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Metropolitan Planning and Resilience Thinking: A Practitioner’s Perspective Cathy Wilkinson, Libby Porter and Johan Colding Through inter-disciplinary exploratory research with metropolitan planners from Glasgow, Stockholm and Melbourne, this paper synthesizes practitioner insights into how resilience thinking can inform PHWURSROLWDQ SODQQLQJ 7KH SDSHU LGHQWLÀHV WKUHH ZD\V UHVLOLHQFH WKLQNLQJ FDQ XVHIXOO\ LQIRUP metropolitan planning. First, through new metaphors regarding the nature of structural change in linked and complex systems that prioritize change and uncertainty. Second, by providing new frames and tools for analysis of the dynamics of complex social-ecological urban systems are explored and applied. Third, through more adaptive governance for metropolitan planning.

The history of resilience thinking can be summarized as a story of how the fundamental assumptions underpinning natural resource management (assumptions such as equilibrium, stability and predictability) were challenged by new understandings of the dynamics of change in complex, linked social-ecological systems. In challenging those management approaches, this story is also about how new modes of managing and governing change in human and natural systems have evolved - modes that challenge the legacy of the modernist command and control paradigm, the treatment of human and ecological systems as separate, and the inadequate attention paid to cross-scale interactions. This paper explores the relevance of this story and its implications for metropolitan planning from a practitioner’s perspective. We suggest that the import of this relevance lies beyond the role of resilience as a neat set of conceptual metaphors, and that the process of application identifies key challenges for the role of the metropolitan planner, the field of metropolitan planning and the knowledge-policy divide. Further we argue that a thorough interdisciplinary exploration of resilience thinking’s potential for planning benefits from the insights of practitioners. Resilience thinking is of interest to planning theory and practice for a number of reasons. Improving our knowledge of ecosystem dynamics and human-nature relations is crucial at this time as global ecological limits are receiving renewed attention through the tentative identification of planetary boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009) and the detrimental impact of urbanization on global ecosystems (MA 2005; Grimm et al. 2008). Further, proponents and critics of resilience thinking alike emphasize its strength as both a substantial critique of linear thinking (Lélé 1998, 250) and for its ability to open interdisciplinary doors between ecologists and social scientists.


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This paper reports on research findings from an intensive, exploratory workshop with senior metropolitan planning professionals from Glasgow, Stockholm and Melbourne undertaken in 2009. We use interpretive analysis to draw insights from a practitioner’s exploration of resilience thinking (Bevir and Rhodes 2006; Hajer and Wagenaar 2003). This is not a theoretical exercise (after Chettiparamb 2006 or Pickett et al. 2004) but rather a deliberate attempt to draw out what is revealed when resilience thinking is exposed to planning practice. Four substantive sections structure the paper. The first section provides an overview of resilience thinking and how planning scholars have dealt with it. Section two introduces the research approach. In the third section we draw out some critical insights from a practitioner’s meeting with resilience thinking that we consider holds particular value for metropolitan planning. The final section draws concluding remarks.

Resilience and Urban Planning Overview of Resilience In this paper we use the term “resilience thinking” to describe the body of work on social-ecological resilience. Resilience thinking has its origins in systems ecology (Holling 1973) but is now expanding to address broader matters of the governance of linked social-ecological systems (Berkes et al. 2003; Folke 2006; Walker and Salt 2006). Social-ecological resilience has been defined as: the amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state; the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization; and the degree to which the system


can build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation (Carpenter et al. 2001). The concept of the adaptive cycle is central to resilience thinking. Holling introduced the adaptive cycle to describe the general characteristics of ecosystems’ dynamic change in four phases: exploitation, conservation, release and reorganization (Holling 1986; Holling and Sanderson 1996; Gunderson and Holling 2002). Attention to the release and reorganization phases that follow periods of disturbance or crisis fundamentally challenged previous assumptions of equilibrium, stability and predictability in natural resource management. Gunderson and Holling (2002) subsequently introduced the concept of “panarchies” to “capture the adaptive and evolutionary nature of adaptive cycles that are nested one within the other across space and time scales,” thus emphasizing the importance of cross-scale dynamics (Gunderson and Holling 2002, 74).1 Adaptive co-management refers to recent efforts to bring together two emerging approaches to natural resource management that attempt to respond to this dynamic understanding of change: “co-management” with its attention to matters of user participation in decision-making and “adaptive management” with its focus on “learning by doing in a scientific way to deal with uncertainty” (Armitage et al. 2007, 1). Huitema et al. (2009) identify four institutional prescriptions for adaptive co-management: “collaboration in a polycentric governance system, public participation, an experimental approach to resource management, and management at the bioregional scale” (Huitema et al. 2009).Yet in a recent review of the adaptive co-management literature from a governance perspective, Huitema et al. (2009) conclude that adaptive

