Researchers study community resilience to improve understanding and prediction, as well as to enhance resilience in communities facing natural hazards, economic disruption and other challenges.
However, says Kreg Lindberg, associate professor of tourism, recreation and adventure leadership at OSU Cascades, much of the research literature covering resilience remains conceptual and difficult for communities to use. Lindberg’s goal is to change that. He wants to empirically evaluate resilience and the factors that contribute to it.
“There are significant challenges in doing so, and one often relies on subjective or indirect measures,” Lindberg says. “But improved empirical evaluation is fundamental to understanding issues such as how to enhance resilience and the degree of resilience generalizability. For example, if a community is resilient concerning natural hazard X, is it also likely to be resilient for natural hazard Y or economic challenge Z?”
Lindberg has recently completed two research projects involving community resilience.
On the Oregon coast, Lindberg and his team implemented a general population survey to assess community resilience perceptions across types of challenges, like natural disasters and economic disruption.
In the process of identifying a scale to assess perceived resilience, Lindberg noticed that the scales used in previous studies mixed indicators of resilience with the factors that might affect resilience. For example, a scale might include level of agreement with the statement “the residents of my town will continue to receive municipal services during an emergency situation” and with the statement: “my community has effective leaders.”
The first statement is a good indicator of a community’s resilience – how it will thrive in the face of challenges, such as natural hazards. The second statement reflects a factor that might enhance resilience, rather than reflecting resilience itself. To statistically evaluate how effective leadership contributes to resilience, leadership-oriented statements should be excluded from the resilience scale. By doing so, research will better inform “real world” priorities and decisions, such as whether to invest in leadership effectiveness as a means to enhance resilience.
Lindberg also conducted community resilience research in Norway. Lindberg and his Norwegian colleagues surveyed nature-based tourism firms and conducted in-depth interviews to evaluate the potential for nature-based tourism to contribute to the resilience of destination communities. They identified mechanisms for ecological, economic and social contributions and worked to understand the firms’ involvement. For example, they recorded the level of employment these firms provided and associated contribution to local economic diversification. They also asked about each firm’s business networks and broader social networks in destination communities.
Assessment of community resilience is complicated, especially when the focus is the contribution of a specific sector, such as nature-based tourism. Tourism is not a “silver bullet” for community resilience, but the analysis highlighted how nature-based tourism potentially contributes to communities beyond a traditional focus on employment generation. It was also a first step in collecting empirical evidence.
“Some aspects of resilience are technical and infrastructural in nature, such as the ability to restore utility services after a natural disaster,” Lindberg says. “My interest is in the broader aspects of communities thriving in the face of change. My research focuses on a better understanding of what contributes to that success.”
A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.