Learning to Shape Change actively in European Rural Areas
Since the late 1990s the use of the term resilience has experienced a bonanza (Bürkner, 2010; Vogt, 2015). It is now ubiquitous in European cohesion and regional policy and is often used in a transdisciplinary manner (Lukesch, 2015). In the meantime it has risen to become a key element of scientific and popular scientific publications (Vogt 2015). In the context of declining populations, economic degrowth and ecological imbalance, village communities in so-called “shrinking rural areas”, particularly in Western Europe, are perceived mainly as losers (Schneider, 2015). The contentious concept (Christopherson, Michie, & Tyler, 2010; Gruber, 2011; Martin & Sunley, 2014; Wink, Deppisch, Fingerle, Forstmeier, & Thoma, 2016) of resilience may possibly deliver empowering answers for dealing successfully with these threatening processes of change in the countryside.
- What is actually the wider background to the term resilience?
- Is it just another buzzword?
- Or can resilience really provide answers to why some rural communities adapt to change more successfully than others and even why some thrive healthily despite adverse circumstances?
- What does it actually mean to be a resilient village community, and what properties do those which are resilient possess? What do people do there differently than in other villages?
As part of his doctoral project at the Hildesheim Holzminden Göttingen University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Alistair Adam Hernández (MA) deals with finding concrete answers to these questions. Based on his research, he intends to relate the capacity of villages in rural areas of Western Europe to resist and adapt to the concept of resilience. The PhD project comes under the “Research Group for Rural and Village Development” and is financed by the State of Lower Saxony and the Volkswagen Foundation in the Federal Republic of Germany as part of the project “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences as a driving force for regional development“.
In this article, the doctoral candidate presents the state of the debate on resilience in local and regional development, highlights the relevance of the concept of resilience for individual CLLD (Community-Led Local Development) initiatives and also puts forward the interesting results of an analysis of practical handbooks in which concrete indications about the resilient characteristics of local communities are stated.
New answers on how to handle multiple crises and challenges
Various phenomena on a global scale point towards a deep systemic crisis of humankind: the financial and economic crisis, ongoing since 2008, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the rapid loss of biodiversity and soil accompanying climate change, the intensification of social inequality and the crisis of legitimacy affecting democracy are among the many symptoms of this crisis. Whether they be irregular shocks or processes of creeping decay: the temporal convergence of crisis events confronts the human race with what are probably the most massive economic, environmental and social challenges in its history (Etxagibel, Sloan, Belloy, & Loyola, 2012).
Increased awareness of these crises and challenges in all walks of life, but especially in rural areas, has no doubt led in recent years to a more intensive search for appropriate answers. Against this backdrop, concepts such as vulnerability and resilience have been enjoying a boom since as early as the late 1990s (Bürkner, 2010; Vogt, 2015) and are used for the purpose of bettering analysis and managing change processes across a very broad spectrum of disciplines.
Resilience in particular appears again and again in the parlance of an amazing number of scientific disciplines and is now also the subject of popular science publications and of a broad range of guidebooks aimed at resilient individuals, groups or entire organizations. Whether it be used by engineers, material scientists, ecologists, psychologists, geographers or economists: the term resilience is used with different foci, nuances and meanings (Zolli & Healy, 2013). This diversity of disciplines and interpretations does not exactly contribute to helping to make the concept and its content simple and understandable to the general public.
A definition of resilience which is shortest, most understandable and covers all disciplines is: the capacity of a system to absorb shocks and undergo change while still maintaining its essential functions, structures, identity and feedbacks. (Schneider, 2016; Walker & Salt, 2006; Zolli & Healy, 2013)
In the realm of spatial and regional sciences the term has been traditionally applied above all in relation to preventing and overcoming natural hazards and disasters (Bürkner, 2010). Recently, however, a definition of resilience equally marked by the social and natural sciences has become established.