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co-management remains an ideal that the effectiveness of which has not yet been proven (Huitema et al. 2009). Four attributes have been identified as critical to resilience building for adaptive capacity (Berkes et al 1998; Folke et al. 2003). The first attribute is diversity – important for spreading risks, creating buffers, and adopting multiple strategies from which to learn when uncertainty is high. The second is change, surprise and crisis, often called disturbance by resilience scholars. This opens up the opportunity for renewal by recombining experience with novelty in adapting to change. The interplay of disturbance and diversity is a prerequisite for building resilience in social-ecological systems. The capacity to respond to and shape change is a key attribute of self-organization, the third attribute. Systems that have the ability to respond to change and reorganize in constructive ways are likely to have flexible institutions (rules and norms) that allow for adaptation to changing circumstances (Ostrom 1990).2 Hence, in the social-ecological discourse, institutions are key instruments in the design of governance systems to actively nurture resilience. The fourth attribute is knowledge and understanding of the interplay between diversity, disturbance, and self-organization that builds resilience. Knowledge is necessary for developing a social-ecological system because it determines the management practices within institutions that build resilience.

Resilience and Urban Planning The general concept of urban resilience or resilient cities has only recently appeared in the literature (Vale and Campanella 2005; Coaffee and Rogers

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2008; Gleeson 2008; Newman et al. 2009). The range of matters to which urban planning scholars apply resilience is quickly expanding and now includes: mitigation and adaptation to climate change (Wardekker et al. 2009); disaster planning, management and recovery (Campanella 2006; Goldstein 2008; Goldstein 2009); energy and environmental security (Coaffee 2008); urban water management (Blackmore and Plant 2008; Pahl-Wostl 2007) and urban design (Pickett et al. 2004; Colding 2007). The degree to which resilience thinking provides a comprehensive basis for exploring planning related matters varies significantly across these publications. Few focus specifically on its relevance for strategic planning, few are based on empirical work with practitioners, and few focus on the challenge of operationalizing the concept of resilience. The two publications of particular relevance for this paper are those by Newman and Wardekker (Newman et al. 2008; Wardekker et al. 2009). Newman et al. (2008) draw loosely on resilience thinking and identify the “Resilient City” as the most desirable scenario for the future of cities (Newman et al. 2008). They identify a series of elements in the built environment that contribute to a resilient city and conclude by suggesting ten strategies towards a resilient city. These include facilitating localism and learning, themes to which we will return later in the paper. Wardekker et al. (2009), by contrast, report on a deliberate attempt to operationalize a resilience approach in response to uncertain climate changes in the City of Rotterdam through engagement with practitioners and stakeholders (Wardekker et al. 2009). A set of “resilience principles” are identified and tested for relevance to an urban system. Wardekker et al.


pay very little attention in the paper to participants’ reflections on working with resilience. However, in section 6.2 of the paper, they do state that “while the resilience principles seem difficult concepts to grasp, workshop participants had no difficulty working with them” (Wardekker et al. 2009, 9) and later that “the resilience principles (plus practical examples) succeeded in making resilience sufficiently operational for local actors to translate the concept into concrete options” (Wardekker et al. 2009, 10). The paper concludes that:

The Practitioner Workshop and Research Methods

Resilience provides a useful approach that is robust to the many uncertainties that decision-makers face regarding climate change adaptation, including to surprises, and therefore has added value for climate change adaptation. Local actors framed resilience as a highly flexible approach that is adaptive to both the changing environment and to the local situation and needs (Wardekker et al. 2009, 11).

Participants were identified in the first instance by the facilitators through personal networks across the three cities. A snowballing method was then used to recruit additional senior public servants in Glasgow – specifically, senior public servants who were involved in strategic urban planning-related matters and had an interest in exploring the relevance of resilience to metropolitan planning. A total of eight eligible participants from Glasgow, Stockholm and Melbourne were able to take part. Six of these participants were senior officers from organizations including the Glasgow & Clyde Valley Strategic Development Plan Authority, Glasgow City Council, Scottish Government (Energy and IT division), Scottish Water, Transport Scotland, and Strathclyde Passenger Transport. All of these participants were practitioners working on metropolitan scale strategic planning in their particular sectors: water, energy, land use, transport, social inclusion and urban regeneration. Participants generally had only basic, if any, exposure to the concept of social-ecological resilience. One participant was a senior officer of the Stockholm Regional Government with responsibility for the Stockholm metropolitan strategy. Finally, one participant (also a facilitator and author) participated with insights from the Mel-

Interdisciplinary exploration between resilience thinking and planning theory and practice is in its infancy. Whereas Goldstein (2009) contributes to this interdisciplinary exploration through engaging sections of the respective research communities, here we engage planning practitioners. In contrast to Wardekker et al. (2009), we prioritize the reflections of planning practitioners.


