Operationalising resilience through a practice-science collaboration: A match made in heaven?



By Ellie Kay and Dr Joanne Stevenson

How can scientists and practitioners work together to improve the resilience of our communities? Researchers in the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Trajectories, Culture, and Economics Toolboxes have been collaborating with the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office to develop indicators of resilience to measure the capabilities of the Wellington Region.

The Trajectories Toolbox team have been hard at work on the resilience “Warrant of Fitness” project, which is aimed at testing, refining, and enhancing the New Zealand Resilience Index. The project aims to provide a measure of resilience that incorporates the views of those living and working in the communities being measured, producing a more holistic understanding of resilience capabilities. The Trajectories team have partnered with the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO) to aid with the development of their Group Plan, connecting indicators of resilience to WREMO’s vision of a resilient community that is ready, connected, and capable of responding to and recovering from a disaster.


Photo: Michael Coghlan via Flikr

As well as developing indicators of resilience across a multi-capital model for the WREMO Group Plan, the project highlights the necessity of balancing the unique needs of both researchers and practitioners. This ensures everyone benefits from the collaboration, leading to better improvements for communities. Additionally, consultation with Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience practitioners led us to reconsider the types of indicators included in the New Zealand Resilience Index, demonstrating the importance of practice informing science, as well as science informing practice. These two-way conversations and collaborations are vital for pooling collective knowledge of a complex system like resilience.

The Warrant of Fitness is making important steps to bridging the gap between science and practice, with the aim of improving resilience in place-based communities. In line with the Sendai Framework, the team is producing actionable knowledge that can be used by different groups to address resilience issues in their communities.

Awkward first data: Giving the DIVE Platform a second chance



By Dr Joanne Stevenson

Despite many calls for the creation of a metadata catalogue and repository for disaster risk reduction and resilience data, engagement with the first prototype of the New Zealand Resilience Data Integration and Visualisation EnMasse (DIVE) Platform has been poor. The developers of the trial platform have recently received additional funding to increase engagement with DIVE and explore ways to deliver on the site’s promise to provide a place to make resilience data more visible.


The Homepage of resiliencedata.org.nz

The Resilience Challenge Trajectories Toolbox team has now launched the New Zealand Resilience Data Integration and Visualisation EnMasse (DIVE) Platform, and it is ready to start receiving data and information from researchers and stakeholders engaged in resilience and disaster risk reduction work across the country. The DIVE Platform provides a catalogue of research and information relevant to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience in New Zealand. Anyone can view and login to the DIVE Platform web interface at: resiliencedata.org.nz.

This launched prototype exceeds the team’s initial expectations for what the “resilience digital information system” project under the Trajectories Toolbox workstream was meant to achieve. The concept for the DIVE Platform was drawn from wide-ranging consultation with researchers and potential stakeholders of DRR and resilience research. The team were always aware that it was going to be a hard sell to get busy researchers excited to enter metadata and share their resources for the greater good of the resilience researcher and practitioner community. The Trajectories team continues to explore avenues to incentivise and simplify engagement with the platform.

The Trajectories Toolbox recently secured additional funding from a Resilience Challenge contestable funding round to support the ongoing development of the platform, encourage engagement, and allow systematic evaluation of the engagement and development of the system. We have welcomed Becca Fraser, a master’s student at the University of Canterbury, to the team as a research assistant to help with this portion of the project.

Part of Becca’s role is to encourage and assist researchers across QuakeCoRE and Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, as well as any additional stakeholders, to input metadata, host unique datasets for others to see and use, and feature their initiatives on the DIVE platform.

There is an increasing flow of information from governmental sources, organisations, researchers, and the public. This information can help us answer some of society’s most pressing questions, but we need to be able to find, understand, and apply it in meaningful ways. Processes such as recording and sharing high quality metadata can increase the interoperability and reusability of the information being collected and shared. The DIVE Platform was created by the Resilience Challenge’s Trajectories Toolbox, but it needs to be ‘owned’ and maintained by New Zealand’s research community going forward. This additional funding will buy some time to map a path to a system that can deliver the data visibility and cross-pollination desired by people across the research and practitioner community.

