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In an ever-more interconnected world (social, technological and environmental), no organisation can retain a competitive position and survive disruptions as an independent entity. This article provides a review of resilience literature in its widest context and later its application at an organisational level context. The origins of the concept are reported and consequently, the various fields of research are analysed. The concept is shown to remain essentially constant regardless of its field of enquiry and has much to inform the fields of organisation theory, strategy and operations management. This article identifies a number of areas for advancing resilience research, in particular: the relationship between human and organisational resilience; understanding interfaces between organisational and infrastructural resilience.
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International Journal of Production
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Resilience: the concept, a literature
review and future directions
Ran Bhamra
a
, Samir Dani
a
b
& Kevin Burnard
a
a
Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering,
Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU, UK
b
School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, LE11 3TU, UK
Available online: 14 Apr 2011
To cite this article: Ran Bhamra, Samir Dani & Kevin Burnard (2011): Resilience: the concept,
a literature review and future directions, International Journal of Production Research, 49:18,
5375-5393
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International Journal of Production Research
Vol. 49, No. 18, 15 September 2011, 5375–5393
Resilience: the concept, a literature review and future directions
Ran Bhamra
a
*
, Samir Dani
ab
and Kevin Burnard
a
a
Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Loughborough University,
Loughborough, LE11 3TU, UK;
b
School of Business and Economics,
Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU, UK
(Final version received January 2011)
In an ever-more interconnected world (social, technological and environmental),
no organisation can retain a competitive position and survive disruptions as an
independent entity. This article provides a review of resilience literature in its
widest context and later its application at an organisational level context.
The origins of the concept are reported and consequently, the various fields of
research are analysed. The concept is shown to remain essentially constant
regardless of its field of enquiry and has much to inform the fields of organisation
theory, strategy and operations management. This article identifies a number of
areas for advancing resilience research, in particular: the relationship between
human and organisational resilience; understanding interfaces between organisa-
tional and infrastructural resilience.
Keywords: resilience; literature review; risk; uncertainty; disaster preparedness;
business continuity
1. Introduction
Countries, communities, organisations and individuals are all subject to a diverse and ever
changing environment. The threats that this sometimes turbulent environment poses can
vary in both severity and frequency and may originate internally or externally to a system.
An event in one area can often have disastrous effects in another (Ju
¨
ttner 2005). These
events can take many forms as highlighted in many recent highly publicised events
including the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2010 Haiti and Chile Earthquakes, the
recent global financial crisis and the 2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull.
Natural disasters, pandemic disease, terrorist attacks, economic recession, equipment
failure and human error can all pose both a potentially unpredictable and severe threat
to the continuity of an organisation’s operation. Disasters are a multifarious concept
composed of many different elements that seem to defy any precise definition (Alexander
2003). It is often only through hindsight that disasters look like the events that individuals,
communities, organisations and countries should have prepared for. It is not only disasters
but also small uncertainties or deviations that can cause challenges to organisations.
Sometimes when large organisations (Rover Plc, Woolworths Plc) cannot withstand these
challenges, it is essential that sufficient effort is channelled into making small and medium
enterprises (SMEs) robust and resilient to withstand these uncertainties and challenges.
*Corresponding author. Email: r.s.bhamra@lboro.ac.uk
ISSN 0020–7543 print/ISSN 1366–588X online
ß 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/00207543.2011.563826
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This article explores the literature surrounding SMEs and understands resilience within the
context of SMEs.
The term resilience is used in a wide variety of fields that include ecology (Walker et al.
2002), metallurgy (Callister 2003), individual and organisational psychology (Barnett and
Pratt 2000, Powley 2009), supply chain management (Sheffi 2005), strategic management
(Hamel and Valikangas 2003) and safety engineering (Hollnagel et al. 2006). Although the
context of the term may change, across all of these fields the concept of resilience is closely
related with the capability and ability of an element to return to a stable state after a
disruption. When the notion of resilience is applied to organisations, this definition does
not drastically change. Resilience is therefore related to both the individual and
organisational responses to turbulence and discontinuities.
1.1 Susceptibility to disruptions
On 21 September 1999, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit
central Taiwan. The Ch-Chi earthquake was the largest earthquake in the area in almost
65 years, killing 2300 people, injuring 8000 and destroying 100,000 homes (Chen et al.
