Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Measuring resilience: the Tao of CARRI

As long-time readers of the blog may remember, I often try to apply the teachings of Sun Tzu in the Art of War to everyday life.  One of the important elements in this Taoist philosophy of military strategy is the Way – the Tao.  In a previous post, I expanded on the Way as seen through the lens of community resilience:

The Way is a complex compounding of vision, communication, and trust that provides a signpost to any member of the community in reaching decisions.  The resilient community strives to achieve a coherence – a moral accord – an agreement – a shared vision across the entire community about what the community should be.  If a community has a recovery plan or – better yet – a strategic plan, it can inform those hundreds or thousands of individual decisions made during recovery so that the overall outcome is positive.  Thus, it is useful for communities to develop recovery plans before disasters, to lay out the general principles by which all in the community will act.

In the previous post, I took a very general look at measuring resilience.  To briefly recap, I pointed out five difficulties that had to be faced in measuring resilience:

  • Resilience is an emergent property revealed through community action.
  • A community’s resilience depends on the type of shock it undergoes, the magnitude of the shock, and the structure and behavior patterns of the community.
  • A community’s resilience is a manifestation of the strengths of the community; and vulnerabilities are not always the opposite of strengths.
  • The metrics used for measuring resilience depend on the purpose(s) of the measurement.
  • Each part of the community has its own resilience.

I also threatened promised to describe what we at CARRI have done in development of our Community Resilience System (CRS) and our Campus Resilience Enhancement System (CaRES).  In other words, I’ll lay out the framework we at CARRI have used (our Tao) for measuring community resilience.  I’ll do that in the context of the seven questions I posed at the end of the last post.

1.  What is the purpose of the measurement?  How will the metrics be used?

For both CaRES and the CRS, we want to predict resilience to each of the types of disruption a campus or a community may face.  Essentially, we’re trying to determine the end-state – better, worse, or the same – after a disruption (my alter ego – “Bubba” Dooley – will weigh in on this in my next post).

For the CRS, we chose to look at each cause of disruption – e.g., natural disasters, pandemics, recessions.  We tried to be a little smarter in CaRES and focused on the consequences of disruption.  In other words, how well would the campus recover from extensive damage, no matter the cause.

2.  Who will use the metrics?

In both cases, we intend the leadership of the campus or the community to use the metrics to identify and prioritize actions.  The idea behind this is that the leaders are the ones who normally are the prime movers for action, and will ensure that action is actually taken.

3.  Who will collect the data?

For both CaRES and the CRS, subject matter experts (SMEs) are tasked to provide the data needed.  Many researchers have used publicly available data (e.g., from the Census) to develop resilience metrics.  CARRI provided community leaders with an extensive “Community Snapshot” in the CRS.  We have found that while some of this may be useful, in general this data provided an incomplete picture of community resilience, and was not used by community leaders.  Further, leaders usually trust their local subject matter experts who they see every day more than faceless researchers.

4.  In what domains will data be collected?

The fifth difficulty mentioned above drove us to measure each part of the community or campus.  We at CARRI have chosen to parse the community or campus into “service areas” – functional domains organized around the service(s) produced.  For the CRS, we have defined 18 community service areas; for CaRES, 15 campus service areas.  We could have done this at a higher level (e.g., the Seven Capitals; or the four categories used by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Cities initiative); or at a more detailed level (e.g., breaking down each service area into its component parts).  The key is having a way to consistently and assuredly do a “360 look” at the community.

5.  How will data be collected?

We originally believed that SMEs could collect the data on their own with little assistance.  While that is sometimes true, we found that a facilitated model – one in which a group of SMEs are led through the process of data collection – works best.  Thus, CARRI has provided service area “maps” for both the CRS and CaRES that identify the appropriate SMEs (by function) for each service area.  These are used by a facilitator to ensure that the right people are in the room.  The facilitator then asks the group simple questions that force the group to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

6.  When and how frequently should data be collected?

Ideally, data should be collected prior to a disruptive event so that leadership can spur action to shore up weaknesses.  Once an action plan is developed, then data for managing each project should be collected as frequently as necessary for effective management.  However, the most complete answer is before, during and after a crisis.

7.  How do we know the metrics are valid?

This, of course, is the $64 question.  Virtually none of the resilience measurement schemes proposed or in use have been validated, i.e., no one has compared their resilience measurements with the outcome of a disruption.  Thus, we at CARRI have taken a somewhat unconventional approach.  As has been observed many times in the social sciences and disaster literature, disruptions of any type lead to a “loss-recovery” curve (See the attached graphic).  A community (or a campus) is rocking along on some trajectory, when an external shock occurs.  This changes the functional capacity of each service area (region shaded green in the figure).  Generally the disruption also reduces the overall vitality of the community or campus.  The campus or community then acts to re-establish its capacity (region shaded red in the figure).  The overlap of the red and green areas is meant to reflect that the community is talking action to respond and recover even while losses are occurring.  The loss-recovery curve is thus the foundation on which we’ve built our metrics.

Deconvoluted curve