The Groupe URD Review

Methods and tools

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Reaching Resilience
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How should we measure resilience?
Valérie Léon & Coline Michon

Today, aid organisations recognise the pertinence of resilience approaches, but do not always know how to put them into practice or to measure them. Since mid-2014, Groupe URD has been developing a method to measure progress in terms of resilience and early recovery after a shock. This is currently being tested in Bangladesh and Nepal, the final objective being to develop an approach and a measurement tool which can be adapted to specific operational contexts.

 Overview of concepts

Numerous concepts have recently emerged in the aid sector, with different organisations interpreting these in different ways, creating confusion. Among these new terms, Early Recovery refers to the first stage of a return to a certain form of normality (from before the crisis) during the humanitarian response. Early Recovery actions aim to reduce the severity and duration of crises, and, depending on the operational methods, help to establish the foundations of resilience at various levels (individuals, community, society, etc.), and consequently those of sustainable development. Resilience refers to the capacity of an individual, household, community, country or region to resist, adapt and recover rapidly following a shock. The most important part of this definition is the idea of being able to “bounce back”. As such, resilience is seen as a broader concept that includes the concept of early recovery, as it is not simply focused on the response to shocks, but also on prevention and preparedness, in support of development processes.



The most widely used definitions:

“The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.”, UNISDR (2009).

“Disaster resilience is the ability of countries, communities and households to manage change by maintaining or transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses – such as earthquakes, drought or violent conflict – without compromising their long-term prospects.”, DfID (2011).

Early Recovery
“Early Recovery is an approach that addresses recovery needs that arise during the humanitarian phase of an emergency, using humanitarian mechanisms that align with development principles. It enables people to use the benefits of humanitarian action to seize development opportunities, builds resilience, and establishes a sustainable process of recovery from crisis. Early recovery is a vital element of any effective humanitarian response. Planning for it should start when the crisis begins.” IASC (2014).




The diagram below (Figure 1) helps to visualise the relationship between the different notions, without getting into semantic discussions, and promotes closer collaboration between humanitarian and development organisations. Based on a document produced by the IASC, it provides a graphic illustration of the respective position of the different concepts depending on whether they are related to development phases or are specific to the humanitarian response.

When applied to projects, these concepts do not always follow a linear sequence. The increased number of risks and the recurrence of shocks and crises can result in a succession of operations. Early recovery and resilience therefore aim for lasting crisis resolution.

This diagram also shows that early recovery has to be taken into account in each sector and depends on collective mobilisation by all actors who are directly or indirectly involved. It also concerns different operational methods (such as emergency relief, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, early, mid-term and long-term recovery processes and resilience).


Figure 1: A holistic approach to early recovery and resilience in a disaster context

Source: Adapted from CWGER (2008), Early Recovery in the context of transition, IASC Guidance note on Early Recovery.
Abreviations: CCA: Climate Change Adaptation; DRR: Disaster Risk Reduction; MDO: Millenium Development Objectives; PR: Poverty Reduction.


During its field visits, Groupe URD has observed that aid practitioners are generally familiar with these different concepts. However, there are often few, if any, operational links between emergency relief and early recovery, or between the recovery and development phases.

It is therefore essential to move beyond conceptual debates to create operational links between the different types of operation. A measurement method that could be adapted to different contexts and field operators would make it possible to assess and compare aid programmes and refer to tangible results to improve the quality of aid programmes.