An intensive, exploratory two-day workshop was held in Glasgow in June 2009 with senior public servants working in metropolitan planning-related roles from Stockholm, Glasgow and Melbourne. Facilitated by two of the authors of this paper, the workshop used qualitative research methods to explore the interface between resilience concepts and applications, with practical issues of contemporary urban governance.

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bourne metropolitan strategic planning perspective of the Victorian State Government.3 In addition, two University of Glasgow academics with a keen interest in metropolitan planning and resilience thinking also participated. In order to preserve anonymity of participants, the specific positions/roles each participant holds is not specified, nor are their quotes used in this paper individually attributed. These workshop participants represent a combination of integrative and sectoral strategic metropolitan planning expertise. As such, they were able to offer unique insights into strategic metropolitan planning in three cities: Glasgow, Melbourne and Stockholm. Drawing from their extensive collective experience and expertise, they opened windows into the substantive concerns and debates of their particular sectors. In addition, many of the Glasgow participants worked together in a range of integrated planning forums. In this capacity, they offered deeper insights into the demands and tensions of cross-sectoral and integrative metropolitan planning and infrastructure provision. The inclusion of perspectives from others cities (Stockholm and Melbourne) was more limited in terms of the number of participants. Yet the inclusion of these perspectives enabled the workshop participants, and therefore the researchers, to more deeply contextualize the experiences and insights from particular practitioner perspectives and city locations. None of the participants are necessarily “representative” of their cities, sectors, organizations, or of planning practice in general. The interpretive philosophy in which our research is rooted rejects the requirement for statistical generalization. Instead, we were interested in a deeper exploration of the possibilities and problems of resilience thinking for planning practice. Our research, then, makes no claim about

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whether from this study, we can conclude that planning practitioners everywhere will find resonance in resilience concepts. Instead, the research explores the deeper moments where resilience thinking did or did not “make sense” to urban practitioners and offers insights for further investigation. The workshop was designed around three steps. First, as resilience thinking was new for most participants, the facilitators provided an overview presentation of the origins, key concepts and applications. Second, the applicability of two heuristics generated by resilience scholars were explored through facilitated group exercises. These were the Resilience Assessment Handbook (RAH 2007) and the Framework of Sources of Adaptive Capacity and Resilience developed by Berkes and colleagues (Berkes et al. 2003). Third, reflections on existing governance practices from participants were facilitated through group discussions and anecdote circles (Callahan et al. 2008).4 Proceedings of the workshop were captured in the form of: written outputs generated by participants from the various group exercises (hard copy and digital); audio and video recordings; and the notes of the facilitators recording participant observations. This qualitative dataset has been analysed to identify emergent themes. This research is grounded in the interpretive analysis tradition (Bevir and Rhodes 2006; Hajer and Wagenaar 2003). Interpretive analysis is usually based on the assumption that the different beliefs, traditions and dilemmas that confront individuals render generalizations problematic (Bevir and Rhodes 2006). The sample of participants represented in this study is therefore appropriate, as interpretive analysis seeks insights not answers. The purpose of the research is to explore how resilience thinking can inform planning


practice by revealing the ways in which a small group of senior planning practitioners engaged with it and the potentials and challenges they identified given their situated knowledge of the planning dilemmas they face. The assumption is that these insights can contribute substantially to future interdisciplinary explorations. The empirical work that informs this paper was deliberatively exploratory. It did not, as in Wardekker et al., use a synthesized list of resilience principles to explore with participants (2009). It instead introduced senior metropolitan planners to the fundamentals of resilience thinking before exposing them to the analytical, methodological and governance frames offered within that discipline (notably the Resilience Assessment Handbook and Berkes et al.’s framework as published). This was done in recognition that in order for planners to apply resilience beyond its metaphorical uses, an engagement with, rather than the obscuring of, epistemological and ontological issues is critical. Any translation issues were resolved collaboratively in the workshop itself, to deliberately inform the research findings and as a critical part of the learning process. Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: A practitioners Workbook (referred to as the Resilience Assessment Handbook or RAH) was published by the Resilience Alliance in 2007 “to guide individuals or small groups through a process to assess the resilience of natural resource systems…in order to guide management planning” (RAH 2007).5 The RAH outlines five core steps of assessment as follows: (1) Resilience of What, to What? (2) Assessing Alternate States and Thresholds (3) Assessing Cycles of Change (4) Adaptability and Transformability


