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Ecologies of resilience

In this article Assoc. Prof. Marcus O'Donnell discusses ecologies of resilience and the relationship between healthy individuals and healthy systems.
Close-Up Of Bee In Cocoon
© Deakin University
Building an ecology of resilience means working with others to ensure that we reinforce one another’s capacity for thriving.
We’ve already talked about the personal and social dimensions of resilience and how supportive networks are critical in building our capacity to adapt to change.
However, some researchers, like Dr Michael Unger from Dalhousie University and his team at the Resilience Research Centre, have taken this one step further by talking about the need for an ‘ecological’ approach to resilience.

What is ecology?

In the natural world, an ecology is a self-sustaining and mutually dependent system.
When one element of an ecology is disrupted, it has consequences for all the others. The most dramatic example of this is climate change.
Another example you may be familiar with is the devastation of bee colonies across the world by a tiny mite, which is having a big impact on food production since over half of our agriculture is dependent on bee pollination for successful crops.

What has ecology got to do with resilience?

Unger and his colleagues suggest that for people to become and remain resilient, their community and cultural context has to be taken into account.
For example, Unger’s team are engaged with a number of projects that work with both individuals and their communities.
Their research focuses on building capacity in local communities by working with parents, schools and local service organisations to respond to youth at risk. They also work directly with young people to ensure they have the capacity to make use of those resources effectively.
In this way, Unger and his team are creating a system or ‘ecology’ of resilience.

What can we learn from this in terms of our own approach to resilience?

Much of the discussion in popular articles about resilience (as you probably discovered in your online searches) is focused on developing strategies to maintain or enhance resilience.
To achieve this, we can meditate to become more calm. We can exercise and eat well to be more healthy. We can take three deep breaths before deciding to send an email.
While these strategies can be very helpful, as isolated individual activities, they won’t necessarily make you more resilient.

What does an ecological approach mean for thinking about resilience?

An ecological approach to resilience helps us think about resilience as:
  • a connected bundle of strategies that work together to build an effective system of resilience
  • something we do with others
  • something that requires us to act for change in our communities and organisations as well as in ourselves.

Your task

How does an ecological approach to resilience make you think differently about developing resilience?
Discuss your thoughts in the comments.
© Deakin University
This article is from the free online

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