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‘Subjective resilience’: using perceptions to quantify household resilience to climate extremes and disasters

Jones, Lindsey, Tanner, Thomas
Regional environmental change 2017 v.17 no.1 pp. 229-243
climate, climate change, cognition, decision making, disasters, income, issues and policy, people, risk, social capital, socioeconomic factors, surveys
How should we measure a household’s resilience to climate extremes, climate change or other evolving threats? As resilience gathers momentum on the international stage, interest in this question continues to grow. So far, efforts to measure resilience have largely focused on the use of ‘objective’ frameworks and methods of indicator selection. These typically depend on a range of observable socio-economic variables, such as levels of income, the extent of a household’s social capital or its access to social safety nets. Yet while objective methods have their uses, they suffer from well-documented weaknesses. This paper advocates for the use of an alternative but complementary method: the measurement of ‘subjective’ resilience at the household level. The concept of subjective resilience stems from the premise that people have an understanding of the factors that contribute to their ability to anticipate, buffer and adapt to disturbance and change. Subjective household resilience therefore relates to an individual’s cognitive and affective self-evaluation of their household’s capabilities and capacities in responding to risk. We discuss the advantages and limitations of measuring subjective household resilience and highlight its relationships with other concepts such as perceived adaptive capacity, subjective well-being and psychological resilience. We then put forward different options for the design and delivery of survey questions on subjective household resilience. While the approach we describe is focused at the household level, we show how it has the potential to be aggregated to inform sub-national or national resilience metrics and indicators. Lastly, we highlight how subjective methods of resilience assessment could be used to improve policy and decision-making. Above all, we argue that, alongside traditional objective measures and indicators, efforts to measure resilience should take into account subjective aspects of household resilience in order to ensure a more holistic understanding of resilience to climate extremes and disasters.