Do we understand the behaviour changes required to be more resilient? 11 experts share their views

Resilience is a hot topic when it comes to the major issues facing our communities now and into the future. 

At the heart of any success in understanding resilience is one simple fact - resilience ultimately comes down to the willingness of people to change the way they live their lives, or understand that making those changes IS something that WILL be required.

While there are clear physical examples of solutions providing improved resilience (such as the Thames barrier and the MOSE in Venice), the key to achieving a resilient community is peoples’ ability to roll with the punches if and when the punches come.

I asked 11 leading industry contributors the following question:

We continue to read and hear that our communities, our infrastructure, our systems must be more resilient. Do we understand what this means? Do we understand the behaviour changes that are required for us to be more resilient? And can Smart Cities assist? 

Follow David @davidjsingleton and on LinkedIn


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Nicole Hahn

Toby Kent

Jonathan Cartledge

Kristen MacAskill

Tim Chapman

Neil Walmsley

Neil Greet

Fahim Tonmoy

Richard Palmer

Kirsten McDonald

Peter Newton

Resilience Commentators

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Nicole Hahn

Humanitarian / Program Manager

"What does it mean to be resilient? Resilience is the ability to get back/stay on your feet despite setbacks. The ten years I’ve spent working in first phase emergency responses across the globe has allowed me to witness such resilience in the face of adversity.  

I think of the man selling cigarettes near the front gate of Zaa’tari refugee camp in Jordan after having lost his wife, his three children, his home and his car dealership in Syria.  I wonder what I would do.   Why does he not just sit back and take what’s on offer in terms of a tent and food and sleep the days away?  Even without his immediate family, his extended family and community surround him.  

I think of the young Fijian man that I met in his village after Cyclone Winston that had come back from the capital to be with his family during this difficult time.  It struck me that not once did he say he was there to help clean up, or rebuild - it was about being there for his family/community and enduring this time together.   

Individual Resilience includes factors of education, access to resources (be that ability to self sustain or welfare), attitude to adversity (does the individual see it as a challenge or a threat) but I believe the biggest factor is the social structures the individual has around them. 

Do we understand the behaviour changes that are required for us to be more resilient? 

I worry that as we move further into a tech world with around the clock “connectedness” we are reducing our individual and collective resilience by weakening our individual social support systems.  There is huge value in the sense of belonging and sustained support that is developed over slow cups of tea on the couch with a good friend, or the phone calls that allow you to pick up the emotion in someone’s voice.  

The behaviour change required to be more resilient is in fact a slowing down and a shift back to a focus on quality relationships with more than those with which we live and investing time in being an active part of the community in which we live.

Can Smart Cities assist?  Smart cities can certainly help with this behaviour change.  Smarter Cities can help increase the time we have in a day to invest in relationships by improving traffic-flow or making life more efficient.  Smarter cities can through improved safety and early warning systems reduce the adversity that we even need to be resilient of.   However, we must recognise though that truly “smart” cities must be smart enough to bring individuals and communities closer together in a real physical and emotional way."  

Follow Nicole on LinkedIn. Passionate about making impact in the lives of communities across the globe, from developing nations to first world cities. A board member of RedR, she also uses her skills for Oxfam, Australian Civilian Corp, and a number of new start-ups in the impact space. 

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Toby Kent

Chief Resilience Office for Melbourne

“In an Australian context, it is noticeable how readily accepted the term “resilience” is. There is something about the word that resonates within the collective Australian identity.

At the same time, while to be resilient is a desirable quality, most of us, want to avoid situations in which we truly have to demonstrate resilience – no one wants to tell you how resilient they were on their holiday!

Too often the word resilience is linked to another well-used phrase “to harden up”. Real resilience, whether in the context of people or assets, is less about hardening up and more about understanding where we are vulnerable and thus where support is required.

This flows through to the Smart Cities agenda. Smart technology can help us to better understand how to make best use of urban spaces when times are good, as well as when faced with profound challenges. For example, smart technology can increase everyday access to all that a city holds for those often excluded from it, such as smart technology to support citizens who are visually impaired or blind to navigate a city. Equally, technology, such as drones, is increasingly being used to assist in responding to and recovering from extreme events.

