What is a Resilient Society? Three Strategies for Developing Resilience

Creating a Shared Future Series
Written by 
Coeuraj Insight
April 2023

Rapid change alongside increasing social division and institutional distrust continues to shape—and break—systems.

Governments are trying to respond to policy challenges, from the rising cost of living to affordable housing and equitable healthcare. Recently, these compounding crises have thrust municipalities, and those who govern them, into the spotlight.

In the face of an uncertain future, educational institutions are aiming to become more accessible, dynamic spaces for learning, while establishing themselves as forward-thinking hubs of community action and social innovation.

Workplaces are trying to address the diverse lived experiences their people bring to work and to the world. At the same time, they are shouldering more responsibility to improve community wellbeing as faith in traditional institutions falters.

Under pressure, these different groups are faced with the same question. How can they respond to immediate challenges while laying the groundwork for a thriving, shared future that they help make possible?

When exploring this question, there is a concept that provides a key piece of the puzzle—and that’s the concept of “resilience.”

Over the past two decades, resilience has emerged as a counter to the growing narrative of division and distrust.

Resilience enables people and groups to respond to adversity, adapt to change, and lead positive transformation efforts.

Over time, resilience nurtures stronger civic engagement and more vibrant communities, enables greater innovation, and contributes to better health outcomes. The more trusting and connected people feel, the more likely they are to access support and contribute to their community—and the more resilient they become. Resilience is just as much about proactively providing solutions as it is about knowing what to do in the wake of a crisis.

At their core, resilient societies are built on the strength of people’s relationships to one another and to the systems around them. They provide the conditions for healthy bridges to form between community members, service providers, and decision-makers.

Whether you’re a policymaker, education administrator, business leader or community champion, here are three strategies that you can implement to enable a resilient society.

1. Engage in inclusive decision-making processes

Inclusive decision-making processes invite diverse perspectives, incorporate divergent viewpoints, and proactively address conflict amongst participants. They widen the net of who is considered a “valuable” contributor and help redistribute decision-making power.

Including diverse perspectives within a decision-making process isn’t just a vanity exercise. It’s a practice that fosters alignment, validates assumptions, mitigates risks, and expedites timelines to reaching a positive outcome. When decisions are made by a diverse group of engaged participants, they are proven to be more successful.

Questions to consider:

  • In your specific context, what does “inclusivity” look like? Where does it show up in your work, or where is it lacking? 
  • Who are the different stakeholders impacted by decisions you’re responsible for making? Do you know how you intend to meaningfully engage them?
  • In the past when you’ve communicated about decisions made, what feedback did you receive from different stakeholders? What position or perspective did they hold relative to yours?

2. Create opportunities for capacity building

Capacity building is the act of developing knowledge, skills, and approaches within individuals, groups, and systems. It is a process that invests in people's long-term capabilities and provides tools for them to participate in relevant and fulfilling opportunities for growth. This means that when transformative opportunities arise, or disasters hit, people can make sense of what’s in front of them and plan for what’s next.

In practice, capacity building can look like offering training, upskilling, and cultural competency programs; understanding and developing community preparedness; modelling community-based decision-making processes; and investing in grassroots initiatives. 

Building capacity can, and should be, a collaborative process that respectfully harnesses pre-existing community assets be it knowledge, resources, and ways of working. At its best, capacity building should be additive and complementary—not extractive or paternalistic.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the behavioral, attitudinal, and cultural drivers present within your community, and how do these drivers shape how knowledge is generated and skills are developed?
  • What capacity already exists in your community and system?
  • Currently, who are the individuals and groups leading capacity building efforts? Can you support or amplify their work?

3. Make trust building an explicit objective and valued outcome

Whether you’re working with fellow team members, public constituents, or external delivery partners, trust is a must. Far too often trust is assumed and only when a conflict emerges does a gap in trust become apparent. 

Having trust in people, processes, and outcomes is the deciding factor between interventions that make an impact versus those that fall flat.

Studies show that trust plays a stronger role in driving cooperation between people and entities than legally binding contracts do. There is nothing more powerful than leaning into vulnerability and uncertainty with others and being able to walk away richer in good outcomes and relationships.

Questions to consider:

  • What does trust mean to you and others you engage with? How do their definitions and approaches align with or differ from yours?
  • Where can people have the agency to take the lead in a process or project? Are these opportunities explicitly known and easily accessible?
  • How can you tangibly measure trust in your work and across your system?

Resilience is key to addressing today's challenges and strengthening communities of the future.

The three strategies discussed above can help pave the way for a resilient society—with real people and real problems top of mind.

These strategies are also part of the same whole. Strong social connections are forged when people trust one another and the institutions around them. Trust is nurtured when people are involved in making important decisions that affect them. Inclusive decision-making processes are most effective when diverse stakeholders have the capacity to fully participate.

As different groups try to bridge divides, bring value, and contribute to a shared future, building resilience will become exceedingly important.

Governments, businesses, organizations, and community groups need to work together to foster solutions to shared challenges. But we know it’s not easy— or possible—to do this work alone. At Coeuraj, we work with our clients to build resilience and design collaborative solutions. To learn more, reach out to our team.

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