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An introduction to community resilience

In this article, we focus on how to increase participatory approaches, and what factors to consider for climate change-related risks.
Empowerment in a dictionary
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Community-Based Adaptation

Community-based adaption is a relative newcomer in the field of participatory development approaches. The participatory tradition in community development goes back to work by Paulo Freire in the 1960s and Robert Chambers in the 1980s.

The participatory action in community-based adaptation draws from schools of thought related to Community Based/Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) and Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM).

These approaches focus on engagement with the local stakeholders to identify needs and develop local solutions. The lessons from community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) work are of significant value for climate change

adaptation. This is because climate change is likely to change the magnitude, frequency, and timing of extreme events such as flooding and landslides, as well as generate new disaster events.

Participatory community risk assessment

Different approaches and methodologies for participatory disaster risk reduction and community risk assessment exist. All involve working with local people to understand:

  1. the types of hazards/extreme events they face;
  2. their exposure level;
  3. the factors which contribute to their vulnerability and which groups are most vulnerable;
  4. what capacities they have for reducing vulnerability; Hazards, exposure, vulnerability and capacity together give an indication of the risk level of communities.
  5. Then, based on an analysis of these risks, communities identify the actions to be taken to reduce the (climate) risks they face.

Directly engaging communities in these steps are aimed at enabling them to identify the risks and actions, and where possible, implement actions themselves. These actions empower local communities.

The figure below illustrates the different degrees of participation stakeholders (communities) can be involved in the form of a ladder. A total of 5 levels of engagement are presented, each representing a deeper degree of involvement.

Moving from an initial sharing of information the ladder demonstrates how greater degrees of stakeholder participation is achieved through consultation, involvement, the development of partnerships, and potential project control by the stakeholder.

Ladder of participation

Level of participation Description
Stakeholder control Stakeholders take over the power of decision-making.
Partnership Decision-making power is shared between institutions and stakeholders.
Involvement Stakeholders are asked to participate in some aspects of planning and delivery.
Consultation Stakeholders are invited to respond to proposals, but the institution retains the decision-making role.
Information Stakeholders have no say about what goes on but are kept informed about decision-making. Information goes one way.

Based on

Empowerment of local communities is a key purpose in carrying out community risk assessments. According to van Aalst et al., 2008, empowerment aims:

to catalyse a process that empowers the people in the community and supports their capacity to alter their own situation. Through engagement with the grass roots, the activities that emerge will have the people’s ‘ownership’ and participation, be based on trust and therefore have more chance of success.

Empowerment through building community resilience

No universally agreed definition of ‘community resilience to climate change exists. However, according to Clare Twigger-Ross et al. (2015), most definitions have similar core concepts.

As a result, the concept can be broadly summarised as: “the ability of communities to reduce exposure to, prepare for, cope with, recover from, adapt and transform as needed to the direct and indirect effects of climate change, whereby these effects can both entail shocks and stresses”.

There are a wide variety of measures that can be taken to enhance community resilience to climate change. These include:

  1. Preparedness. For example, measures such as community drills and first aid training;
  2. Early warning/early action. For example, measures aimed at timely evacuation and response in the event of a disaster;
  3. Risk reduction. For example dike construction or planting mangroves for coastline protection;
  4. Advocacy. For example, safe building codes and land use planning to limit climate impacts.

Additional reading:

Cannon, T. (2008). Community Level Adaptation to Climate Change: the Potential Role of Participatory Community Risk Assessment. Global Environmental Change.

Kruse, S., Abeling, T., Deeming, H., Fordham, M., Forrester, J., Jülich, S., Karanci, A. N., Kuhlicke, C., Pelling, M., Pedoth, L., and Schneiderbauer, S.: Conceptualizing community resilience to natural hazards – the emBRACE framework, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2321-2333, 2017.


Hannah Reid and E. Lisa Schipper, Upscaling community-based adaptation, in: Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change, Scaling it up, Routledge, 2014, Oxon/New York, p.3.

IPCC, Fifth Assessment Report, WG II, Glossary, IPCC (2018) Annex II Glossary.

Hannah Reid, Mozaharul Alam, Rachel Berger, Terry Cannon, Saleemul Huq and Angela Milligan, Community-based adaptation to climate change: an overview, in IIED (2009), London.

Paulo Freire’s most well-known publication “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” was published in 1968. Source: Wikipedia.

Robert Chambers most influential publication is “Rural development: putting the last first” published in 1983.

Maarten van Aalst, Terry Cannon, Ian Burton: Community level adaptation to climate change: The potential role of participatory community risk assessment, in: Global Environmental Change, Volume 18, Issue 1, February 2008, Pages 165-179.

Clare Twigger-Ross, Katya Brooks, Liza Papadopoulou, Paula Orr, Rolands Sadauskis, Alexia Coke, Neil Simcock, Andrew Stirling and Gordon Walker, 2015. Community resilience to climate change: an evidence review (focused on UK context), Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

IFRC, Characteristics of a Safe and Resilient Community, Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction Study, ARUP International Development – September 2011,

© University of Groningen
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