What gets measured gets done: The New Zealand Resilience Index



By Dr Joanne Stevenson, Chris Bowie, Ellie Kay and Dr John Vargo

The New Zealand Resilience Index will help decision-makers stay on track as we find ways to build disaster resilience in our communities, environments, and economies. This index, developed by the Resilience to Natures’ Challenges Trajectories Toolbox, is part of the holistic national strategy to ensure long-term community wellbeing despite inevitable disruption and environmental change. 
Model of a Resilient Nation (from NDRS 2018, p.17)

Measuring resilience helps make an abstract concept visible. Once resilience is visible, we can do something about it.  As noted in the National Disaster Resilience Strategy (NDRS) currently out for public consultation, “Holding ourselves to account is paramount,” and part of this accountability is systematically measuring and monitoring progress (NDRS 2018, p.30). The Trajectories Toolbox team, led by Dr Joanne Stevenson, a principal consultant with Resilient Organisations Ltd., has worked along-side the development of the NDRS to create a composite indicator of resilience that conceptually aligns with the multi-capital approach laid out in the strategy.

The New Zealand Resilience Index (NZRI) uses quantitative indicators to assess place-based communities’ resilience across the six ‘capitals’ that compose society: social, cultural, economic, built, natural environment, and governance/ institutional capital.

To enable comparisons between places and across time, the data for the NZRI needed to be quantitative, consistently available at a standard geographic area, and collected at regular time intervals. To make the index manageable and cost effective in the long-term, the researchers decided to aim for cost-free secondary data (i.e., data collected for another purpose like the Census) that is published publicly. Repeatability allows researchers, decision makers, and communities to track progress, assess whether interventions are making a difference, and check with the indicators can predict post-disaster outcomes.

The data for the New Zealand Resilience Index needed to be available at the territorial authority or census area unit (CAU) level. CAUs were selected as the preferred ‘place’ as they are likely to best reflect a community of people and organisations at a local level. CAUs generally coincide with suburbs and have a population of 3,000 to 5,000 people. These areas are also small enough to identify the many differences between places and groups of people that shape the community’s resilience to disruptions and could be addressed by community-based interventions.  After a rigorous selection process, including the development of a ‘bank’ of over 1,000 indicators drawing on indices from around the world, we identified a number of common resilience concepts to focus the NZRI indicators within. The concepts are as follows: community networks and sense of belonging, economic sector diversity, household capacity to cope with economic disruption, networked infrastructure resilience, functionality and safety of buildings following a disruption, household emergency preparedness, community access to shelters and welfare centres, heritage and culture is valued and preserved, resilience capacity of individuals, quality of legislation and planning addressing hazards, health system response capacity, and availability of natural buffers to hazards. Selecting indicators that measure each of these concepts using available data and then combining these into a single composite indicator allows us to create a relative resilience ‘score’.

Not all indicators are created equal. We realised that some indicators will have a more significant impact on a communities’ ability to survive and thrive in the face of disaster than others. As a result, the team employed an approach called conjoint analysis, which allowed us to determine weights for the different indicators of resilience using expert knowledge. To do this, we employed a novel survey software developed in New Zealand called 1000 Minds. Experts in New Zealand’s disaster resilience across theory and practice engaged in the 1000 Minds exercise making trade-offs between various indicators to reveal their ‘preferences’ for certain indicators over others.  Research over the last 30 years has shown that people generally have a poor understanding of how they make trade-offs during decision making, making it useful to have a structured way to help us make consistent judgements when considering multiple objectives or criteria. 1000 Minds provides such a structure, using the PAPRIKA (Potentially All Pairwise RanKings of all possible Alternatives) method to rank all pairs of of the criteria being considered.  89 experts from across New Zealand with extensive knowledge across a range of specialist areas from social science to engineering completed the 1000 Minds exercise.

The results of the 1000 Minds analysis show that networked infrastructure resilience along with community (inter-personal) networks and long-term residency, used as a proxy for place-attachment, are likely to have the biggest influence on a place’s disaster resilience. The smallest influence on disaster resilience is attributed to heritage preservation. The results revealed, however, that all of the indicators will have some influence on resilience.