2007). The impact of the disaster had severe consequences for many organisations and
infrastructure, where the total industrial production losses were estimated at $1.2 billion
(Papadakis 2006). The Hsinchu Industrial Park lay within 70 miles of the earthquake
epicentre, which includes many large scale semiconductor fabrication facilities that are
estimated to account for approximately 10% of the world’s production of computer
memory chips. Several other computer components were also manufactured within the
industrial park. The impact of the disaster on PC production was dramatic; component
supply was constrained during the following months due to the damage caused by the
earthquake (Papadakis 2006). Companies such as Apple, Compaq, Dell, Gateway and
IBM were all affected by the supply disruption (Papadakis 2006).
In March 2000, lightning struck an electrical cable causing power fluctuations
throughout the state of New Mexico. Due to electrical fluctuations, a minor fire developed
in a small production cell at a Philips semiconductor plant in Albuquerque (Norrman and
Jansson 2004). Although not a major incident, the 10-min fire had drastic implications for
the mobile phone producers Ericsson and Nokia (Tang 2006). The fire took place in one of
the plants high grade clean rooms, and due to the fire, smoke and sprinkler water, the
production of components was delayed for 3 weeks. After 6 months, the yield of radio-
frequency chips was still only at 50% it would take many years to get new equipment
delivered and installed and operationally optimised (Norrman and Jansson 2004).
These examples show that disruptions can pose a major threat to the incumbency of
an organisation. Disruptions can have a direct effect on an organisations ability to get
finished goods into a market and provide critical services to customers. These events
highlight the borderless nature of disruptions (Smith and Fischbacher 2009). However,
how do some organisations overcome these events while others would fail? What enables
these organisations to adapt and transcend these events? And what sets these organisations
apart? Certainly organisations will have business continuity plans (Cerullo and Cerullo
2004) and disaster recovery plans in place; however, unless these procedures and plans
can be intuitively applied during fast moving crises, the plans will not be effective (Seville
et al. 2006).
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Resilience against disruptions to organisations is the central focus of this study.
The next section presents the methodological facets of the literature review. The
resilience literature is then reviewed in its widest perspective. This is followed by a
more focused consideration of resilience centred on organisations and includes system
perspectives. Future research themes are proposed and followed by concluding
remarks.
2. The SME context
There are a number of definitions of what constitutes an SME (Deros et al. 2006,
Jafari et al. 2007). The category of micro, SMEs is made up of enterprises which
employ fewer than 250 persons and which have an annual turnover not exceeding 50
million euro, and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding 43 million euro’
(Article 2 of the Annex of Recommendation 2003/361/EC). SMEs together accounted
for 99.9% of all enterprises in the UK (BIS 2010). Hence, the economic well being of
the country will be very much dependent upon SMEs being or learning to be resilient.
A research conducted by the insurance company AXA concluded that 46% of SMEs
did not have a plan to deal with a business interruption (Economist 2005), while a
survey of Business Continuity Management in UK firms published by the Chartered
Management Institute found that only 40% of small firms in the study (which had a
sample of 1150 firms of which 38% had fewer than 50 employees) had business
continuity plans that demonstrated a proactive and intentional desire to organise
restoration and recovery efforts in the event of a crisis (Woodman 2006). In another
study (Royal and Sun Alliance 2006), it was concluded that around 59% of UK
businesses did not have a formal Business Continuity Plan. However, in a study
conducted by Kitching et al. (2009b) to investigate the influence of the credit crunch on
SMEs, it was concluded that not all SMEs suffer heavily due to the credit crunch. The
authors suggested that SMEs are able to be resilient in varying degrees by adapting to
the challenge through their own activities to try and avoid the worst impact of
restrictive credit market conditions. The extent of their resilience will however depend
upon their capability and resource availability. In another research conducted by
Kitching et al. (2009a), it was concluded that although limited resources render small
firms vulnerable to changes in the external environment, through their own resource
acquisition and mobilisation activities. SMEs are able to exert an important influence
over their own performance and survival. They suggest that it is important to
understand the strategy and the sources for achieving this resilience as it may influence
its sustainability and influence on longer term business performance. Keong and Mei
(2010) take a different approach towards studying SME resilience. They focus on the
human involvement within organisations. Keong and Mei suggest that since SMEs are
business organisations which consist of two or more people coming together to pursue
specific objectives, normally economic objectives, it is reasonable to imply that resilient
SMEs should also possess the resilient qualities of human beings because one cannot
separate the business from the people forming and operating them. Hence, they suggest
that the four important traits for resilience are: flexibility, motivation, perseverance and
optimism. It is thus essential to investigate the different facets of ‘Resilience’ and
whether any of the concepts can be applied to SMEs.
