Recognizing the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. In this fifth issue, Joanne Vinke-de Kruijf highlights the value of involving stakeholders from various sectors, including members of the affected communities themselves, in strengthening resilience to extreme weather events.
Last weekend, we held our annual family reunion in the middle of the Netherlands. Extreme weather affected this event in various ways. On Saturday, miniature golf was postponed due to extreme heat. On Sunday, everyone rushed home because of the forecast of bad weather. Fortunately, everyone made it home before tree branches started to fall down. A week earlier, we experienced summer storm ‘Poly’. According to the Dutch meteorological office, KNMI, it was one of the severest summer storms in over fifty years. Prior to these summer storms, the Netherlands experienced unusual weather conditions. There was no rain for over a month between mid-May and mid-June. Spring, on the other hand, was unusually wet. These examples make it clear that extreme weather increasingly impacts our daily lives and our living environment. We can and must adapt our society to these new conditions and trends. However, many weather conditions are hard to predict. We must therefore also prepare ourselves for weather impacts we do not necessarily expect and become more "climate-resilient".
When I delved into the world of resilience a few years ago, I quickly realized there is no shortage of research frameworks to assess the extent of our resilience. This is great. Indicators, for example, make resilience measurable and help to identify, monitor and evaluate measures that are implemented. They can improve the transparency behind policy decisions. Moreover, when such frameworks are developed and applied in cooperation with actors representing diverse sectors and backgrounds, they can lead to creative solutions, increase awareness of risks, identify opportunities for action, and encourage mutual learning. Yet those frameworks are still used rather infrequently in practice. Let me share two observations of what it will take to change this.
First, we need to accept that being complete is impossible. Resilience may apply to anything and everything. Hence, when assessing resilience, choices such as "resilience of what and to what" are inevitable. This is why existing assessment frameworks often focus on a specific disruption, such as a flood, a specific sector or goal, such as food security, or a specific group or area, such as a community or a city. As long as the relevant perspectives of those affected are represented, starting any kind of assessment is perhaps more important than being comprehensive. Second, we need to understand that resilience can be achieved in many ways. For instance, greening our living environment can help reduce heat stress and flooding. To achieve this, a municipality can redesign a street to reduce paved areas and allow the infiltration of water into the ground. Yet, discussions with residents about the effect of extreme weather on their living environment and what they themselves can do about this, can be just as effective. Thus, why not shift attention from searching for and developing the best resilience assessment frameworks towards applying the existing frameworks instead? For example, these could be in the form of monitored dialogues that involve societal stakeholders and members of the general public. In this way, we can jointly learn not only about frameworks to assess our resilience but also about the various meanings of climate-resilience to different people and how all of us can contribute to strengthening resilience in our own way.
Joanne Vinke-de Kruijf is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering Technology (ET) and Integrated Project Delivery at the University of Twente.
Find more information about the Resilience @ UT programme at our website.