The research team has spent considerable time and effort considering other datasets and exploring ways to assess other dimensions of disaster resilience. For example, two indicators were included in the 1000 Minds exercise that are not included in the current baseline calculation of the NZRI. The proportion of total commercial prone buildings that are considered “earthquake prone” was considered an important indicator of resilience of the built environment, but the best dataset available does not have adequate coverage for the entire country. Similarly, we asked experts to rate the importance of sheltering and welfare centre data availability as a proxy for local civil defence and emergency management preparedness and resourcing. This dataset has been omitted from the calculation of the NZRI due to incompleteness and significantly different policy approaches to the provisioning of civil defence centres by local and regional authorities.

There are many high-quality datasets collected and maintained by local and regional authorities, and the team is exploring ways to integrate additional datasets into the national NZRI baseline.

Going forward we will finalise the statistical analysis of the index, circulate the initial results to our co-creation partners at MCDEM, Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office, and the Auckland Emergency Management – Auckland Council. We will then work with these co-creation partners to understand how the calculated NZRI aligns with their experiences, and plan how we can better integrate local data into the national baseline. A wider release of the results will be coordinated with MCDEM in 2019.

The New Zealand Resilience Index will be a useful addition to New Zealand’s resilience building took kit, but we must be careful about how we interpret and use it. It will not, for example, be a good tool for making definitive choices about funding allocations. It is, however, a useful tool for ensuring that we think beyond buildings and consider the way our communities, institutions, and the natural environment contribute to resilience. Taking a holistic view of resilience will improve our chance of delivering resilience building programmes that account for the many interactions that make up our society.   

Behind the scenes: Chris Bowie and Ellie Kay on resilience measurement in New Zealand



This profile features two up-and-coming young researchers who have been working in the Trajectories Toolbox.

A bit about Chris and Ellie


Chris Bowie enjoys the multi-disciplinary collaboration within the Trajectories Toolbox.

Chris Bowie is a geographer with a keen interest in the role of our urban environments in creating vibrant and engaging communities. At WSP Opus his research and advisory work is focused on exploring the levers we have for unlocking the potential of our cities to meet the needs and aspirations of our people and communities. Since moving north to Wellington from Christchurch Chris has taken up freediving and spearfishing around the local coastline, though he still tries to get back down south to ski when the opportunity arises. 

Having spent the last 14 years in Christchurch, Ellie Kay has a background in Social Psychology, Anthropology, and Community Engagement, completing her study at the University of Canterbury.  Ellie is a researcher with Resilient Organisations Ltd. and in her spare time enjoys roaming around the Canterbury hills on her bike and relaxing at the beach on a nice Christchurch day.


An overview of their contributions to the Trajectories Toolbox


Chris has been involved with the Trajectories Toolbox since its inception in 2015. He’s focusing on assisting with the development of the New Zealand Resilience Index (NZRI) to benchmark and monitor community trajectories of resilience to Natural Hazards. The NZRI is a multi-capital index integrating indicators of resilience across multiple domains: built environment, social, economic, cultural, institutional and governance, and environmental. He has enjoyed engaging with resilience researchers and practitioners during this project, all of whom have a slightly different take on what can/should be considered when measuring the resilience of an area. In Chris’s words, “It has been a challenge trying to combine all of this input into a manageable index with a limited number of individual indicators, but it has also shown us the importance of ensuring that the NZRI can adapt over time as new priorities and better sources of data emerge.”


Ellie Kay, a researcher on the rise.

Ellie started with Resilient Organisations in February 2018 and jumped straight into the Trajectories Toolbox; working on the development of the New Zealand Resilience Index and how to enhance the measurement of community resilience by using locally available data. Ellie’s currently working in collaboration with the Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office (WREMO) to integrate indicators of resilience into their Group Plan. By supplementing the national indicators of resilience with locally available datasets, Ellie’s work will provide a rich view of place based resilience.


Next steps


“At its heart I think the NZRI is a prompt for discussion and not just a metric assigned to individual areas. The NZRI is intended to be used by decision makers and leaders to better understand the resilience of their community, and identify opportunities for investment, growth and training, among other things,” Chris notes. This work will continue to be refined and developed by the team and their many co-creation partners going forward. This includes Ellie Kay’s work, which going forward will include developing a framework to help other communities across the country to measure their own resilience. This will allow for stakeholders to identify their resilience strengths and weaknesses and define priority areas for intervention, as well as assessing their progress towards improved resilience.

