(RE-)Assessing Resilience: Back to Design
March 24, 2015

This week, Education for Peacebuilding M&E would like to introduce one of the resources available to the community; Assessing Resilience: Why Quantification Misses the Point by Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute.

Resilience in Education for Peacebuilding may be defined as “the ability of children, communities and systems to anticipate, prevent, withstand, adapt to and recover from stresses and shocks while advancing the rights of all children.” Understanding what resilience is in a specific context and how to assess and measure it in meaningful ways enables  practitioners in the education for peacebuilding field to address root causes to chronic or embedded weaknesses at the  individual, communal, or societal level.  Simon Levine’s report addresses many challenges inherent in conceptualizing and measuring resilience by deconstructing current approaches and encouraging practitioners to focus on implementing existing good practice around analysis, assessment, and monitoring meant to understand the uncertainties and constraints of people living in fragile contexts. The key is not to reinvent the wheel, but instead focus on applying established practices in new contexts.

Measuring resilience is challenging, both as a diagnostic tool and as a way to assess impact. This is in part because as more fields have adopted resilience, the definition has become wider and fuzzier; morphing into a concept  that seeks to link relief, food security, human security, and climate change to sustainable development with a focus on vulnerability. Attempts to unify these different fields’ perspectives has led to the systematic and incorrect assumption that resilience is a concrete thing, rather than a lens for monitoring and evaluating impact.

This underlying belief is not only shaping efforts to quantify resilience, but also the ways in which efforts are being designed to develop it. Levine’s report tackles inherent assessment issues embedded in programs operating from this backdrop. Two are summarized below:

Many models define resilience as a function of how far people fall and how fast they recover from shocks and stresses, but ignore where they fall to. These models cannot assess to what degree people have coped through crises nor can they measure how badly they suffered during them. Other models focus on placing people above or below  a  pre-defined resilience threshold. This makes it impossible to say how resilient a person is because, by such models, a person either is or is not. Such models cannot take into account the transitional aspects of resilience, nor can they assess what it takes for a person to remain above such thresholds.

Instead of relying on the models described above, Levine emphasizes that existing good practice around analysis, assessment and monitoring should be used more frequently in addressing the following needs:


  • Establishing impact monitoring to inform the management of interventions and policy;
  • Applying learning about which interventions and policies are most useful for which populations in which situations;
  • Understanding better the determinants of resilience to various threats in different contexts;
  • Making a political or advocacy case for investment in resilience; and
  • Being accountable to those providing funds for investing in resilience

So what does that look like in action? InterAction’s four-part guidance note series on impact evaluation is a great resource for practitioners to use to ensure that their interventions are designed in such ways that their impacts are evaluable, emphasizing the use of situation and risk analysis, theories of change, and results frameworks. UNICEF’s Peacebuilding Education and Advocacy in Conflict-affected Contexts program is already applying context specific determinants to their questionnaires for measuring resilience; determinants such as risks, individual skills and coping strategies, and access to positive, community-level resources. These determinants are drawn from several resiliency scales from the World Bank’s “Resilience in Education Systems: Rapid Assessment Manual” and the Healthy Kids’ Resilience and Youth Development Module, combining thinking from different disciplines to address problems of fragility and vulnerability. This approach allows practitioners to produce more relevant, quantified data, which in turn provides more nuanced and accurate understanding of people’s lives and needs, ultimately allowing practitioners to implement more effective interventions.

Levine’s critique on the search for a universal measure of resilience is not a call to give up on measurement or more rigorous assessment, but rather to focus efforts on better quantifying the most pertinent data, which in turn should be determined by the reasons why quantified understanding is wanted in the first place. “Improving the way resilience is measured should mean changing the institutional emphasis placed on evidence collection and analysis and our understanding of how people cope with difficulties, uncertainty and constraints to their agency.” To learn more about resilience and how it can be operationalized,  Check out the full report here!


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