Group of people in a room discussing community resilience

What is community resilience?

How do you cope when something unexpected happens? How do you tackle challenges? Do you make plans so you’re ready when you need to be? These are all questions that can be asked of individuals. But the same questions can also be asked of whole communities. How they respond in times of adversity is a key part of community resilience.

Communities, just like individuals, are often exposed to change. Something unexpected happens or you’re gripped by trying times. An accident, a flood, a drought or even tough economic times. How a community prepares for – and responds to – such things is the very essence of community resilience.

Community resilience is a multi-faceted concept. It can have a significant impact on the vibrancy, cohesion and adaptability of a community. So what are the foundations of resilient communities?

Community resilience is… social capital

Social capital. It sounds like something to do with economics and maybe Facebook. Actually, it refers to people. More importantly, to the relationships between them. Social capital is arguably the most important factor when it comes to building community resilience.

As Australians, we pride ourselves on being strong and independent – it’s part of our psyche. However, we all know, deep down, that we are stronger for the people we have around us. Our relationships – with our families, our friends, our communities – make us who we are.

These networks of strong relationships – this social capital – is what weaves us together and makes us feel part of a community. It helps us feel supported and less isolated. It’s the reason Australians are renowned for always digging deep and supporting each other when the going gets tough. This is especially true in regional and rural areas, which come with their own unique challenges.

And what fosters relationships more than anything else? Communication. Put simply, problems get solved more quickly when they are shared. But also, communication is what allows people to form bonds with one another – between individuals and as a wider group. So building community resilience starts with communication.

Open channels of communication allow communities to develop and recognise their shared values. And, when it comes to the crunch, good communication can make a huge difference to effectively tackling a challenge. Together. 

Community resilience is… unbiased leadership

Fostering communication is something good community leaders do well.

People working in government, for not-for-profit organisations and community associations are ideally placed to step into this leadership role. They are ‘plugged into’ a community like few other people. They know what building relationships takes.

By learning how to communicate effectively across all parts of the community you can help bring people together. If you communicate without judgment or bias and share information equally, you build resilience. And today, we have more communication tools than ever before, including social media, digital media, TV and radio. So leaders who master the mediums as well as the message are best able to serve their communities.

What’s more, in a crisis, communities look to leaders for direction, and reassurance. Communication can foster a sense of togetherness that unites communities, enabling them to tackle – and recover from – adversity more effectively.

Community resilience is… a constant process

Community resilience is important for times when the worst happens. However, arguably the real benefit is seen during the longer stretches of time when things are, you know, just normal. Strong community connectedness and engagement make communities simply better places to live.

So community resilience is also about people actively working to build community – literally and figuratively – every day, every week, every year. Yes, this will pay huge dividends in times of crisis when everyone steps up to the plate. But it also fosters something special in the everyday story of a community.

Building community can be about making sure people have the services they need. Assessing projects, finance and events through the lens of what the community – your unique community – wants and needs, promotes connectedness. It can be about dealing with conflict in a fair and balanced manner. About motivating people to challenge themselves or give something back to others. It can also be about ensuring those who are missing from the  community – perhaps because of a crisis or disaster – are not forgotten. After all, a community is its past, present and future.  

Community resilience is… tackling challenges together

Building resilient communities helps them respond to disruptive challenges. It helps communities plan and adapt for longer-term changes – be they social, financial or environmental. What’s more, it enables members to take collective action to increase their own resilience and that of others. They are able to do this while identifying and supporting vulnerable individuals and/or marginalised groups.

Let’s take an example.

Dr Heather Boetto researches how social workers are increasingly working within communities needing resilience to cope with climate change.

“Social workers often work on the frontline with people who are affected by environmental issues. We have practitioners, therefore, working with families who can’t pay rising electricity prices due to poverty. Others deal with communities recovering from bushfire and drought. We also support people who are homeless by trying to find suitable shelter during extreme weather events, such as a heatwave.

“Practitioners have been finding themselves increasingly engaged with these issues on the frontline. As a result, we need to transition the profession towards being able to better address these issues.”

And while industries such as social work or healthcare evolve to better cope with, recover from and work to prevent environmental disasters, there is also an emerging need for community leaders who are equipped to help guide the community itself during these challenging times.

A community leader – like you – embodies resilience

Resilience helps prepare communities to cope with the worst, and in doing so, makes them become their very best.

The leaders of the future will be those who are able to build trust within the community. They will promote open communication, overcome barriers, and work with different groups of people. And they will be accountable, open-minded and inclusive.

They will help build strong and resilient communities. Healthy, cohesive, adaptable and enjoyable communities.

Do you want to help your community be its best? Discover our social work and human services courses, where making a difference is at the heart of your study.

Plus, we’ve worked with community organisations to develop a dedicated postgraduate course on the topic of community leadership and resilience.