Based on interdisciplinary socio-ecological research at the society-biosphere interface, scientific findings concerning the management (governance) and controllability of complex systems have emerged (Folke, 2006) that come very close to the requirements of spatial and regional sciences (Wink et al., 2016). In many cases, these findings have been gained as a result of close feedback between science and practice within the framework of projects and as a result of decades of a tradition of sustainable and participatory local and regional development.
In the general context of social, economic and ecological change and major challenges to local communities, it is science’s task to gather information on these matters, to design and try out tools to handle change successfully and to make them accessible to local communities. The scientific examination of the concept of resilience and putting it to practical use provide a great opportunity to meet these tasks and challenges and to provide local communities with effective influence on their positive development, taking individual freedom and democratic decision-making processes into account (Wink 2015).
But before we delve deeper into the concept of resilience and discuss the resilient characteristics of rural communities, first of all it is important to narrow down the definition of a question: what are these adverse circumstances or challenging processes of change against which the resilience of villages and rural communities needs to be built?
European villages and rural areas face threatening processes of change
Based on what are mostly negative press headlines like: “Rural areas hardly profit” (Westphalian News, 2016), or book titles such as “Rural Exodus 3.0” (Eichert and Löffler, 2015) that appear on a daily basis, it is clear that in public discussion rural areas are held to be the losers of current developments in the European Union (EU). Since a major part of the Union – over 50% of the population, about 90% of the territory (EU Commission, 2016) and about 20% of the jobs (European Network for Rural Development ENRD, 2016) – consists of very varying rural areas, this should be a cause for concern.
More specifically, challenges such as demographic and structural economic change are responsible for a self-reinforcing, downward spiral of shrinkage in rural areas (Harteisen & Eigner-Thiel, 2016). The aging, migration and the overall decline in the population in villages leads to under-utilization of the technical and social infrastructure (Born, 2009). Against this background, necessary services of general interest in the fields of education, local supply, health, infrastructure or mobility are not economically viable and maintaining them in view of already strained public budgets is exposed to enormous pressure.
In the private sector, unoccupied properties and the fall in property values results in a significant reduction in the attractiveness of rural areas which in turn, and added to the prevailing skills shortage, (Wink et al., 2016) leads to there being no framework to incentivise the conservation of value creation and entrepreneurship in the countryside.
But by no means does this distressing situation apply across the board to all villages and rural regions of the European Union. The existing variety of “countrysides” or “ruralities” (Ward and Brown 2009; Roberts et al. 2016; Sánchez-Zamora, Gallardo-Cobos, and Cena Delgado 2016) also offers plenty of space both for thriving rural regions as well as courageous rural communities that, despite adversity, develop their own appropriate strategies for adaptation, preserving their own quality of life (Born, 2009).
A thorough analysis of the overall picture of European rural areas allows us to refute the lack of alternatives noticeable in public discourse (Kröhnert, Kuhn, Karsch, & Klingholz, 2011) and soberly assess the extent of the challenges. It is also clear from this analysis that citizens in country areas are the ones who have to shoulder the responsibility for pioneering work to achieve a breakthrough in the growth paradigm.
Since in dealing with change, but in particular with the unstoppable trend of shrinkage, there are not yet any generally accepted recipes for success, there is a real social need to design new approaches. This would allow rural areas and the active citizens there to take on an essential leading role in finding genuine, sustainable development.
Given the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead for rural areas in the European Union, in what way can looking through the lens of resilience identify new paths towards positive change?
Resilience is an equally confusing, enlightening and empowering concept
The concept of resilience is derived from cybernetics  and has a rich history which goes hand in hand with a significant broadening of its original meaning (Gallopín, 2006). The Latin origin of the term (resilire: “spring back” or “bounce”) describes the ability of a system to tolerate disturbance (Lukesch, Payer, & Winkler-Rieder, 2010) and only gives away one of its possible interpretations.
