Understanding the Subjective Dimensions of Resilience

Psychosocial factors or dimensions of resilience is a catch-all term, which people who are not psychologists use to capture everything, from identity, to risk perception, to motivation, to aspirations. We really have to pull that apart and figure out how that intersects with more common econometric ways of doing business.”
Tiffany Griffin, USAID

Key panels at the RMEL Conference 2018 discussed the importance of unpacking the term ‘psychosocial factors’ in order to better research and understand the less tangible dimensions of resilience.

In Resilience and psychosocial factors: the relationship and measurement panelists from USAID, Mercy Corps, CIAT and BBC Media Action discussed subjective resilience, the role of perceptions, and trauma and stress, in shaping how individuals and families respond to risks and shocks. The panel advocated for deeper inter-disciplinary collaboration between international development and humanitarian studies, and psychology.

In ‘Perception Matters’, leading RMEL specialists further explore the conceptual and empirical implications of the subjective elements of resilience for theories of change of resilience interventions designed in response to food security crises.

‘Perception matters’: New insights into the subjective dimension of resilience in the context of humanitarian and food security crises (2019)

Christophe Béné, Timothy Frankenberger, Tiffany Griffin, Mark Langworthy, Monica Mueller, Stephanie Martin

In this paper, subjective resilience is understood as ‘the perceptions that individuals, households or communities have about their own capacities and capabilities to handle current or future shocks or stressors’. This idea of subjective resilience is integrated into a conceptual framework for resilience, along with the now better understood ‘resilience capacities’.

The paper discusses three psychosocial measures that are believed to influence subjective resilience and responses to shocks and stressors: risk perception, self-efficacy and aspirations.

The conceptual framework is used to develop and test hypotheses related to the role of subjective resilience in shaping household responses to shocks, using existing quantitative data sets from Africa and Asia.

The empirical analyses demonstrate the validity of the framework’s underlying hypotheses, showing: i) statistically significant negative correlations between households’ level of subjective resilience and the propensity of those same households to engage in negative absorptive capacities; ii) significant and positive correlations between households’ subjective resilience and their self-assessed index of recovery.

The authors conclude that the practice of resilience, in the context of food security in low-income countries, can benefit from explicit integration of subjective resilience into the Theories of Change of interventions. This will involve the introduction of new types of activities - designed to boost self-esteem and self-efficacy - into resilience programs. There is significant opportunity, through innovation and testing combined with applied research, to inform resilience policy and intervention packages, so that these begin to invest in these less tangible but critical determinants of resilience.