(5) Next steps: Interventions and Management. The primary focus of the research we report here was to examine the degree to which contemporary metropolitan planning processes address these five steps. This examination was undertaken in the form of qualitative self-assessments by the senior planners in Stockholm, Glasgow and Melbourne and through a facilitated group discussion. One aspect of the RAH (as chosen by the participants) was worked through in detail (the historical disturbance timeline). The framework for resilience building for adaptive capacity detailed in the synthesis chapter of “Navigating Social-Ecological Systems” (Berkes et al. 2003) was used in the workshop to supplement the guidance provided in the RAH on intervention and management. Their framework identifies four strategies for building resilience for adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems as summarized in the previous section (Berkes et al. 2003, 355). Working in groups, participants identified existing practice strengths and weaknesses in metropolitan Glasgow’s transport, water and energy sectors relevant to each section of the resilience framework.

Insights Reflections on Resilience as a Metaphor The concept of social-ecological resilience is a powerful metaphor for metropolitan planners. By “metaphor” we mean “a powerful tool for creating new ideas and syntheses, which can suggest how to use an idea or approach developed in one realm in an entirely different realm” (Pickett et al. 2004, 372). A repeated comment from participants was that “what

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[resilience] does is give us another frame of thought, another way of looking at things.” The workshop confirmed Forester’s conceptualization of planning as the “framing of problems” or “organizing attention to possibilities,” and the challenge of “how analysts organize attention (as) the central political problem of their practice” (Forester 1989, 19). One potential source of value that emerged was the power of resilience as a communicative tool to break through the problem of adopting “sustainability” as a concept. In the following quote, the participant is judging the value of resilience as a framing metaphor according to how it can help address communication barriers in day-to-day practice, most particularly with external stakeholders and political decision makers: [Resilience] is a framework of thought and organization. It is more understandable and effective than sustainability. Substitute risk for resilience and if you articulate the risk, decision makers understand the concept but they will not understand sustainability no matter how you define it. But if you quantify risk and resilience, it gives you that kind of approach that, plus the framework, provides quite a powerful tool.

Another potential source of value to emerge was the power of resilience as a metaphor to challenge persistently linear conceptualizations of planning, in particular notions of “end-state” or “blueprint” planning. One participant, when talking about a scenario development process their organization was undertaking, discussed the tendency of some stakeholders to want to pick a preferred scenario and work towards that as an end state. The participant noted how this ignored the potentially deeper learning that can come from seeking solutions resilient to a range of futures

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and unknown surprises. We are not selecting any of these worlds as something we are trying to get to. These are four potential realities that we know in the next thirty years are all real potential worlds. How are you going to plan when you are in each one … [resilience] has actually been very valuable in helping me think about that because it is something we have been bouncing around in our minds. How the heck do we explain this? It is difficult enough trying to explain it to all the stakeholders at the table who had that slightly old-fashioned view of which world are we going to pick? Which one do we all want? … You can’t argue like that. You can’t think like that.

Resilience, then, potentially offers a new kind of communicative language to challenge deep-seated assumptions and embedded practices. Yet, common to both of these potential sources of resilience’s value as a metaphor is the very real political challenge of dealing with the complexities and uncertainties inherent in this so-called risk society (Beck 1992). How do planners frame complexities and uncertainties so as to render them governable given the wicked dilemma that we must act anyway (Rittel and Webber 1973)? One participant captured this explicitly as follows: How do uncertainties in the broader world affect cities, for example climate change and economic development? Complexity is one thing but that can be analyzed. But the uncertainties are something else … uncertainties are more related to the surrounding world, projections of the future ... How can you make this [resilience] support decision-making to make them feel more secure not less secure? They need to feel more secure.


The emphasis in resilience science on “assuming change and explaining stability, instead of assuming stability and explaining change” is therefore a doubleedged sword (van det Leeuw 2000). On the one hand it offers a more realistic (and seemingly welcome) conceptualization of urban processes as inherently unpredictable. As a result however, the already fragile illusion of certainty upon which decision-makers rely is further weakened, making acting in a highly political environment even more difficult. In this respect practitioners see great potential but are acutely aware of the communicative and political risks associated with the introduction of resilience as a metaphor.