Consequently resilience, which is understood as meaning robustness or persistence, puts the focus on maintaining the status quo and stability in the system under consideration. In addition, the initial effects of disturbance can be compensated for in the system by a kind of shock absorption and the system as a whole will “spring back” to its original state. This perspective has been adopted from the physical-technical view of the engineering sciences and has been further developed in an interdisciplinary manner and applied to systems by social ecology (Lukesch, 2016). Thus now it is rather adaptability in the face of new conditions and even an ability to transform radically that have come to the fore in the discussion on resilience.
Both the appeal and also the potential for confusion of the term resilience lie in the diversity of interpretations mentioned and especially in the harmonious association of ability to resist and of ability to change in one and the same term. However, it must be made clear that resilience is neither good nor bad (Walker, 2013); contrary to the conventional interpretation, it is not obligatory that vulnerability is always given a negative interpretation and resilience a positive one (Christmann, Ibert, Kilper, & Moss, 2011). First of all it depends on the subjective evaluation or the normative assessment of “whence” and “whither” the system changes. The concept of resilience has great appeal as it thus forms a semantic connection between apparently opposing notions, between preservation and change.
But despite the apparent contradictions, all interpretations of the resilience concept share a common body of thought: they describe the successful handling of disturbance (a shock, adverse circumstances) by the ability to adapt or finding ways to reduce vulnerability (Wink et al., 2016). Lastly, resilience is understood rather as a process of constant development in the face of ongoing changes and not as a result or a stable state (Sánchez-Zamora et al., 2016; Uriarte, 2013, p. 12).
 Cybernetics, according to one of its founding fathers Norbert Wiener, is the science of control and regulation of machines, living organisms and social organizations and has also been described as “the art of controlling”.
Systems and complexity thinking is the core of resilience thinking
The significant contributions of social ecology (Gunderson and Holling, 2002; Walker and Salt, 2006; Kotschy et al. 2015) in the past 30 years in the context of ecosystem research have helped to comprehend resilience as an internal control mechanism of a system (Lukesch, 2016) and to consider the changes acting on the system from a complexity perspective. The development of this view has its roots in systemic thinking and has been influenced by ecology, philosophy, logic, biology, psychology, medicine and physics (Baumfeld, Hummelbrunner, & Lukesch, 2009).
Systemic and complexity thinking helps in understanding the multidimensional nature and interconnectedness of current and future challenges, as well as their importance for systems that are themselves complex (Lerch, 2015). If rural areas or villages are defined as a reference system, it can be noticed that the processes of change (phenomena) taking place are conditioned by multiple and converging factors whose interaction prevents them being considered and analysed in isolation. The system consists of heterogeneous and interlinked elements and functions which are exposed to non-linear dynamics and abrupt changes. Finally, rural areas and villages form part of the space (biophysical characteristics such as landscape, nature, biodiversity, etc.) and of the self-organizing and self-managing social system (people, relationships, institutions, culture, legislation, etc.). Thus they can be considered as complex adaptive socio-ecological systems (Adger, 2000; Ambrosio-Albala & Delgado, 2008; Schouten, van der Heide, Heijman, & Opdam, 2012; Schouten, Van der Heide, & Heijman, 2009).
Once the complex and adaptive nature of rural areas and villages and their condition as socio-ecological systems have been determined, the following might be a definition of rural or of village resilience: the ability of a rural area or a village to absorb the disturbance of multiple crisis processes, to undergo change while preserving essential functions, structures, and maintaining a satisfactory quality of life for citizens.
Resilience thinking within the scope of European rural development theory and practice
The study of European rural areas in the framework of the concept of resilience and from a complexity perspective is not new. Wim Heijman was the first (2007) to look at rural areas as complex and adaptive socio-ecological systems in the context of European rural development (Heijman, Hagelaar, & Van der Heide, 2007; Rivas Portillo & Ríos, 2014). From this initial introduction and application, the use of the concept developed towards the evaluation of resilient rural development policy in the EU (Schouten et al., 2012, 2009).
