“Resilience is changing the paradigm and practices of investment”

How is resilience measurement, evaluation and learning shaping the field?

Reflections from the RMEL CoP Director, Dorcas Robinson

 “The resilience concept is on a journey from scientific niche towards widespread operational application.”

RMEL CoP & ODI, 2016 

The inaugural RMEL Conference and Convening 2018 is a critical milestone along the Timeline of Resilience Thinking in Action. Over 200 delegates - drawn from diverse fields including international development, economics, urban planning, public health and social-ecology - engaged in a unique opportunity to bridge disciplines and arenas of practice. These leaders and shapers of pathways towards making resilience thinking actionable and investment-worthy share a common goal: to inform investments at scale that improve the well-being of people and planet in the face of increasing uncertainty, shocks and stressors.

The proceedings of the conference and convening provide rich insight into how far the field of resilience measurement, evidence and learning has come in just a few years. The proceedings speak to a growing base of credible evidence that is already influencing policies and shaping organizational strategies. They call for ‘RMEL-A’ - Resilience Measurement, Evidence, Learning AND Action – through rapidly expanded knowledge-brokering, capacity development, influential communication and investor engagement, to bring the learning from resilience measurement to wider implementation.

The proceedings are of value to the growing community of practitioners of resilience, whether researchers, planners, investors or project implementors. The RMEL Conference 2018 Proceedings document 28 panels, with 104 presentations, discussing topics from enhancing resilience in the context of fragility or protracted crises, to the benefits and challenges of mobile phone surveys for monitoring resilience and generating predictive data. It shares the discussion from the opening and closing plenary panels, which highlight both the progress that has been made in demonstrating the value of applied resilience thinking through measurement, in Resilience Measurement: Where are we and where do we need to be?, and set new challenges from the perspective of a very different set of actors, private investors, in Investing in Resilience: Metrics for Businesses.

The RMEL Convening 2018 Proceedings present the key take-aways from interactive working sessions on the topics of Synthesizing the Evidence, and moving From Evidence and Knowledge to Action!, and discusses potential roles for the RMEL Community of Practice and its members in advancing the field of resilience. It concludes with critical reflections for RMEL researchers, evaluators and knowledge-brokers, from the round table How can resilience measurement shape the billions, not just the millions?

KEY messages from the RMEL Conference and Convening

RMEL is Measuring Up to the Resilience Challenge

It is demonstrating that investments in resilience are making things better in people’s lives.

“There is a there there. Resilience has flipped the discussion from one about vulnerability - people’s deficits- to one about people’s capacities, their assets…..We have been able to change the way that we think, and resilience measurement has been key to that.”  (Greg Collins, USAID)

For example, in The economics of resilience returns: When 1 + 1 > 2, a model-based approach is presented, which estimates the economic value of a resilience-building approach in terms of avoided losses and humanitarian assistance, and a project-based approach explores how cost-benefit analysis (CBA) might be used to support selection among types of interventions for resilience. The Lessons from BRACED: Results of different approaches to resilience measurement across 13 countries deepens understanding that strengthening resilience is not only about ‘what’ projects do, but also about ‘how’ projects implement interventions, with those showing the greatest results more likely to have: layered and linked interventions in timely ways; focused intentionally on inclusion and participation; responded more quickly to changing context; and embedded interventions into government processes.

Other panels, such as Evidence in action in different settings identify practical ways in which data, analysis and evidence are being generated with stakeholders and can increasingly inform decision-making in real-time. And Resilience in fragile contexts: case studies – Somalia presents three approaches to measuring and understanding resilience – positive deviance, a recurrent monitoring system (RMS), and the Resilience Index Measurement and Analysis (RIMA) – all of which demonstrate that resilience program interventions are strengthening the resilience capacities of households, even under extreme shock conditions.

Motivating metrics matter, but so do navigational narratives

Participatory resilience assessment, learning, analysis and reflection processes are fundamental to the demands of enhancing resilience over time.

A number of panels present experience in developing and applying RMEL and resilience assessment approaches as part of an on-going, iterative process. For example, in Resilience measurement in practice: lessons from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, the panel concludes that: Teaching people to use a resilience lens is far more powerful or effective than coming into a community and doing intervention X to achieve outcome Y. If people can view their risk through a resilience lens and understand both potential impacts and ways to avoid them; if they can view their assets through a resilience lens and how they can be used flexibly, shared, augmented through collaboration with others, they will be more resilient.

New Orleans city resilience highlights ways to combine measurement data with story-telling and community data, generated through dialogue and increasingly possible through social media, to ground-truth data-driven decision-making, and bring this to the street and neighborhood context. Similarly, Measuring resilience in urban settings, emphasizes the importance of investments in city resilience, including commitments to stakeholder training and facilitated engagement to interpret complex data for developing strategies.

Translating resilience assessment into strong program design and Resilience assessment design share the experience of agencies in using strategic planning guidance tailored to promote resilience thinking. Approaches such as the Wayfinder Resilience Guide for Navigating Towards Sustainable Futures set out to build broad coalitions for change, supporting stakeholders to investigate, understand, innovate and learn for promoting resilience in social-ecological systems, through an iterative process.