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3. Review methodology
The objective of this article is to identify the diversity in academic thinking with regards
to ‘Resilience’ as a concept, and thereafter, to identify gaps, issues and opportunities for
further study and research using this concept for SMEs. A literature review was
undertaken to get a holistic view of these diverse and interdisciplinary viewpoints, as it is a
necessary step in structuring a research field and thus forms an integral part of any
research exercise (Easterby-Smith et al. 2002). Conducting a literature review helps to
identify the conceptual content of the field (McCutcheon and Meredith 1993) and guides
towards theory development. The research discussed within this article is driven by
theoretical assumptions as this allows conclusions to be drawn on the reviewed literature.
In conducting the literature review, the process steps as stipulated by Srivastava (2007)
were followed and are given in Tables 1 and 2.
3.1 Defining unit of analysis
A single research paper/book: The limitation for this was that the paper/book was
available easily through library databases or Google Scholar.
3.2 Classification context
The classification context was conducted. The higher level classification scheme comprised
of three elements: perspectives, topics/concepts and methodologies. At the lower level each
element had further elements for classification.
Perspectives: ecological, individual, community, organisational, supply chain
Topics/concepts: behaviour and dynamics, capabilities, strategy and performance
Methodologies: theory building, case study, survey and model/framework.
The classification stage also involved studying the different definitions of resilience
under the perspectives.
3.3 Material evaluation
The material was analysed and sorted according to the classification context. This led to
the identification of relevant issues and interpretation of the results.
3.4 Collecting publications and delimiting the field
The literature review focused upon books, edited volumes, journal articles, research
reports and conference papers. Library databases and ‘Google Scholar’ were used with
a keyword search using some important keywords such as for example ‘Resilience’ and
‘Resilient SMEs. Overall 74 papers were finally analysed using the classification scheme.
The papers which provided a direct link to the concept of ‘resilience’ were considered for
the review.
The important aspect was to get a wide interdisciplinary perspective for the concept of
‘resilience’ and to investigate whether there was cross-learning across disciplines within the
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Table 1. Definitions of resilience.
Author Context Definition
Bodin and Wiman
(2004)
Physical systems The speed at which a system returns to equilib-
rium after displacement, irrespective of oscil-
lations indicates the elasticity (resilience)
Holling (1973) Ecological systems The measure of the persistence of systems and of
the ability to absorb change and disturbance
and still maintain the same relationships
between state variables
Walker et al. (2004) Ecological systems The capacity of a system to absorb a disturbance
and reorganise while undergoing change while
retaining the same function, structure, identity
and feedback
Gunderson (2000) Ecological systems The magnitude of disturbance that a system can
absorb before its structure is redefined by
changing the variables and processes that
control behaviour
Tilman and Downing
(1994)
Ecological systems The speed at which a system returns to a single
equilibrium point following a disruption
Walker et al. (2002) Socio–ecological
systems
The ability to maintain the functionality of a
system when it is perturbed or the ability to
maintain the elements required to renew or
reorganise if a disturbance alters the structure
of function of a system
Carpenter et al.
(2001)
Socio–ecological
systems
The magnitude of disturbance that a system can
tolerate before it transitions into a different
state that is controlled by a different set of
processes
Luthans et al. (2006) Psychology The developable capacity to rebound from
adversity
Bruneau et al. (2003) Disaster
management
The ability of social units to mitigate hazards,
contain the effects of disasters when they occur
and carry out recovery activities that minimise
social disruption and mitigate the effects of
future earthquakes
Paton et al. (2000) Disaster
management
Resilience describes an active process of self
righting, learned resourcefulness and growth.