At the same time other authors explored related topics of spatial and regional sciences in the light of resilience, such as resilient regional development (Lukesch et al., 2010), more resilient civil protection (Kuhlicke, Steinführer, Begg, & Luther, 2012) or resilient neighbourhood development (Schnur, 2013). Lastly, the long and rich tradition of resilient local or community development from the English-speaking world (Barter, 2013; Colussi, 1999; Hegney D., Ross H., Baker P., Rogers- Clark C., King C., Buikstra E., Watson-Luke A., McLachlan K., 2008; Lerch, 2015; Schwind, 2009; Stolte & Metcalfe, 2009; Wilding, 2011) merits mention.
In the context of spatial and regional sciences the concept of resilience supports capacity building in socio-ecological systems, helping actors to deal with disturbance or crises. However, due to the creation of a construct in real time, in other words as a situation unfolds, making practical use of the concept of resilience proves to be problematic (Christmann et al., 2011).
Identifying and measuring resilient system properties or attributes therefore pose a challenge (Steiner & Markantoni, 2013), because from the complexity perspective, most phenomena or difficulties represent “wicked problems” which in the solving probably bring about unexpected consequences and new problems (Darnhofer, Lamine, & Knickel, 2013).
Since from a complexity perspective the production of causal links cannot result in any absolute truth and certainty, the task of practitioners and theorists is to use the conceptual framework of resilience to set processes of reflection and learning in motion and to widen the room for manoeuvre in dealing with change.
Added value of applying resilience thinking to European rural development theory and practice
Despite the limitations mentioned, on the basis of the complexity perspective the concept of resilience manages to show that strategies and measures to control or prevent change are not worthwhile. It is more worthwhile to understand the adaptation mechanisms of complex systems in order to shape unstoppable change and cope with it or guide it. Promoting and controlling resilience increases the likelihood of maintaining sustainable and desirable paths of development in the context of changing conditions (Folke, 2006).
From the perspective of spatial and regional sciences, this conscious and thought-through dealing with change (Schneider, 2016) permits a holistic and dynamic understanding of rural areas, leading to more successful interventions and analyses (Swanstrom, 2008). Thus in the context of rural development, resilience thinking helps to invalidate once and for all the outdated, uncoordinated, sectoral and horizontal top-down approach (Ambrosio-Albala & Delgado, 2008).
Based on a holistic and multidisciplinary perspective, this approach is contrasted with testing out alternative life and economic styles whose development is based on a participative, innovative, networked, place-based and cross-sector approach.
Findings on the practical application of resilience in regional, rural and community development practice
As described at the beginning, the concept of resilience is nowadays an integral part of European Cohesion and Regional Policy and is used there in far-reaching and cross-disciplinary fashion (Lukesch, 2015). However, authors point out that in the context of spatial and regional sciences, what is needed is both in-depth theorizing (Bürkner, 2010; Cheshire, Esparcia, & Shucksmith, 2015; Lukesch et al., 2010; Schouten et al., 2012) and field testing of further approaches to its practical application, (Wink et al., 2016) especially in matters of rural development (Sánchez-Zamora et al., 2016) .
The literature review presented in this article points out the range and level of detail to which resilience thinking has penetrated rural, regional and local development up to the present. A significant number of project reports, practical handbooks, scientific articles and studies deal with this subject from different angles. For an in-depth analysis, 15 documents with clear practical relevance and a detailed description of so-called more resilient characteristics or of possible core principles of resilience were analysed (see table).
