There have been many different definitions with regard to the concept of resilience. As uncovered in this review, the many definitions unfortunately differ, depending on the source. Additionally, resilience has also been defined within various different context areas and, in turn, resilience research has focused within those specific areas. This literature review targeted a few different context areas, which have emerged over time. Areas include resilience as it related to individuals, communities, and organizations. Mowbray (2011) points out that resilience regarding individuals is “the capacity to mobilize personal features that enable individuals, groups and communities (including controlled communities such as a workforce) to prevent, tolerate, overcome, and be enhanced by adverse events and experiences” (p. 1). Although resilience is studied among many different contexts, this research specifically focuses the application of resilience within organizations.
A review of related literature has uncovered the difficulty in defining the word resilience. More than 50 years of scholarly research on resilience has identified many different definitions and perspectives (Dugan & Coles, 1989; Glantz & Johnson, 1999; Joseph, 1994; Taylor & Wang, 2000; Thomsen, 2002; Unger, 2005). Even with the large and growing body of research on resilience, there has been little agreement on a single uniform definition among scholars. More recently within scholarly research, some have defined resilience in a vast number of ways (Carle & Chassin, 2004).
A few definitions, which resonate include one provided by Richardson, Neiger, Jensen, and Kumpfer (1990) who define resilience as “the process of coping with disruptive, stressful, or challenging life events in a way that provides the individual with additional protective and coping skills than prior to the disruption that results from the event” (p. 34). Additionally Higgins (1994) defines resilience as “the process of self- righting or growth,” and Wolin et al. (1993) define resilience as the “capacity to bounce back, to withstand hardship, and to repair yourself.” (p. 5) Wieland and Wallenburg (2013) define resilience simply as “”the ability of a [system] to cope with change” (p. 301). Similarly, resilience is also defined as the process of effectively negotiating, adapting to, or managing significant sources of stress or trauma. As stated by Ungar (2008), resilience is best understood as follows:
In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways. (p. 14)
Understood this way, resilience requires individuals to have the capacity to find resources that bolster well-being, while also emphasizing that it is up to communities, organizations, and governments to provide these resources to bring value to individuals. Resilience is the result of successful navigation to obtain needed resource, as well as negotiation for resources to be provided in ways to benefit individuals in need.
Current State of Resilience Literature
As indicated, the sheer complexities of defining what appears to be the relatively simple concept of resilience are widely recognized. Over time, resilience has been analyzed from a range of disciplinary perspectives with the goal of clarifying a definition in order to inform research, policy, and practice. Within this review of related literature, a large proportion of resilience research is rooted in the discipline of developmental psychology. A major contribution to ongoing resilience research continues to be made through multidisciplinary studies that examine the dynamics of resilience. As resilience research continues to evolve, areas that had not previously been identified requiring resilience, now are beginning to surface, namely: organizations (Somers, 2007; Stephenson, 2010); environmental changes (Nelson, Adger, & Brown, 2007); and the economy (Boettke et al., 2007; Chernick, 2005; Flynn, 2004; Flynn, 2008).
Similar to the numerous definitions of resilience, there are a number of dimensions, which make up resilience. Patterson and Kelleher (2005) identify three dimensions of resilience: interpretation, resilience capacity, and actions. The interpretation dimension of resilience identifies how individuals, communities, organizations, and society interpret the current adversity and future possibility. Resilience capacity is the capacity for an individual, community, organization, or society to tackle adversity. Lastly actions refer to those actions needed to become more resilient in the face of adversity.
A similar definition of the dimensions of resilience is brought forth by (Luthar et al., 2000) as a two-dimensional construct concerning the exposure of adversity and the positive adjustment outcomes of that adversity. Additionally, researchers emphasize the interactive processes – between the individual and environment and between risk and protective factors – as the crucial underpinnings of developing resilience. Masten (2001); Padron, Waxman, and Huang, (1999). A triadic model of resilience is described by Garmezy (1991) as Garmezy’s Triadic Model of Resilience, which is viewed as a widely accepted ecological framework for understanding the resilience process. Garmezy’s triadic model described resilience as the dynamic interactions among risk and protective factors on three levels: individual, family, and environmental. The model also emphasized that resilience is a process that empowers individuals to shape their environment and to be shaped by it, in return.
The review of related literature regarding the dimensions of resilience also identified the dimensions within the context of organizations. Posited by McManus (2007), resilience as it related to organizations, identified two dimensions namely, planning and adaptive capacity and is measured using 13 resilience indicators.
The dimension of planning within organizational resilience consists of the following five indicators: planning strategies, participation in exercises, proactive posture, capability and capacity of external resources, and recovery priorities (McManus, 2007). Conversely, the dimension of adaptive capacity consists of the following eight indicators: minimizing a silo mentality, capability and capacity of internal resources, staff engagement and involvement, information and knowledge, leadership, management and
governance structures, innovation and creativity, devolved and responsive decision making, internal and external situation monitoring and reporting (McManus, 2007). These resilience dimensions and resilience indicators were analyzed on New Jersey organizations as part of this research study.
Organizations exist as a vital part of providing products and services to individuals, communities, countries, and society as a whole. In addition, organizations monitor, maintain, and control critical infrastructure and key resources, which the public relies on daily and on an ongoing basis. The ability of organizations to respond and recover effectively following a disaster has a large influence on the length of time that essential services are unavailable. Subsequently, enhancing organizational resilience is a critical step towards creating more resilient communities and a more resilient society.
A review of literature identified that individual, community, and organizational resilience is often addressed separately. Individuals and communities rely on organizations to provide critical services like power, transportation, healthcare, and water (Chang & Chamberlin, 2003). McManus et al. (2008) argue that the resilience of organizations directly contributes to not only the speed but also to the success of individual and community recovery following a crisis or disaster. McManus et al. (2008) also discuss communities’ expectations of organizations:
Consumers and communities are increasingly demanding that organizations exhibit high reliability in the face of adversity and that decision makers are able to address not only the crises that they know will happen, but also those that they cannot foresee. (p. 81)
Organizational resilience is concerned with performance during business-as-usual as well as in crisis situations (Mitroff, 2005). Resilience requires organizations to adapt and to be highly reliable (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007) and enables organizations to be able to manage disruptive challenges (Durodie, 2003). Seville et al. (2008) discuss organizational resilience as an organization’s “…ability to survive, and potentially even thrive, in times of crisis” (p. 2). Organizational resilience is important for two key reasons: Community and organizational resilience are interdependent in a complex environment (Dalziell & McManus, 2004), and lastly being resilient can provide organizations with competitive advantage (Parsons, 2007).