The concept relates to the ability to function
at a higher level psychologically given an
individual’s capabilities and previous
experience
Coutu (2002) Individual Resilient individuals’ posses three common char-
acteristics. These include an acceptance of
reality, a strong belief that life is meaningful
and the ability to improvise
Hamel and
Valikangas (2003)
Organisational Resilience refers to the capacity to continuous
reconstruction
Horne and Orr (1998) Organisational Resilience is the fundamental quality to respond
productively to significant change that disrupts
the expected pattern of event without intro-
ducing an extended period of regressive
behaviour
(continued )
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facets of the classification scheme. The overall objective was to identify those concepts
which would inform resilience within SMEs.
4. Wider resilience literature
The concept of resilience has received little systematic empirical work and independent
attention (Sutcliffe and Vogus 2003). Predominately, resilience-based literature has been
conceptual, focusing on developing a static knowledge base for the area through
establishing the fundamental concepts and principles (De Jong and Ferguson-Hessle
1996). The literature based within the context of resilience as well as the literature within
related areas can be grouped broadly into three general areas of classification. These
correlate to the elements of resilience as identified by Ponomarov and Holcomb (2009).
These include:
. readiness and preparedness
. response and adaption
. recovery or adjustment
Within a specific resilience-based context, although several authors attempt to broadly
cover all of these general areas within a study, individually each area has received little
systematic attention and empirical-based study. As a result a diverse literature base has
developed.
The term was first popularised by Holling in 1973 within the seminal work titled
‘Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems’. The work has formed the foundation for
most studies of the concept of ecological resilience as well various other forms of resilience.
Holling (1973) outlines how altering views of behaviour within ecological systems can
create different approaches to the management of resources. To this end, Holling (1973)
presents the viewpoints ‘resilience’ and ‘stability’. These have been further extended to
form the terms ‘ecological resilience’ and ‘engineering resilience’ (Gunderson 2000, Walker
et al. 2002). The resilience viewpoint emphasises the domains of attraction and the need for
persistence through defining resilience as a measure of systems persistence and the ability
to absorb disturbances and still maintain the same relationships between system entities.
While the stability viewpoint emphasises maintaining the equilibrium within a predictable
world and accumulating excess resources with minimum fluctuation of the system. The
stability viewpoint is then defined as the ability of a system to return to an equilibrium
state after a disturbance (Holling 1973).
Table 1. Continued.
Author Context Definition
McDonald (2006) Organisational Resilience conveys the properties of being able to
adapt to the requirements of the environment
and being able to manage the environments
variability
Hollnagel et al.
(2006)
Engineering The ability to sense, recognise, adapt and absorb
variations, changes, disturbances, disruptions
and surprises
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Table 2. Perspectives, concepts and methodologies in the resilience literature.
Perspectives Topics/concepts Methodologies
Author(s)
Year
Ecological
Individual
Socioecological=
community
Organisational
Supply chain
Behaviourand
dynamics
Capabilities
Strategy
Performance
Theory building
Case study
Survey
Model/framework
Thompson and Lehner 1976 333
Garmezy and Masten 1986 333
Werner 2009 33 3
Holling 1996
Mallak 1998 333 3
Horne and Orr 1998 333 33
Masten and Coatsworth 1998 3333
Peterson et al. 1998 3333
Miller and Whitney 1999 33 3
Adger 2000 33 33
Gunderson 2000 333333
Paton et al. 2000 33 3 3
Luthar et al. 2000 3333
Mitchell et al. 2000 33333
Nystrom et al. 2000 333
Comfort et al. 2001 3333
Carpenter et al. 2001 33 3 333
Holling 2001 3333
Paton and Johnston 2001 333
Folke et al. 2002 3333
Coutu 2002
Walker et al. 2002 33 3
Sutcliffe and Vogus 2003 33 33 3
(continued )
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Table 2. Continued.