|Document – Title||Authors||Country||Year||Type||Background / Discipline|
|The Community Resilience Manual – a resource for rural recovery and renewal||M. Colussi||CA||1999||Practical handbook||Rural development|
|Innovation in Rural Queensland: Why some Towns Thrive while others Languish||Plowman, Ashkanasy et al.||AU||2003||Report||Rural development|
|Resilience thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World||Walker und Salt||USA||2006||Book||Social ecology|
|Building Resilience in Rural Communities Toolkit||Hegney, Ross et al.||AU||2008||Practical handbook||Psychology and rural development|
|Beyond Economic Survival: 97 Ways Small Communities Can Thrive – A Guide to Community Vitality||Stolte und Metcalfe||CA||2009||Practical handbook||Community development|
|Localisation and Resilience at the Local Level: The Case of Transition Town Totnes||R. Hopkins||UK||2010||Dr. Thesis||Community development|
|Wie gehen Regionen mit Krisen um? Eine explorative Studie über die Resilienz von Regionen||Lukesch, Payer et al.||AT||2010||Exploratory study||Regional development|
|Exploring Community Resilience in times of rapid change||N. Wilding||UK||2011||Practical handbook||Community development|
|Regionale Resilienz – Neue Anforderungen für Österreichs Regionalpolitik?||M. Gruber||AT||2011||Report||Regional development|
|Resilience – Why things bounce back||Zolli und Healy||USA||2013||Book||Popular scientific|
|Strengthening Neighbourhood Resilience – Opportunities for Communities & Local Development||S. Barter||CA||2013||Practical handbook||Neighbourhood development|
|Principles for Building Resilience – Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems||Kotschy, Biggs et al.||USA, SE et al.||2015||Book||Social ecology|
|Community Resilience To Climate Change: an Evidence Review||Twigger-Ross, Brooks et al.||UK||2015||Report||Civil protection and climate change|
|Rural Vibrancy in North-West Europe – The Case of South Kerry||B. O´Keeffe||EI, DE||2015||Practical handbook||Rural development|
|Six Foundations for Building Community Resilience||D. Lerch||USA||2015||Practical handbook||Community development|
Based on this literature review, it was found that the material from three bodies of research is of particular importance for the conceptualization of resilience in the spatial and regional sciences. These are the findings from social ecology, psychology and community development. The findings come from research on human interaction with the surrounding ecosystem and from the ability of individuals and communities to withstand adverse conditions and to adapt.
Frequently, other related terms are used in place of resilience, for instance when talking about vital, thriving, vibrant or prospering rural areas. The documents show various approaches to its practical application in rural, regional and community development and point to the following core principles or characteristics that foster or increase resilience:
Widely used among the documents analysed are characteristics such as 1) the diversity and 2) the connectedness of system elements, 3) learning and self-reflection within the system, 4) so-called polycentric governance structures as well as 5) the state of social capital in the system. Also present, but of a lower significance, are aspects such as 6) the attitudes, values and beliefs of groups and individuals in the system, 7) the role of leadership, 8) the active adoption of a system and a complexity perspective and the importance of 9) a (re-)localized economy, 10) ecological limits and 11) a minimum level of physical infrastructure and services of general interest.
The characteristics or principles of resilience mentioned are described in more detail below:
A pronounced heterogeneity – variety, balance and disparity – of system elements is described in the majority of the documents analysed as a source of a greater degree of resilience. Diversity allows for the division of labour, specialization, innovation and a wealth of alternatives or optional courses of action in dealing with disturbance. Increasing diversity may possibly be in conflict with simplicity and efficiency in the system and in extreme cases can also lead to a reduction of resilience due to an increase in existing complexity: for instance, in socio-ecological systems the heterogeneity of the actors leads to more complex decision-making processes and conflicts about aims, which, as mentioned before, may produce winners and losers. Some authors point to the property of redundancy which is directly related to diversity. Redundancy is the diversity of reaction with which, in the event of a disturbance, system elements take over the functions of other negatively-affected components. This property promotes specifically the robustness of the system and is inconsistent with optimality and efficiency. Throughout the literature analysed, the principle of diversity is applied in many varied ways to environmental, social, economic, topographical, personal and business parameters.
2. Inner connectedness or linkages
The way in which social, environmental or economic system elements are interconnected is the subject of discussion in almost all the documents analysed. The structure and intensity of the interaction of individual elements determine how and how much energy, resources or information flow through the socio-ecological system with a direct relevance to its resilience. However, the management of system connectedness proves tricky. The existence of strong ties or feedback loops can facilitate the early detection of problems but at the same time they promote the rapid spread of a disturbance through the system. Here it seems that a modular networked system, i.e.: a system in which individual parts are relatively independent, but are configured with sufficient dependence among each other, is a feature that promotes resilience. Modular systems permit low maintenance costs of the communication connections, efficient and fast information transfer and high stability.