Student profile: Becca Fraser 



Rural resilience : A geospatial story


A bit about me 


I was born and raised in Auckland with five other siblings, and with strong ties to rural family in the South Island.

My interest in disasters began as I was nearing the end of my undergraduate degree in geology and anthropology at The University of Auckland. I have always been driven towards understanding how communities and people connect to each other, and how a deeper understanding of what makes up a community contributes to the wider picture of resilience. While I love the physical science aspect of geology, I think the anthropological modus operandi of collecting the narratives of people and communities is valuable in exploring the dynamic intersections between disasters and humans.

Moving to Christchurch to study in the Master of Disaster, Risk and Resilience programme was a way of combining these interests, allowing me to explore the impacts of hazards on people and places. Through this programme I was given the exciting opportunity to work on an internship with Tom Wilson (University of Canterbury) and Nick Cradock-Henry (Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research) aimed at improved understandings of rural resilience through geospatial data visualisation, leading into a thesis in 2019.


My project


My project is focused on building a geospatial atlas describing and visualising aspects of disaster resilience in New Zealand’s rural communities. New Zealand’s rural communities are an essential part of our national identity, but face a variety of natural hazards which can cause a range of social and economic impacts.  We are beginning to understand what factors can increase and decrease disaster resilience within our rural communities. Some are simple, such as remaining connected to friends and family (support networks), and some are complex. Recovery potential for example is often reliant on a business’ health prior to a disaster.  But this information can form a powerful communication and decision-support tool for pre- and post-disaster planning by rural households and other disaster decision makers.   My project is attempting to visualise some of these types of data in the form of informatics and maps, with the intention of empowering individuals and organisations to make better resilience decisions.


The questions my study aims to answer are:

  • What is rural New Zealand? – Where are rural communities located; what is their gender, ethnic and demographic makeup; what jobs do they have; and how has this changed over time? Has this been affected by policy, social and economic changes? And if so, how?
  • How might rural New Zealand be affected by natural hazard disasters? – Where are natural hazards in New Zealand; what are the short and long term impacts of disasters for rural NZ, including drought, snow, storm, earthquake; and what might be the potential impacts of future climate variations?
  • Can we assess rural resilience? Utilising geospatial data sets to track temporal change in rural communities and the state of rural resilience currently. These datasets include population, demographic change such as median workforce age change over time, economic indicators and even land use changes


I have drawn on the Resilience Challenge Trajectories Toolbox work to frame and develop this project and its future outputs. Trajectories research on resilience indicators, and how these contribute to the development of rural New Zealand as well as the work that has gone into building effective resilience data within the New Zealand specific context continues to guide the direction and scope of my project.

My project ties in with the Resilience Challenge Rural Co-Creation Laboratory, which is dedicated to finding solutions to enhance and understand the resilience of rural New Zealand, and to better protect and enable these communities to thrive. The project serves as a complementary link between the two research programmes and allows me to draw on many different researchers for expertise and assistance.

Rural community change over time (click to enlarge).


Next steps


In relation to my project, I am currently working on increasing engagement with the Data Integration and Visualisation en masse (DIVE) platform. The DIVE Platform is aimed at facilitating online data cataloguing, sharing and collaboration of New Zealand resilience data, and is intended to enable integrated and engaged research that will enhance New Zealand’s resilience to hazards. This ties in closely with my Rural Resilience/Indicators project. I am currently working on developing valuable and effective data visualisations to help build a Rural Resilience atlas.

I am excited about the future direction of this project using contemporary and emerging information techniques to help tell a story and making a positive contribution toward the understanding of rural resilience.

Locally-augmented resilience measurement in New Zealand



By Ellie Kay and Dr Joanne Stevenson

The Trajectories Toolbox team are working to extend the New Zealand Resilience Index (NZRI) for specific regions and urban areas using local datasets. Expanding the NZRI can help local and regional authorities better understand their community’s capacity to survive and thrive in the face of disaster.


