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Community resilience is grounded in local knowledge, community networks, communication, and mental outlook

Patel S, Rogers M, Amlot R, Rubin G. What do we mean by 'community resilience'? A systematic literature review of how it is defined in the literature PLoS currents. 2017; 9.

Review question

      What is “community resilience” and what are the characteristics of community resilience?


      The concept of “community resilience” against natural disasters has become increasingly recognized as a cornerstone of healthy aging. This is especially true as disasters are occurring more frequently and at higher intensities than in the past.

      To develop community resilience, however, it is important that we understand what it means. Although community resilience has often been associated with increasing local capacity, social support, and resources, and decreasing risks, miscommunication, and trauma, the concept lacks a consistent definition across research, policies, and practice.

      The aim of this systematic review is to examine the various definitions of community resilience as it relates to disasters and identify the different characteristics of community resilience.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of two research databases in May 2015 for English-language papers describing community resilience.

      The first 60 unique links generated through Google were used to identify unpublished literature in January 2014.

      Key words used in the search included variations of the terms, resilience, disaster, and definition.

      In total, 615 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 80 were included in this review.

      The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

What the researchers found

      Review authors identified 77 unique definitions of community resilience as it applies to disasters.

      Three general types of definition were found: 1) “process” definitions described an ongoing process of change and adaptation; 2) “absence of adverse effect” definitions centred around an ability to maintain stable functioning; and 3) “range of attributes” definitions highlighted a broad collection of response-related abilities.

      More recent studies tended to adopt the first type of definition. For example, in an article discussing response enhancements to various types of terrorism, one study called the construct of resilience “a process or the attainment of positive outcomes at the individual, family, and community levels despite adversity.”

      The “absence of adverse effect” definitions used the desired outcome of “maintaining stable functioning” as their basis. One study examined the evidence on resilience based on loss and trauma among adults, and defined community resilience as the ability of adults to “maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning.”

      Finally, the last group of studies focused on the importance of specifically identifying and strengthening abilities in a community, creating a third type of definition based on a “range of positive attributes.” One study defined community resilience as “communities and individuals harnessing local resources and expertise to help themselves in an emergency, in a way that complements the response of the emergency services.”

      Based on the three categories of definitions above, community resilience was found to be a fluid concept that is understood and applied differently based on the context.

      Within the definitions, however, nine common elements appeared to be universally integral to the concept of community resilience: 1) local knowledge; 2) community networks and relationships; 3) communication; 4) health; 5) governance and leadership; 6) resources; 7) economic investment; 8) preparedness; and 9) mental outlook.


      In summary, the concept of community resilience is widely used in the academic and policy literature, but the meanings of the term differ.

      Nine core elements have been consistently suggested as characteristics of community resilience as it applies to disasters (see above).

      Further exploration of these individual characteristics may lead to a greater understanding of what community resilience is and how it can be measured and enhanced.


Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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