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Measuring rural community resilience: case studies in New Zealand and Vermont, USA

Penny R Payne, Farm Systems and Environment Team, AgResearch, Ruakura Research Centre
William H Kaye-Blake, New Zealand Institute of Economic Research
Amy Kelsey, Center for Rural Studies, University of Vermont
Margaret Brown, Farm Systems and Environment Team, AgResearch, Grasslands
Meredith T Niles, Food Systems Program, Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont


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To date, methods for assessing community resilience have focused predominantly on disaster recovery. Those that do focus on broader social-ecological and psychological contexts tend to be qualitative and have not been validated at the community scale. This situation reveals a need for quantitative measurement tools for assessing community resilience to slow-moving change such as rural depopulation or climate change. Our research provides a proof of concept across two diverse contexts, New Zealand and Vermont, USA, that community resilience can be quantified and broken down into dimensions of resilience. Using mixed methods, we assessed how eight communities across two countries perceive resilience and compared their perceptions with indicators of resilience in the form of official statistics. Vermonters generally perceived their communities as more resilient than did New Zealanders, and reported different dimensions of resilience as drivers of overall perceptions of resilience. Although institutional resilience was a driver of overall resilience in both countries, social and cultural dimensions of resilience were also drivers in New Zealand, whereas economic and environmental dimensions were drivers of overall resilience in Vermont. Resilience indicators were found to be weakly related or unrelated to community perceptions of resilience. This result suggests that the proposed method for measuring resilience can be used across contexts, but that there is not one type of resilience that is the key to higher levels of overall resilience. It also suggests that the two proxy measures of resilience, i.e., community perceptions and indicators, do not provide a consistent picture of resilience, raising the question of which is a more accurate measure.

Key words

community; framework; indicators; resilience; rural; thresholds

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087