Perspectives Topics/concepts Methodologies
Author(s)
Year
Ecological
Individual
Socioecological=
community
Organisational
Supply chain
Behaviourand
dynamics
Capabilities
Strategy
Performance
Theory building
Case study
Survey
Model/framework
Fiksel 2003 33 3
Starr et al. 2003 333
Hamel and Valikangas 2003 3333
Riolli and Savicki 2003 33 3
Bruneau et al. 2003 333
Klein et al. 2003 33 3
Elmqvist et al. 2003 333333
Vis et al. 2003 3333
Rice and Sheffi 2005 333
Dalziell and McManus 2004 333
Walker et al. 2004 33 3
Bodin and Wiman 2004 3333
Christopher and Peck 2004 33 3 3
Bonanno 2004 333
Allenby and Fink 2005 333
Sheffi 2005 333
Cumming et al. 2005 33 33
Ju
¨
ttner 2005 333
Hughes et al. 2005 333
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Fiksel 2006 33 3
Hollnagel et al. 2006 3333
Luthans et al. 2006 333 3
Gallopin 2006 33 3 3 3
McDonald 2006 33 3
Hawes and Reed 2006 33 3
Hind et al. 1996 3333 3
Reich 2006 333
Seville et al. 2006 33 33
Tang 2006 333
Bonanno et al. 2006 33 33
Ong et al. 2006 33 3
Rutter 2006 333
Manyena 2006 333
Vogus and Sutcliffe 2007 333
Youssef and Luthans 2007 3333
Sheffi 2007 33333333
McManus et al. 2007 333 33
Waters 2007 33 333
Youssef and Luthans 2007 33333
Masten and Obradovic 2007 333
Nelson et al. 2007 33333
Norris et al. 2008 3333
Falasca et al. 2008 33 3 3
Powley 2009 33333
Crichton et al. 2009 33 3
Ponomarov and Holcomb 2009 33 3 3
Smith and Fischbacher 2009 33 3
Petchey and Gaston 2009 3333
Brand 2009 3333
Gibson and Tarrant 2010 33 3
Lengnick-Hall et al. 2010 3333 3
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The concept of resilience is both multidisciplinary and multifaceted. The notion of
resilience is firmly grounded within ecology and the working definitions used by many
authors developed following Holling (1973) original research relating to ecosystem
stability. There have been several definitions proposed for resilience, each slightly altered
dependent on context. Table 1 gives the diversity of resilience definitions and also
highlights distinctions between them.
Table 2 gives the resilience literature organised to reveal research contributions
regarding perspectives taken, concepts discussed and the research methodologies utilised;
74 papers are contained within this table.
Although the literature review has considered a classification methodology the papers
reviewed still represent a sample. However, it is interesting to study this sample to get
a view for which areas are the strongest within the resilience literature.
A. The perspectives
Considering Table 3, it is evident that out of the papers selected for the review, there
has been a balanced view across four perspectives ranging from the individual to the
organisation, community and the ecology. Supply chain resilience which perhaps sits
between the organisational and community perspectives has gained more focus post 2001.
B. Topics/concepts
Considering Table 4, it is evident that behaviour and dynamics features in 52 papers out of
the sample of 74. Over the years, this seems to be the most researched topics within the
realm of resilience. The other three: strategy, capabilities and performance either on their
own or in conjunction with behaviour, feature in almost similar numbers across the
reviewed papers; however, these topics are lower in numbers as compared to behaviour.
C. Methodologies
Considering Table 5, it is evident that theory building has been the main focus of
researchers within the area of resilience. Case study and model development have been
Table 3. Perspectives in resilience literature.
Perspectives
Ecological Individual Socio–ecological/community Organisational Supply chain
15 19 17 21 9
Table 4. Topics studied under resilience.
Topics/concepts
Behaviour and dynamics Capabilities Strategy Performance
52 17 17 14
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used in 20–25% of the cases. However, survey has not been a preferred methodology for
the study of resilience.
5. Organisational level and systems resilience
Fundamentally, the concept of resilience is closely related with the capability and ability of
an element to return to a pre-disturbance state after a disruption. When the notion of
resilience is applied to communities and the wider context of organisations, this broad
definition does not change. Resilience is related to both the individual and organisational
responses to turbulence and discontinuities. This involves both the ability to withstand
systematic discontinuities as well as the capability to adapt to new risk environments (Starr
et al. 2003).