3. Learning and self-reflection
In a complex environment of constant change, resilient socio-ecological systems depend on constantly developing their understanding and knowledge of influences and processes that are taking place. Introspection and self-learning skills are essential for this purpose. Behavioural changes, new skills and answers or responses to challenges for both individuals and for the community arise from a formal or informal learning process. A deeper and broader understanding of context and complexity also develops new interests, provides new opportunities and in so doing creates meaning, hope and self-esteem. The development of a climate open to experiment, of exchange of knowledge and skills and of innovation thus acts to encourage resilience. Finally, successful self-reflection requires recurrent and systematic questioning of the following points: one’s own actions, the key assumptions of these actions and the values and institutions in which one’s own actions are embedded.
4. Structures of governance
Another key factor making for higher resilience of socio-ecological systems is the capacity to facilitate collective action and decision-making processes. Successfully leading these processes means finding a balance between the autonomy, cooperation and dependence of the stakeholders at different scales of the decision-making processes. This is referred to in the literature as a polycentric governance system and serves as the foundation for further resilient characteristics of the system. Balanced and functioning structures of governance are the source of institutional diversity, wider participation, a culture fostering learning and experimentation, as well as improved connectivity, modularity and redundancy in the system. Here, however, lies a major challenge in dealing with the conflicts of aims and interests that are carried out in the open, as well as with the winners and losers of the decisions taken.
5. Social capital
The term social capital, taken from sociology and a controversial one in the scientific community, can be found with a variety of interpretations in the great majority of the documents analysed and is considered an important indicator of resilience in socio-ecological systems. Aspects such as a trusting and supportive atmosphere, a strong culture of cooperation and a strong sense of belonging within the community ensure greater resilience. The sum of contacts and relations among individuals form social networks that function based on their own rules of trust and reciprocity. Social capital can be fostered to achieve greater resilience by reinforcing:
– “bonding capital” (strong connections within the inner circle responsible for trust, reciprocity and sense of community);
– “bridging capital” (looser connections in the wider group responsible for the exchange of ideas, innovation and the launching of significant changes);
– “linking-capital” (connections between different levels of power and status responsible for the balance of interests and access to external resources).
6. Attitudes, values and beliefs
From the specific point of view of community development, the world view of individuals and communities is of importance both for their adaptability and for their continuing progress. Parameters mentioned, such as self-efficacy, readiness for change, optimism, ability to accept new views or a hands-on attitude are known from psychology. The definitions of this intangible capital are sometimes difficult to separate from those of social capital. The most commonly used distinguishing feature is the focus on personal thought patterns such as attitudes, values and beliefs. Nonetheless, these can be shared by a group or community and applied in daily life.
Within a resilient socio-ecological system, the role of those with a special social responsibility for the interplay of the actors, as well as for functioning and satisfactory decision-making, is crucial. In particular, this is ensured by leadership which is consensual, mediating and which moderates between conflicts of interest. In addition, attention should be paid to managing to represent all parties, continuous renewal and an equitable distribution of leadership in the system.
8. Complex adaptive systems thinking
As already explained, an understanding of phenomena that is systemic and takes account of complexity is the core of resilience thinking. From this perspective, systems are always exposed to non-linear dynamics and random disturbances. An analysis of simple cause-and-effect relationships is inadequate to develop an understanding of complex change processes where system elements are interwoven. The consideration of complex and adaptive systems from different angles and considering multiple impacting factors makes for more effective interventions or alternatively active management of change.
9. A (re-)localized economic and financial system
Most practical handbooks from community development point to the importance of place-based and dynamic economic development to give local communities a higher degree of resilience. In addition to the availability of funding for local initiatives, widely-supported development planning is also crucial. Many handbooks underline the benefits of an owner and entrepreneur structure with roots in the community in order to avoid any decisions being taken by outsiders far away.