Reflections on Resilience as a Frame for Metropolitan Analysis The RAH sets out a “process of inquiry and action for those who are interested in applying the concept of resilience to complex resource problems within a region” (RAH 2007, 4). As social-ecological resilience science has its origins as a systems-based discipline, the methods of analysis and inquiry outlined in the RAH rely extensively, although by no means exclusively, on generating detailed knowledge of the system of interest – its history, disturbance regimes, alternate states, thresholds and cross-scale interactions. The notable exception is the inclusion of scenarios, which offers a narrative approach to considering possible future states in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability. However, this emphasis on systems-based understandings does not mean that the RAH is positivistic and quantitative. Indeed, the RAH encourages both a shared and qualitative interpretation and an understanding of the identified problem, drawing on diverse sources of knowledge. It also draws attention to the


need for ongoing reflexivity. Nevertheless, participants were quick to recall attempts in the late 1960s to apply a General Systems Theory approach to urban and regional planning and identified some of the key problems with the assumptions of systems-based epistemological philosophies (McLoughlin 1969). One such problem pivots on the challenge of answering, in the first step of the RAH, the question “resilience of what, to what?” in order to clearly define the boundaries of systems:

Table 1 – Summary of how metropolitan planning processes address aspects of the Resilience Assessment Handbook GLASGOW







Cross scale interactions




Historical perspective








The resilience of what, to what

I think you need time. We tried to do this just when we were starting our planning processes and we maybe could have taken five to six weeks to get it done but that is not enough … we tried to define important systems in the region but we failed. We couldn’t agree how to define the systems and that is the basis for all the following steps.

Another participant felt: It has certainly been done but informally, by people like myself. It has not been done and systematically written up. It has certainly been assessed. I am a child of the 60s remember, so I know all about systems theory. It is another of those cycles by the way. It disappeared for a while and woe beyond it is back again.

Participants noted that of all the systems-based aspects identified in the RAH, only demographic and economic projections are systematically documented in their own organizations. Yet, all appeared to seek more systems-based understanding of their cities and many reported efforts to generate this in more informal ways. Indeed Table 1 indicates that contemporary metropolitan planning processes do not systematically analyze and/or document most of the components

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Alternative states, thresholds and cycles of change Alternative states

yes (sectoral)

yes (population & economy)

yes (population, transport)









Cycles of change




The adaptive cycle


plan to do


Cross scale interactions




Adaptability & transformative change

informal/intuitive, report on departures from trajectories

plan to do

informal/intuitive, annual monitoring & 5 year review

Interventions & management

indirect, facilitate/enable others, puppet-master role

indiect, enabling others

internal exploration of strategic navigation

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of the RAH, although significant knowledge of the complexity and uncertainties inherent in the urban system resides as informal, intuitive knowledge with the senior planner/s as captured by the following discussion: [Participant 1] It is fascinating how much of it is informal and intuitive. [Participant 2] And probably resting in a very small amount of people. Like you, you, and me. [Participant 1] Yes. It is laying the foundations. A lot of it is informal. A lot of it is intuitive. Some of it is emerging. I mean conditions are actually bringing some of these things to the forefront. People are going, “Mmmm interesting.” [Participant 2] I was forced to realize how much was informative and intuitive.

This raises important questions regarding the role of information and knowledge given the practical demands of contemporary decision-making and the corresponding role of the planner. As one participant explained: Another challenge [is] the concept of evidence-based policy and management. You know evidence based, evidence based, evidence based! I think we have really moved away from that. Now you know, you can have a lot less information and much quicker decisions with some professional intuition mixed with the available evidence … there are far too many different causal relationships available and you would spend an absolute fortune trying to get all of that information when you know what is the limited amount of information you need to make good


sound decisions. I mean we touched on this before - the issue of the amount of information and the lack of our analytical capability … [We are] over having to gather heaps and heaps of information, rather ask the right questions of that information. It is about making it as practical as possible.

