What distinguishes “resilience” projects from the myriad of other development projects?

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new article entitled “Resilience projects as experiments: Implementing climate change resilience in Asian cities,” in the journal Climate and Development. The article is available open access at this link.

In this article, we seek to address a question raised frequently by observers of resilience initiatives: what distinguishes a “resilience” project, supported under initiatives like the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), from the myriad of international development projects implementing similar sets of activities (ranging from mangrove reforestation, rainwater harvesting, early warning systems, participatory planning, etc.)?  As one ACCCRN partner described, “there have been activities building resilience in the past, but using other words or program titles.”

Through a process of facilitated learning among ACCCRN partners, we find that building the capacity to learn and reorganize is what ultimately distinguishes any initiative as contributing to resilience. While some ACCCRN projects did provide direct tangible benefits to certain groups of actors, projects were seen as most effective when they helped facilitate a shared understanding of urban systems; strengthened collaborations and networks; provided public access to information and/or generated new information; promoted greater engagement of citizens with the state; and supported the use of climate change information by city institutions. Achieving these outcomes relied on flexible, learning-based approaches to project implementation, described by earlier development studies scholars as “experiments.”

This emphasis on viewing projects as experiments to build capacity to learn and reorganize presents a counterpoint to the more conventional concepts of “implementing” resilience. It also implies that project activities themselves do not build resilience and therefore cautions against promoting replicable, “best practice” approaches across contexts. On the other hand, certain facilitation approaches (expert coaching, participatory assessments, and experimental designs) do work effectively across contexts in building capacity to learn and reorganize—and therefore in building resilience.

The article is co-authored by myself, Richard Friend, Jim Jarvie, Pakamas Thinphanga, Phong Tran, Dilip Singh, Ratri Sutarto, and Justin Henceroth.  We would like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for their support of ACCCRN and our research, as well as APCO International for supporting the open access release of this article. We are extremely grateful to all of those who participated in the research and/or provided insightful suggestions during the research process.

Please feel free to share this article widely. We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

Best regards,

Sarah O. Reed
Urban Programs Advisor  

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