Assessing social resilience to disasters at the neighbourhood level : co-producing a resilience assessment framework : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (Emergency Management) at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
Disasters of the past decade have drawn considerable attention to the need to build resilient communities and prompted the adoption of disaster resilience policies across communities, cities, and nations. As policies are translated into local actions, policymakers, researchers, and practitioners are advocating for the measurement of disaster resilience as a means to identify areas for improvement, plan interventions, evaluate the effectiveness of resilience strategies, and monitor resilience progress.
The need to assess disaster resilience has spawned a growing body of research examining the underlying drivers of resilience and identifying how disaster resilience can be operationalised and measured. In particular, recent research has focused on the importance of social resilience, which is a component of disaster resilience and refers to the capacity of people and communities to deal with external stresses and shocks, and how it contributes to disaster preparedness, disaster response, and post-disaster recovery. However, while local communities are seen as the frontline in preparing for and responding to disasters, the scale of analysis for much of the existing resilience assessments have focused on the city or higher levels of analysis. Questions thus remain about whether these assessment tools are relevant and applicable at the sub-city or neighbourhood level.
This thesis seeks to develop social resilience assessment measures for neighbourhoods through integrating scientific and local knowledge. Using an appreciative inquiry approach, a workshop with hazard researchers, practitioners, and a policymaker in Wellington, New Zealand, was first conducted in 2015. This was followed in 2016 by a series of focus groups with stakeholders in five neighbourhoods across the Wellington region in New Zealand, and the City and County of San Francisco in the United States. The workshop and focus groups explored how social resilience is conceptualised, its essential characteristics, and neighbourhood-specific contextual influences that shape social resilience levels.
Responses from various stakeholder groups – hazard researcher, emergency practitioner, policymaker, and neighbourhood stakeholder – revealed similarities in how social resilience is perceived. Social resilience is conceptualised as having both cognitive and structural dimensions and is linked to communities’ economic, infrastructural/built, natural, and institutional/governance environments. Cognitive characteristics – those that relate to people’s attitudes, values, and beliefs as well as their mental processes and perceptions of themselves and their environment – include collective efficacy, sense of community and place attachment, decision-making inclusiveness, and unifying leadership at the neighbourhood-level. Structural dimensions relate to discrete features and characteristics of people and communities and include their diversity of skills, education and training; social networks; access to financial resources; and understanding potential hazard risks and impacts. These characteristics form a framework for measuring neighbourhood-level social resilience.
Furthermore, these shared characteristics across different stakeholder groups demonstrate the potential universality of social resilience assessment constructs at the neighbourhood level that could inform new models for measuring disaster resilience. They also provide a foundation for local-level stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, practitioners, and community members) who are looking into baselining neighbourhood disaster resilience using an integrated approach.
While different stakeholder perspectives contain similarities, this thesis finds that common social resilience characteristics are contextual to individual neighbourhoods, reflecting diversity at this level of analysis. By examining the concept of social capital – one of the social resilience characteristics – three key themes were identified that influence the formation, activation, and benefits of social capital resources: community demography, cultural influences on social support, and neighbourhood governance. An assessment framework was proposed that incorporates both quantitative indicators and contextual questions across six structural dimensions (i.e., population stability, neighbourhood-based organisations and groups, coordination between community-based organisations, linkages to cultural and ethnic minority communities, presence and effectiveness of neighbourhood leaders and community-based organisations, and inclusive and transparent government processes) and four cognitive dimensions (i.e., cultural beliefs and expectations, trust, social support, and empowerment through collective action).
Thus, the results of this thesis highlight one important consideration in the development and implementation of resilience assessment tools at this geographic scale. While this research points to potential universality of social resilience assessment constructs and measures, it has also identified the need to consider contextual influences and characteristics when mapping them onto various neighbourhoods.