Communities and organisations have both been conceptualised as complex system by a
variety of authors (Dooley 1997, Comfort et al. 2001, Crichton et al. 2009). A complex
system is composed of interconnected agents that form a network of linkages that interact
nonlinearly. This interaction gives rise to emergent behaviour. The systems interact within
the network feedback, creating a loop and reinforcing the cause and effect relationship
between system agents. In order to sustain the internal complexity of the system, constant
energy and interaction between the system and the environment is required creating a
dissipative system through the constant exchange of energy and matter. As such, complex
systems are evolutionary and react to local information and are thereby capable of self
organisation (Andriani 2003). As identified by Comfort et al. (2001) when an environ-
ments complexity increases, possibly through high impact or disruptive events, a systems
performance decreases, as the system is unable to process the amount and range of
information required to adequately establish the coordination required across the
components of the response system. This is a result of the system requiring a significant
increase in information exchange, communication and coordination in order to integrate
the multiple levels of system operation and decisions caused by the increase in
environmental and system complexity. As a result of this, in order to establish a strategy
for reducing risk in uncertain environments, Comfort et al. (2001) suggests that a system
should create a balance between anticipation or preparedness and resilience.
5.1 Vulnerability
The term ‘vulnerability’ carries with it several connotations, often connected to the
susceptibility of a system to harm (Adger 2006). This view is reflected by McCarthy (2001)
within the context of climate change. Here vulnerability is defined as the degree to which a
system is susceptible to the effects of climate change. Within a broader context, the concept
of vulnerability is most often defined as being subject to a range of effects. These include
Table 5. Methodologies used in research.
Methodologies
Theory building Case study Survey Model/framework
52 21 6 16
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exposure to perturbations, external stresses, sensitivity to perturbation (the degree to
which the system is affected or altered due to perturbation) and the system’s capacity of
response (Gallopı
´
n 2006). Subsequently, the concept of vulnerability is inherently complex,
impinging of several variables and can therefore be thought of as a dynamic entity
(Dalziell and McManus 2004).
Gallopı
´
n (2006) identify the conceptual linkages between vulnerability, resilience and
adaptive capacity. Within this representation, resilience is considered a subset or
component of a systems capacity of response. A systems capacity of response relates to
the ability of the system to adjust to a disturbance, moderate the effects, take advantage of
any available opportunities and cope with the consequences of any system transformations
(Gallopı
´
n 2006).
Within Gallopı
´
ns (2006) model of the components of vulnerability, it is clear that
vulnerability is the overreaching concept and that resilience and adaptive capacity are
considered a conceptual subset. Through this, Gallopı
´
n (2006) refers to the vulnerability as
the capacity to preserve the structure of a system, while resilience refers to the capacity to
recover from disturbances. The same relationship between vulnerability and resilience is
reflected by Turner et al. (2003) within the development of vulnerability analysis models
within the concept of sustainability. Here, vulnerability is defined as the degree to which
a system is likely to experience harm due to exposure to a threat or perturbation. As such,
resilience is identified as a subset element of vulnerability (Figure 1).
5.2 Adaptive capacity
As shown by the examples of socio–ecological systems within Carpenter et al. (2001) study
into resilience, the adaptive capacity of a system is related to the mechanisms for the
creation of novelty and learning. Adaptive capacity is described by Gunderson (2000) in
regards to ecological resilience as a systems robustness to alterations and changes in
resilience. Within Gallopı
´
ns (2006) model of the components of vulnerability, a system
Vulnerability
Resilience
Adaptive
capacity
Sensitivity
Capacity of
response
Exposure
Figure 1. The concept of vulnerability.
Source: Adapted from Gallopin (2006).
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adaptive capacity is linked to a system capacity of response and defined as the ability of
a system to evolve in order to accommodate environmental threats or changes and the
ability to expand the range of variability.
Adaptive capacity reflects the ability of the system to respond to changes in its external
environment, and to recover from damage to internal structures within the system that affect
the ability to achieve its purpose. (Dalziell and McManus 2004)
Predominately, literature has referred to or emphasised resilience as a means to recover
from disturbances; however, the concept of adaptive capacity may also lead to establishing
new system equilibriums or stability domains, allowing a system to adapt to new
environments (Fiksel 2006). Here, resilience is established from a system of adaptive
capacities and can be regarded as the process of linking resources to outcomes (Norris
et al. 2008). As such the adaptive capacity of a system can be regarded as the mechanism
for resilience.
Carpenter et al. (2001) identify that the adaptive capacity of a system also reflects the
learning aspect of system behaviour in response to a disruption. Within organisations,
adaptive capacity refers to the ability to cope with unknown future circumstances (Staber
and Sydow 2002). As such reflecting the definition set by Carpenter et al. (2001). As a
result organisations that focus on adaptive capacity will not experience environments
passively, instead the organisation will continuously develop and apply new knowledge in
relation to the operating environment. Rather than identifying the existing demands and
then exploiting the available resources, adaptive organisations will reconfigure quickly in
changing environments (Staber and Sydow 2002). It is believed, the adaptive capacity of an
organisation aids in better preparedness for turbulent environments.