This participant conceptualizes a distinct, observable and objective knowledge and evidence base that exists at least partially independently from professional intuition, or what we might perhaps call “judgment.” In planning theory terms, this participant is talking about the operationalization of judgment, and the relationship between knowledge, action and values. There is a strong sense of when it is possible to act in a sound way, based on the available knowledge (the operationalization of judgment) and the kinds of knowledge required. We hear, in this quote, an operationalized understanding of a long-standing debate in planning theory about “evidence-based policy,” or what was once known as the “survey-analyze-plan” approach. While debates within planning theory have robustly challenged such approaches and their modernist, linear assumptions, it is also recognized that planning as a field of activity, and the roles of planners themselves, involves a considerable amount of information processing and systems analysis. Forester conceptualizes this as “organizing attention” to problems, or framing problems (Forester 1989; Forester 1993). Sandercock, even as she systematically exposes the epistemological philosophies of modernist planning as potentially unjust, unrealistic and ineffective, retains a role for information processing, knowledge-making and understanding of systems and structures within the planning remit (Sandercock 1998). Friedmann conceptualizes planning as the transformation of knowledge into action, yet holds to

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views of “knowledge” and “action” that are oriented to politics, values and power (Friedmann 1987). The role of planning and planners, then, remains very much a hybrid and this is apparent in our data, which shows an interesting interplay between quantitative and qualitative (or systems-based and narrative) understandings of the city as a complex-dynamic system. As Forester aptly observes: Scientism mistakenly sends us to the laboratory, where we tend to ignore rather than address interpretive problems of application and implementation. Learning-systems notions threaten to reduce the world to a population or organizations or system – rather than persons – and threaten to neglect political life altogether (1993, 54).

This begs the question: does the attempted codification of a hybrid of systems-based and narrative-based analytical approaches by resilience scholars explain why resilience thinking is getting more traction within planning?

Reflections on Resilience as a Frame for Metropolitan Governance Workshop participants assessed their approach to metropolitan governance against the principles and guidance outlined in the RAH and the Berkes et al.’s framework (RAH 2007; Berkes et al.(2003). Considerable research effort is required to further test and distil resilience principles relevant for urban systems, building on the early work of Newman et al. (2009) and Wardekker et al. (2009). We will not contribute to this here. Instead we will draw out overarching governance issues that emerged when the metropolitan practitioners engaged with the adaptive

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governance frameworks. Consider first the following two quotes from different participants: How should policy, regulation, legislation be set that allows flexibility as opposed to harnesses it by saying this must be done and this must be done? I think there is always a risk with central command and control that this is the way you are going to do it instead of saying this is the outcome you want and then allowing the people closer to the ground to say well if this is what you want then this is how you get it. The big tension is how does someone like me who is employed to look twenty-five to thirty years ahead and plan at the strategic level when in essence resilience could well actually mean localism ... Does localism actually sit very well with strategic decision-making and if it does or doesn’t, how do we organize it? How is the strategic development plan to say meaningful things about the localism which could be below local authority level? … There is a real tension there.

We see participants grappling here with the dilemma of achieving the appropriate balance between hierarchical control and self-organization. Duit and Galez (2008, 320), drawing on North (1990; 2005), discuss the challenge of governing complex adaptive systems. In doing so, they characterize the dilemma our participants raise as a “fundamental tension between the dual needs for institutional stability and change.” They argue both are required in order to maintain the adaptive capacity essential for contemporary governance challenges. It seems that engaging with the resilience approach to governance brings this tension to the fore for participants. Furthermore, by so doing, it chal-


lenges key assumptions about the role of metropolitan planning, including the scale at which governance efforts are focused and the willingness to share power. Neither of these is new for planning theory. Now consider the second set of quotes, in this case both from the same participant at different times over the course of the workshop. The first quote responds to a question about how responsive metropolitan planning processes led to unintended consequences: Monitoring and managing strategic direction. With us that is very informal. Intuitive and informal … We have to report these departures from trajectories but not necessarily then generate actions against them. It is a step. We do it and quite regularly on an annual basis but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in action. It is often an “ooh we’ll wait and see.”

This next quote responds to a question about the basis on which interventions were identified and implemented: I’m trying to find a word for this because we don’t do it ourselves but we seek to enable it, to question others if you see what I mean. The interventions are essentially all coming from them so you are sitting in the background trying to pull strings. It is like the puppet-master role. It is a difficult one in our particular set of circumstances because we are just trying to pull strings.

Here we can see another classic governance dilemma emerging – the fragmentation of the capacity of the state to influence the urban system in and of itself, elsewhere characterized as the shift from government to governance (Rhodes 1997). In the first quote, urban development veers off desired trajectories, the


metropolitan planners know about it, report on it, but what do they do? In the second quote, the metropolitan planner is revealed as “puppet-master,” pulling whatever strings he/she can attempt, despite limited power, to influence a whole system of outcomes. