In simple terms, resilience is the ability of a person, place, system, or thing to "bounce back" after being affected by a disturbance.  If the person, place, system or thing doesn't recover from the disturbance, and the fundamental and defining characteristics have changed, a state transition has occurred.  The capacity of the actors within the system to manage resilience is referred to as adaptability.

A well-cited paper defines resilience as "the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks" (Walker et al. 2004, http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art5/).  Although the concept was introduced by a visionary thinker named C. S. "Buzz" Holling in 1973, resilience thinking (Folke et al. 2010, http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art20/) has continued to evolve to address the complex and dynamic nature of social-ecological systems (people and nature as interdependent systems).  RAP students are challenged with the task of integrating resilience theory into their research.

Here are a couple good websites that explore key concepts such as resilience, transformation, and adaptability:  


In general, adaptation is the process of responding to change.  In biological systems, species may adapt to change by evolving.  In social systems, people may adapt by reorganizing institutions and networks.


Systems with high adaptive capacity reconfigure themselves without losing crucial functions. Systems with low adaptive capacity often sacrifice future options during reconfiguration.  RAP students also explore the theory and practice of Adaptive Management, the iterative process of managing systems by using experimentation to learn about system function and reduce uncertainty.  Effective adaptive management requires consideration of the social and ecological components of a system.



How do these concepts fit with sustainability science?  Sustainability science addresses actions that promote human well-being while conserving the life-support systems of our planet.  Research on sustainability should focus on the dynamic interactions between nature and society.  Building a science of sustainability requires a truly interdisciplinary approach that integrates knowledge and practical experience from many different sources.  RAP's framework is designed to follow these guidelines.

RAP participants talk about resilience, vulnerability, adaptation and transformation and describe how these concepts have shaped the focus of their research projects.

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