10. Ecological limits and natural resources
In some documents, the recognition of limits to the ecological system is explicitly mentioned as a key factor influencing resilience. Creating awareness is heavily emphasised as a way of achieving sustainable use of natural resources both at local and global level.
11. The physical infrastructure and basic services of general interest
Last of all, isolated references can be found in the literature to a lower limit to infrastructure and services that is important for the survival of local communities. Maintaining a minimum level of functioning services of general interest and the availability of places where people can meet and events can take place are a key factor for positive development and a higher degree of resilience.
What might resilient villages and rural areas look like in the light of these characteristics?
It may be that classifying villages on the basis of resilient and non-resilient is misleading. As already mentioned, resilience is a process of continuous development and not a state that once achieved can then be shelved. Despite all this, from the literature reviewed, first indications of characteristics or basic principles of socio-ecological systems that contribute to the formation of resilience were able to be found. Thus, in a comparison between several communities it is possible to determine which of them have a higher degree of resilience than others.
In a somewhat more resilient village, the density and functionality of social relationships would be crucial. If social networks are able to create an atmosphere of trust and a strong sense of belonging among the individuals, the basis for an adaptable and solution-oriented community would be given. Also strong bonds with other villages or with higher-level systems such as politics, the public administration, companies or other institutions could provide important knowledge, contacts and resources in order to overcome challenges.
In addition, opportunities and tools for learning new skills or behaviours seem to be important for deciding how the inhabitants’ own village develops. Since there are no clear or easy answers to complex problems in a rapidly changing environment, only active and intensive involvement of the local community with the many facets of the challenges mentioned can have an empowering effect. If, in addition, the attitudes, values and beliefs of the inhabitants are mainly positive and forward-looking, then the stable foundations for a resilient village would be laid.
Furthermore, the quality of local democracy was able to be identified as a characteristic regulating resilience. A balanced control, regulation and decision-making system is considered to ensure authentic participation of a broad range of interests within the community. To achieve this, leadership that encourages mediation and participation is extremely important. Those people with a special social responsibility provide (in addition to the established structures and institutions in the context of decision-making) fair participation, balance of power, transparency and mutual trust.
Furthermore, a pronounced diversity of citizens and resources in the community is considered to be a source of a greater degree of resilience. The diversity of origin, culture, opinion, experience or expertise is the basis for the division of labour, specialization and innovation. This also offers a wealth of options to effectively face the challenges prevailing in rural areas. The prerequisite for this is that the inhabitants deal in tolerant fashion with their own diversity and are able to generate added value from their differences.
Finally, in the literature analysed, a number of complementary factors have been named as promoting resilience. Among them are the efforts of communities to keep their economic structures in the hands of local people and the availability of financing for community projects. This also includes using natural resources responsibly and recognising ecological limits. Finally, a minimum level of services of general interest and the availability of places where people can meet and community events can take place are the final key factors for positive development and a greater degree of resilience.
Further considerations and work pending
In the last section a first attempt was made to extract the basic principles encountered in the literature of resilience or resilient characteristics of villages and rural areas. The results of the literature review presented provide a firm starting point for the development of the author’s own conceptual framework for resilience in rural areas or villages, such as intended in the research still pending.
The Authors own conceptual framework regarding resilience (which forms the hypothesis for his doctoral thesis) is intended to be transferred and tried out in the context of an empirical study on various European villages in English, Spanish and German-speaking countries. The findings arising from the research are intended to corroborate, among other things, not only the suitability of the characteristics listed to support positive avenues of development in the light of the challenges mentioned in rural areas and villages, but also to create a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that are responsible for controlling these characteristics.
Overall the dissertation is intended to make a contribution to anchoring resilience research more firmly in regional policy theory and practice, as well as to attempt to make the conceptual framework of resilience useful in a practical manner based on concrete analysis and applications for those engaged on a daily basis in village and regional development. The completion of the thesis is scheduled for 2019.
Alistair Adam Hernández
Research Assistant | Research Group “Rural Areas and Village Development”
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen
Faculty of Resource Management | Göttingen