Posing something of a conundrum, there is a dependence that builds up around the use of technology which may undermine people’s self-reliance, particularly when such systems fail. With Lloyds Risk Register and Cambridge University (see Lloyds City Risk Index) assessing cyber attack as presenting the third largest threat to Melbourne’s insurable GDP, the confluence of smart technology, opportunity and threat is great.”

Follow Toby @tobykent01 and on LinkedIn. Toby has deep expertise in Sustainable Development and Resilience planning and risk management.

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Jonathan Cartledge

Head of Public Affairs for GBCA

“The language of risk provides an essential framework through which to understand and explain the behaviour changes we require to build our resilience. But in considering our vulnerabilities, the likelihood of threats and the consequences of actions, we need to be sure that we have the best possible information and data.  We also need to understand how that data can inform our risk mitigation, and we must also understand who ultimately who owns the risk in question.

For example, if we consider the complexity of climate change risk in the built environment, the challenge of measuring the impact, and the fragmented nature of risk ownership across levels of government, the community and industry, we quickly introduce a whole new layer of risks to manage. These are the challenges and risks associated with short-term decision making, poor governance, a lack of leadership and deficient data, and they act as multipliers for climate change risks which in many cases are already existential.  These are perhaps the most challenging areas to manage, but as the risks increase, we see the leadership emerge through industry. We see this in the work advanced by the Green Building Council of Australia, in local government and through intergovernmental cooperation like that demonstrated through the C40. The movements started by these organisations act as a coordinating catalyst for broader industry and social change, and policy leadership across all levels of government.” 

Follow Jonathan @Cartledge_J and on LinkedIn. With a background across government relations, strategy and communications roles, Richard is passionate and knowledgeable about healthy, liveable, productive, resilient & sustainable buildings, cities & communities.

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Kristen MacAskill

Construction Engineering Masters Senior Programme Manager at the University of Cambridge

“There is an increasing awareness of threats to communities, infrastructure and systems but we don't yet have decision-making processes that support integrated, long-term thinking, particularly with respect to managing uncertainty. Smart Cities may be able to support better informed decision making through the provision of more accurate data, but this is reliant on the development of improved capacity to process and interpret that data."

Follow Kristen on LinkedIn. Kristen is a trusted voice on infrastructure development and her PhD research explored decision making in post-disaster infrastructure reconstruction programmes, focusing on civil infrastructure networks.

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Tim Chapman

Director at Arup - Infrastructure

“Infrastructure delivers services to society.  It should be seen through the lens of those outcomes rather than as an assemblage of physical assets.  Resilience is relative – a loss of power to an intensive care hospital unit is very different to a reduction in flow of irrigation water to a golf course.  As supply of infrastructure services is increasingly driven by digital technology, they become more vulnerable, if better controlled.  And those same digital technologies can also be used to affect user behaviour and to spread peak infrastructure service demand, which has tended to be the crunch point capacity, thereby offering new ways of getting more service from an existing asset base." 

Follow Tim on LinkedIn. Tim is in charge of Arup's infrastructure design group in London. A civil / geotechnical engineer by original training, with an interest in large infrastructure schemes, Tim has an interest in improving infrastructure solutions to be more useful to society; better, more buildable, lower carbon.

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Neil Walmsley

Singapore Planning Leader at Arup

“To address this question, I’ve broken David’s question into three parts: 1)    We continue to read and hear that our communities, our infrastructure, our systems must be more resilient. Do we understand what this means?

My interpretation of resilience (in any context – community, infrastructure, systems etc) is the ability to absorb rare and/or severe shocks and return to ‘normal’ with the minimum of delay.  In the context of ‘the day job’ - securing investment, prioritising needs, solving problems, maintaining public support – the typical city leader is unlikely to have ‘rare and gloomy’ scenarios at the top of their inbox.  Even when leaders are mindful of the risks, their political desire to allocate finite time and money towards things that ‘might never happen’ is, in my observation, rarely strong.

2)  Do we understand the behaviour changes that are required for us to be more resilient? The professional understanding of the risks and our ability to mitigate by design are both strong, but in the age of ‘fake news’ our leaders rely, more than ever, on their powers of persuasion to discourage unsustainable consumption, promote responsible choices and secure financial and political support for investments from the communities and societies that they serve.