Photo © GNS Science/Margaret Low

Trajectories Toolbox researchers are investigating how to incorporate local datasets and community insights to build on the New Zealand Resilience Index. In its current form, the index includes several high-level indicators of resilience. These cover a multi-capital model incorporating social, economic, built environment, natural environment, cultural, and institutional resilience. However, there are many concepts that the index cannot currently capture due to a lack of quality, nationally available data. The Trajectories team is working to expand the NZRI to provide a better understanding of holistic community resilience. Working with co-creation partners in Wellington, they are identifying regional datasets that can be integrated into the NZRI and helping to provide insight into datasets that may be repurposed to make the picture of community resilience clearer. In undertaking this process, they are also highlighting where the collection of additional primary data will aid in filling gaps in our ability to benchmark and monitor disaster resilience.

The Wellington case study will allow the Trajectories team to create a guide for local and regional based governments to help steer them through the resilience measurement journey. The guide will showcase the usefulness of the NZRI, explaining the indicators that are included and the uses and limitations of the tool. Following this, an example of how additional datasets can be incorporated into the index will help users understand the flexibility of the tool. Furthermore, the overlaying of hazard data will expand the understanding of both communities’ strengths and areas for improvements.


Photo: Andrea Schaffer via Flikr

The work that the Trajectories team is currently undertaking with their Wellington partners is aimed at both starting resilience measurement conversations and providing a guideline for resilience measurement in place-based communities in New Zealand. Incorporating local and regionally available datasets will help us see the rich landscape of community capacity, allowing for the discovery of opportunities for targeted interventions to build resilience.

Science and strategy for better results 



By Dr Joanne Stevenson and Jo Horrocks (MCDEM)

Government strategy developed in a vacuum is bound to fail. That is why the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM) has gone to extraordinary efforts to engage stakeholders across many facets of New Zealand life in the development of their National Disaster Resilience Strategy (NDRS): Ruataki Manawaroa Aituā-ā-Motu. This includes drawing on experts and scientific knowledge across the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge. The NDRS includes a Monitoring and Evaluation section which has been co-created with the Resilience Challenge’s Trajectories Toolbox.


The draft National Disaster Resilience Strategy out for public consultation.

Readers of the Draft National Disaster Resilience Strategy, which is currently out for public consultation, may be inclined to skip the seemingly banal section on “Measuring and monitoring progress” (pp.31-32). If they did, they would miss the opportunity to give feedback on two critically important questions: How do we know if we are getting more or less resilient? How do we start to make links between where we want to go and what we need to do to get there?  

This section of the Strategy draws on a Theory of Change developed by Dr Joanne Stevenson, the co-leader of the Resilience Challenge Trajectories Toolbox. The Theory of Change notes that the desired impact of government policy in New Zealand is to enhance the intergenerational wellbeing of New Zealanders, even in the face of acute and chronic shocks like earthquakes and climate change. That means that everything we track should ultimately be connected to this goal. For example, measuring the outcomes of resilience interventions, such as the rate of development in flood or liquefaction prone areas, clearly shows the number of households governments are avoiding putting in harms way. Similarly, we should be tracking whether the inputs allocated to resilience building initiatives are adequate, assessing things such as the per capita staff levels of first responder organisations and the number of publicly-funded mental health professionals available per capita. The New Zealand Resilience Index, also developed by the Trajectories Toolbox, will be part of the national resilience monitoring strategy.  


MCDEM’s Amanda Kitto (left) and Jo Horrocks (right) on a public consultation visit to the South Island.

The section discusses monitoring and evaluation in fairly broad terms, but there will be accountability systems developed for the NDRS itself, and these will tie to local and regional CDEM monitoring and evaluation. Progress on the delivery of the NDRS will be reported biennially by the MCDEM. MCDEM will be responsible for telling the public how they are progressing toward their goals and objectives, how New Zealand’s resilience is tracking, and will quantify the impacts of disasters.

Such information will be relevant to a wider international community committed to the seven global targets outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). New Zealand is one of the 148 countries that have committed to report on their progress toward reaching the global targets, which include significantly reducing mortality and injury caused by disasters, significantly reducing damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, and increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.


The Trajectories Toolbox team exchanges ideas on the NDRS with MCDEM.

The National Disaster Resilience Strategy sets the tone for both the holistic way in which New Zealand is approaching disaster resilience and the commitment to accountability and transparency in the process. It will offer important guidance for local and regional authorities, businesses, and households as they develop their plans to thrive through future disruptions.