Resilience measurement, evaluation and learning is making resilience actionable

It is deepening our understanding of the capacities, assets and capitals through which people and communities can maintain well-being in the face of shocks and stresses.

The panels present a range of methods and tools in use: to better understand resilience capacities and how these are leveraged and used by people in the face of risks, shocks and stressors; and to measure and track the well-being outcomes that result. While the conference discussion values diversity in approaches to measurement and learning, discussions support further consolidation around a common set of principles to guide measurement, in order to be more effective in engaging with policy-makers and investors.

The panels also identify critical gaps and opportunities in evolving RMEL approaches. For example, What’s gender got to do with resilience? and Resilience for all? highlight the importance of gender, ethnicity, age and racial histories in shaping exposure to shocks, vulnerability, resilience capacities, and access to project interventions, calling for a focus on intersectionality in RMEL systems to better inform design of resilience investments. Research design with resilience in mind, explores different opportunities to use existing data (e.g. through natural experiment methods) and measurement approaches, and highlights a common tendency to use nutrition outcomes as a core well-being outcome for resilience interventions whilst not tracking nutritional status itself. Similarly, Resilience and psychosocial factors challenges prevailing measurement efforts, in which:

“Psychosocial factors or dimensions of resilience is a catch-all term, which people who are not psychologists use to capture everything, from identity, to risk perception, to motivation, aspirations. We really have to pull that apart and figure out how that intersects with more common econometric ways of doing business.” (Tiffany Griffin, USAID)

RMEL needs to move into proactive mode

The scale and dynamic nature of risks, shocks and stresses across systems, will continue to challenge the field of resilience in action.

 “Today, most of the resilience measurement tools look at resilience from a reactive perspective: we look at a shock, and responses to that shock. We need to understand resilience in a proactive way: we are working in a fast evolving environment, climate change is leading to dramatic change in agriculture; population dynamics, etc…We need to look at what will be the drivers of resilience 10 years from now; maybe they will not be the same; maybe some of things we do today will be detrimental to resilience….” (Luca Russo, FAO)

Panels such as Climate change and resilience emphasize the importance of better understanding the nature of climate shocks, to be clearer on the question of ‘resilience of what, to what?’. This is critical when looking at resilience to climate change at agroecological, or national scale, and being able to model how shocks will impact the decisions and actions of millions of farmers, migrants, and urban residents. Health and resilience looks at efforts to strengthen the resilience of health systems to large-scale shocks, and Resilience in fragile contexts: case studies – Syria considers how resilience interventions can be applied to refugees and host populations.

Taking resilience to scale: implementing science-guided capacity-building initiatives discusses potential approaches to institutionalizing RMEL for effective decision-making. It argues for long-term investments to build this field of practice, and a pipeline of leaders who can shape and inform national policies and programs.

RMEL is Strengthening the Evidence Base for Resilience Investments

The challenge is to do this in ways that are more relevant and scalable for different groups of investors.

The conference and convening proceedings reveal diverse but expanding interests in how to apply resilience thinking. The demands for metrics, or for specific types of evidence and knowledge, vary across arenas, as different ‘investors’ seek clarity on how best to move the outcomes they seek in the name of resilience.

There is significant demand for codified knowledge, guidance and tools, and for capacity-development and learning opportunities to inform practice. For example, the Resilience Shift workshop, Making resilience relevant, tangible and practical: tools and approaches, engaged a small group of invitees in identifying ways to make tools that contribute to the enhancement of resilience in critical infrastructure more accessible to key actors. The REAL Program – distilling the evidence and innovations in resilience measurement, outlines the efforts of the USAID-funded Resilience Evaluation, Analysis and Learning Award to inform policy and improve resilience programming through strategic analysis, capacity-strengthening and knowledge-sharing.

A number of panel discussions, such as Evidence in action in different settings, emphasize the need for researchers and evaluators to not only anticipate the need to translate data so that it can be applied, but to design research through engagement with proposed end users.

The plenary Investing in Resilience: Metrics for Businesses calls on the RMEL community to explore ways to bring the learning of decades of public sector evaluative thinking to bear on the significant decisions being made by private investors:

“Investors work at the systems level, they are looking at millions and sometimes billions of dollars and they have no way of comparing what good evidence looks like for one versus another. They don’t have a tool to be able to say quickly, this cluster of investments would create harm…”

(Veronica Olazabal, The Rockefeller Foundation)

The round table, How can resilience measurement shape the billions, not just the millions?, challenges us all to unpack the working assumption that evidence is critical to moving change; to interrogate this proactively from the perspective of different potential target stakeholders, and to develop RMEL strategies better tailored for different groups of investors.

The time is ripe, with increasing demand for insights into how to invest in resilience being matched with growing availability of credible findings from resilience measurement and learning initiatives. The next phase of RMEL needs to focus on strategic engagements with advocates, policy-makers, organizational leaders and financiers, to further enhance the relevance and uptake of measurement approaches and of the knowledge being generated.