5.3 Resilience
Resilience is both a function of both the vulnerability of a system and its adaptive capacity
(Dalziell and McManus 2004). Fiksel (2003) identifies four major system characteristics
that contribute to resilience. These include:
. diversity the existence of multiple forms and behaviours
. efficiency performance with modest resource consumption
. adaptability flexibility to change in response to new pressures
. cohesion existence of unifying relationships and linkages between system
variables and elements.
To illustrate this, Fiksel (2003) presents simplified graphical representations of
thermodynamic systems to characterise the different types of resilience. Each system has a
stable state representing the lowest potential energy at which the system maintains order
and function. When the system is subjected to a threat or perturbation, this state will shift
along the trajectory of the adjacent states (Fiksel 2003). The examples of system behaviour
are shown in Figure 2.
System 1 highlights an engineered system through which the system operates within
a narrow band of possible states. Although the system is designed to be resistant to small
disturbances from its equilibrium state, the system is unable to cope with larger scale or
high impact events. As such the system may be regarded as resistant, but not as resilient.
System 2 offers a greater resiliency to disturbances, as the system is able to retain
fundamental function across a broad range of possible states and then gradually return to
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equilibrium. As a result system 2, typical of social and ecological systems, can be
characterised as a resilient system. Although system 2 does classify as a resilient system,
the characteristics of system 3 offer much greater resilience in the face of significant
disturbance. Through the system having multiple equilibrium states, under certain
condition the system is able to shift to a different state. This means that the system is able
to tolerate larger perturbations. However, the shift to a different equilibrium point
represents a fundamental change in the systems structure and function (Fiksel 2003).
6. Conclusion and future research directions
The authors find that from this study that there appears to be a strong focus around
building theories and definitions of resilience. However, the literature is lacking in
empirically proving the theories. In other words, there is little on how organisations,
particularly SMEs, can achieve degrees of resilience. For the theory to be of value in
the real world, more real world-based research needs to be done, particularly focused
on empirical methods such as case study and survey which can significantly add to and
validate theoretical constructs. Although a number of case studies are found within the
literature, only three out of twenty one address the organisation as their point of
perspective. Empirical research that uses case-based methods focusing on the
organisation are currently few and further study here would add to current
understanding.
Some areas of resilience have received significant academic attention and empirical
study, such as ecological systems (Holling 1973, Gunderson 2000, Carpenter et al. 2001)
and to a lesser extent socio–ecological systems (Walker et al. 2002, 2004). Areas such as
organisational level resilience and particularly the extended enterprise and supply chains
need a greater focus accordingly. There is also need to conduct good quality empirical-
based research to fully develop the area and properly recognise the potential of developing
the resilient characteristics within organisations and supply chains. Supply chain is a
context that is currently well served particularly in the area of risk and its avoidance.
Although risk is not wholly or strictly resilience, the authors’ do see it as contained within
the resilience scope.
System 3System 2System 1
Potential
energy
Adjacent system states
Figure 2. System trajectory.
Source: Fiskel (2003).
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Considering the various definitions of ‘resilience’ from the literature and as depicted
in Table 1, it is essential to understand whether resilience is: a measure, a feature, a
philosophy or a capability? Again, is being resilient a tangible capability or an intangible
capability? Although these may be difficult questions to ground, the authors believe that
this will largely depend upon the context: individual, organisational, supply chain,
community, ecological. In some cases, there may be a need for the research to transcend all
these contexts. Researchers must untangle the complexities involved.
This research finds that there is great potential for future research within the area of
resilience. There is future scope to apply systems engineering resilience thinking to the
aspect of SME resilience considering the SME as a sub-system within the extended supply
chain. Ideas for other more specific research questions for future research within the area
of SME resilience are: does individual human resilience characteristics have a greater
influence on SME resilience than organisational resilience characteristics? How can SMEs
develop resilient characteristics through network collaboration? In addition, the crucial
interface between organisational and infrastructural resilience needs to be investigated,
understood and eventually operationalised in practice.
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