3) Can smart cities assist? The term ‘smart cities’ has been hijacked by technology suppliers.  Nevertheless, if i interpret the question as ‘can technology facilitate more resilient communities’ then, in my view, yes – in terms of (for example) embedded sensors harvesting high quality data, complex models using this data to forecast likely outcomes, automated systems activating safeguards and social media effectively communicating with society in real time.”

Follow Neil @neilwalmsleysg and via LinkedIn.  Neil leads Arup's 'Cities & Planning' business in Singapore and across Indonesia and Malaysia - bringing global best practice, an international professional network and a culture of innovation to some of the world's fastest changing places. 

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Neil Greet,

Director Collaborative Outcomes - Innovation Building Resilience

 “So many places to start, and that is the strength and weakness as resilience can mean everything and be nothing but a glib word!

Resilience is a framework for systems thinking which provides pathways for adaption and mitigates the risks of the future.

Resilience is a societal responsibility and to be resilient demands a change from the complacency of conventional wisdom in government and commercial decision making. Collaboration and diversity drive resilient practices. 

Potential catastrophe is not ignored in planning for future communities because it embraces graceful degradation in systems design.  Resilient design approaches deal with uncertainty and the need to adapt throughout the life cycle. 

It is useful to understand what resilience is not:

  • Resilience is not an excuse to do the same thing and being stubborn.
  • Resilience is not a feel-good concept where everyone agrees with each other defeating a threat.
  • Resilience is not an excuse to offload difficult decisions by relying on the human spirt to endure.
  • Resilience is not a sporting team coming from behind to win a game.
  • Resilience is not protecting an ill-defined value set.
  • Resilience is not unity of purpose.
  • Resilience is not volunteering.”

Follow Neil on LinkedIn. As leader of Collaborative Outcomes, Neil is driven by the innovative delivery of humanitarian engineering which will allow engineers to actively learn, engage and contribute to engineering that delivers results to communities in need.


Fahim Tonmoy

Research Fellow, Griffith Centre for Coastal Management, Griffith University

Adjunct Lecturer, School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

“Challenges of applying theoretical concepts of resilience in practice?  The theoretical definitions of resilience emanate from multiple disciplines (e.g. ecology, disaster management, engineering) and therefore are quite diverse in the literature. In general, disaster management literature defines resilience as the ability of a system to resist to and/or to recover from some shock. Some scholars use other terminologies as a measure of resilience such as coping capacity, flexibility and the ability to maintain the status quo or to reorganise after stress or shock. However, these theoretical definitions of resilience are often difficult to make use of in the practical sense as the concepts surrounding resilience such as coping capacity, adaptive capacity, flexibility etc. are abstract and difficult to define in a mechanistic sense (as opposed to measurable features such as temperature or length of an object). 

Therefore we don’t see any agreement upon mechanistic or mathematical models of resilience in general. On the contrary, resilience of a system and its associated concepts are measured using some indicators and finally indicators are combined to get a general sense of the resilience of a given system.  

One possible solution for practitioners to better understand, measure and develop strategies to enhance resilience of a system is to narrow down the question and develop clear boundary around it through answering questions such as resilience of what system? resilience to which stress/es? interested to increase resilience at what time frame? e.g. short-term coping capacity and/or longer-term adaptive capacity. Here the former referring to the emergency/disaster management cycle, i.e. preparedness, response and recovery phases, while the latter refers to the longer terms adjustments in the human-natural system needed to respond properly to the existing threat. If the system, stress/es and time frame are narrowly defined, then it might be possible for practitioners to develop targeted, measurable strategies and policies which can trigger resilience building activities and behaviours within the physical, institutional and social fabric of the system in hand (e.g. cities, their infrastructure and institutions).

 Can Smart Cities help? .... " read the rest of Fahim's response here. 

Follow Fahim @fahimnawroz and on LinkedIN. Fahim is a researcher with an interest in #resilience and engineering initiatives of #ClimateChange #adaptation

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Richard Palmer

Director – Sustainability WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff

“For Halloween,” went the suggestive tweet, “put ‘sexy’ in front of your scariest thing…”   

And so I did.

