

“We all try and build bridges between different groups, council officers, police and councillors and then try and explore some solutions.” (Resident)

“Raising confidence giving people a voice, letting them shape delivery, letting them engage with service providers to make sure that what is being delivered in an area actually meets the needs of the community.” (CoReN facilitator)

Click through the slides to read different perspectives on resilience

Neighbourhood resilience framework


As a starting point a resilience framework was developed to inform local work in the Neighbourhoods for Learning.  The framework was informed by a  review of local authority policies/initiatives aimed at enhancing resilience at a systems level.  The framework has four domains (i) the living environment (e.g. improving public spaces or private landlord initiatives); (ii) economic systems (e.g. improving debt advice or community finance initiatives); (iii) social relationships (e.g. volunteering schemes, community choirs); (iv) community governance (enabling people to collectively influence the decisions affecting where they live).

Further resources


The CLAHRC NWC team undertook a series of rapid reviews to identify local resilience-related policies/action.

An evidence review, which informed the resilience framework can be downloaded as a pdf, below:

Reviewing the evidence: Local government and resilience in an era of austerity

Other CLAHRC NWC evidence reviews on topics such as tracing absentee landlords, vulnerability to debt, improving neighbourhood air quality, are available here.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) selected the Neighbourhood Resilience Programme as one of a number of ‘inspirational examples’ of building resilience at individual, community and systems levels in 13 countries.  The full compendium, including the case study (p.122-133) can be downloaded here

An article (pdf version) published in the Morecambe Bay Medical Journal about the Neighbourhood Resilience Programme can be downloaded at the link below: