Publishing about resilience requires – resiliencing!

Submitted by editor on 13 April 2020.Get the paper!

NEW FORUM PAPER: "Resilience trinity: safeguarding ecosystem functioning and services across three different time horizons and decision contexts" (Weise et al. 2020)

Resilience, broadly defined as the ability to cope with stress and keep functioning, is a popular concept, not only in psychology and organisation research, but also in ecology, and virtually any discipline dealing with complex systems. Why? Because we can apply the concept directly to ourselves and therefore think that it is straightforward: if we are fit and healthy, we are barely affected by stress or disturbance, or if we are affected, we recover quickly. We also know that our capacity to cope with stress is limited and even more so if we are exposed to multiple stressors.

Does this knowledge make the concept easy to apply to any system? We believe that this is not the case, also because the concept is too vague. Everybody seems to mean different things when talking about resilience, and nobody seems to have a recipe for how to use the concept in concrete terms to assess the condition of a stressed system or to intervene to support it. We, therefore, had the idea to shift the focus from the question: "What is resilience?" to "What is it that we actually want to do to increase or safeguard resilience?". This question would shift the focus to the mechanisms underlying the ability of systems to cope with stress and disturbance.

In analogy to stability/stabilizing we suggested the verbing of resilience: "resiliencing", defined as “restoring, maintaining, or developing resilience mechanisms at all relevant levels of organization and spatial and temporal scales to ensure the sustained supply of ecosystem services to society." We developed our ideas in a series of workshops at our centre, the UFZ, and beyond, also to bring researchers from different disciplines together, in particular from terrestrial and freshwater ecology, conservation biology, ecotoxicology, and social sciences. We produced a quite long and complex article, which has 43 authors, and – failed.

Our article was rejected several times, always with split reviews: a fairly positive one, and a very critical one: Why was that? We realized that whatever you say about resilience, will be understood, and put into different context, by readers with different backgrounds. We, therefore, shortened the manuscript by almost 50% and emphasized that resilience has different connotations and implications on different time scales, which are related to different decision contexts. We distinguished between reactive, adjustive, and provident time scales, and how managing for resilience ("resiliencing") differs between them. We also provided an overview and classification of resilience mechanisms, and how they might be related to the "trinity" of resilience contexts. And, we gave up trying, for the time being, on introducing "resiliencing" as it made the article too complex and we wanted to focus on "trinity" first.

Here is thus our final lesson learnt: when trying to publish about resilience addressing a general audience, be prepared to stress, but also to learn and, eventually, to – resilience.  


Written by: Volker Grimm, Leipzig (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research-UFZ)


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