We live in a world of increasing dynamism and volatility, where technology and greater interconnectedness have accelerated change and altered the way people live.

Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.

Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.

Humans are not born with resilience—we learn it, adapt it, and improve upon it. The same is true for organizations, systems and societies.

Resilient systems, organizations, or individuals possess five characteristics in good times and in times of stress. They are:

  • Aware. Awareness means knowing what your strengths and assets are, what liabilities and vulnerabilities you have, and what threats and risks you face. Being aware is not a static condition; it’s the ability to constantly assess, take in new information, reassess and adjust your understanding of the most critical and relevant strengths and weaknesses and other factors on the fly. This requires methods of sensing and information-gathering, including robust feedback loops, such as community meetings or monitoring systems for a global telecommunications network.
  • Diverse. Diversity implies that a person or system has a surplus of capacity such that it can successfully operate under a diverse set of circumstances, beyond what is needed for every-day functioning or relying on only one element for a given purpose. Diversity includes redundancy, alternatives, and back-ups, so it can call up reserves during a disruption or switch over to an alternative functioning mode. Being diverse also means that the system possesses or can draw upon a range of capabilities, information sources, technical elements, people or groups.
  • Self-Regulating. This means elements within a system behave and interact in such a way as to continue functioning to the system’s purpose, which means it can deal with anomalous situations and interferences without extreme malfunction, catastrophic collapse, or cascading disruptions. This is sometimes called “islanding” or “de-networking”—a kind of failing safely that ensures failure is discrete and contained. A self-regulating system is more likely to withstand a disruption, less likely to exacerbate the effects of a crisis if it fails, and is more likely to return to function (or be replaced) more quickly once the crisis has passed.
  • Integrated. Being integrated means that individuals, groups, organizations and other entities have the ability to bring together disparate thoughts and elements into cohesive solutions and actions. Integration involves the sharing of information across entities, the collaborative development of ideas and solutions, and transparent communication with people and entities that are involved or affected. It also refers to the coordination of people groups and activities. Again, this requires the presence of feedback loops.
  • Adaptive. The final defining characteristic of resilience is being adaptive: the capacity to adjust to changing circumstances during a disruption by developing new plans, taking new actions, or modifying behaviors so that you are better able to withstand and recover from a disruption, particularly when it is not possible or wise to go back to the way things were before. Adaptability also suggests flexibility, the ability to apply existing resources to new purposes or for one thing to take on multiple roles.

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To celebrate our 100th birthday, we are excited to launch 100 Resilient Cities — a $100 million effort to build urban resilience around the world. Learn more