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Publication review: Development process resilience and sustainable development: Insights from the Drylands of Eastern Africa

In the recent years the concept of resilience has received significant attention by development and humanitarian agencies as a framework to cope with environmental shocks and chronic stresses. In East Africa for example, to respond to drought impacts, international investments were primarily designed for strengthening resilience of vulnerable communities in order to help them better prepare and respond to current and future climate shocks.

However, many uncertainties related to the concept of resilience pose several obstacles to its use as a primarily framework for planning investments in disaster risk reduction and development activities. The recently published article “Development process resilience and sustainable development: Insights from the Drylands of Eastern Africa”, provides an analytical and comprehensive review on the major challenges of building resilience and suggests possible solutions to overcome these obstacles.

One of the main challenges when working with resilience building is represented by the lack of a distinct definition of “resilience”. Resilience can be understood differently by different actors and it can be applied to different contexts and scales, such as ecosystem, household, community or national level. Without a clear definition of resilience, the identification of indicators to measure failure and success becomes challenging, posing great obstacles to monitor resilience-building investments.

Still now, for example, institutions face enormous challenges in distinguishing ecological and social resilience attributes, as well as distinguishing transformations from adaptation processes. Acknowledging this, some questions arise: How can we efficiently implement resilience-building interventions without a clear conceptual underpinning? Which indicators of impact should we select to monitor the interventions and respond to the need of more accountability?

In order to overcome these difficulties, an alternative approach to conceptualize resilience is suggested in the article. According to the authors, instead of focusing on resilience of social-ecological system which is rather difficult to put in practice, the development strategies should aim to build resilience of the development process itself, enhancing a continued progress towards sustainable development outcomes.

Therefore, “Rather than monitor resilience of social or social-ecological systems per se, what is important is to measure progress toward development goals and the attributes of the system that confer resilience on that development process",  as stated in the article.

Several indicators can be used to track development process resilience. To illustrate them, the authors provide examples from pastoralist in Eastern Africa. Some indicators are useful for measuring process resilience and also pertinent in measuring resilience of social-ecological systems.

System resilience and development process resilience are in fact in fact closely related. However, whereas resilience of the development process is always desirable, some new regimes of system can pose risks to development resilience. Therefore, assessing the configurations of the social-ecological system that are compatible with resilient development is useful to evaluate the most efficient development strategies and the trade-offs between alternatives. 

Further empirical research is required to identify indicators for process resilience. The authors recommend selecting indicators that should not be contextual specific but unequivocally positive for process resilience. The work is helpful in redefining, or providing an overarching yet explicit concept of resilience. It gives suggestions on how to track the performance of social systems and check their capacity of transformation in order to obtain more effective and sustainable develop interventions. To read the full article click here.


The study reviewed in this blog was conducted under the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The study was authored by Jonathan Davies, Lance W. Robinson and Polly J. Ericksen.

About the author

Martina Antonucci is the Science Communications and Knowledge Management intern at the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.