Sexy ecosystem collapse. Sexy uninsurable risk. Sexy unmanaged retreat. Sexy concurrent breadbasket failure. Sexy urban displacement. Sexy flooded sewer systems. Sexy microbial resistance. Sexy heatwaves. Sexy bushfires. Sexy floods. Sexy category 5 hurricanes, all in a row. Sexy drought. Sexy climate change.

These things terrify me because we live in a world where the statistical assumptions that underpin our decisions are no longer reflective of the world we will inhabit - when 1-in-500 year (the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season) and 1-in-1000 year (the Cape Town drought) events occur concurrently, ‘normal’ no longer applies.

The foundational basis of our design and investment decisions over the life of the things we build is wrong. And we have little idea of how wrong it will prove to be, no clear picture of the unknown and unknowable risks that the cities we build, and the communities they house, will face.

The glimpses of the future that climate models give us tell us that we will be living in a profoundly different world in the second half of this century and beyond.

People have always feared the unknown, the dark, the afterlife. In the past, we’ve used religion and myth and legend to light that dark (our Halloween traditions), and more recently science, technology and data. But none of these alone give us the tools for the unknowable interaction of complex earth system changes that appear to be our collective future.

If we’re to navigate these very real risks, we need to build resilient cities - there is no doubt to the imperative. Cities with systems that absorb the shocks of a changing climate and maintain functional core services for communities." Read Richard's full response here.

Follow Richard’s blog or connect via Linkedin. Richard uses his skills, experience, networks and vision to navigate the complex set of challenges associated with the built environment. He is a regular contributor on panels where the focus is around urban transformation, megatrends and sustainability.    

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Kirsten McDonald

Associate Principal, Arup

“We continue to read and hear that our communities, our infrastructure, our systems must be more resilient. Do we understand what this means? In my opinion, the understanding of what it means for our (urban) systems to be more resilient is deepening as familiarity with the term, the theory, the actions being taken, increases. From my experience (albeit my limited experience in comparison to others) of working in cities in Asia, we are at the beginning of the journey of applying the theory of ‘urban resilience’ to the ‘practice’ of planning, design and delivery of our cities. (Work to build the resilience of communities has been the focus of many non-government organisations for some years. As a result ‘practice’ is more advanced in this area.)

Do we understand the behaviour changes that are required for us to be more resilient? In my opinion, we have a better understanding of the theory, than what it means ‘in practice’, that is what it means for those who plan, design and deliver our cities. That which we do know is that it will require us (built environment professionals) to fundamentally change the way we practice. We will need to understand our cities as systems. We need to understand how our cities – the infrastructure, the institutions, the knowledge networks[1] – respond to and recover from the shocks and stresses they face today as well as how this might change in the future. We need to understand the actors within the city and how they work and, perhaps most importantly, how they learn. Changing the way we work in response to this deepening understanding of our cities is key to our cities becoming more resilient. Being able to transform our practice quickly in response to lessons learned (from the experience of shocks and stresses) is critical.”

[1] Sam Kernaghan, Jo da Silva and Andres Luque. (2012) A systems approach to meeting the challenges of urban climate change. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 4, pages 125-145. Available online:

Kirsten is a leading practitioner and speaker, with a focus on international development. She has an incredible amount of experience and success in working with developing nations, and Australia’s Indigenous communities to increase and improve resilience. Contact Kirsten, and follow @ArupAustralasia to keep up to date with areas Kirsten is involved with.




Peter Newton

Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism at Swinburne University

“Do we understand the behaviour changes required to be more resilient? Rather than summarise, I’ll point to some relevant papers I’ve been involved in producing:

  1. A chapter on governance for climate change in Australian cities;
  2. An overview of urban challenges that Australian Governments need to prepare for written with my Nobel Laureat colleague (future pandemics);
  3. A piece on green economy transition;
  4. An article on digital information platforms that are currently missing/needed to enable more effective planning.” 

Peter is a Research Professor in the area of sustainable built environments at Swinburne’s Centre for Urban Transitions. Read more of Peter’s papers here.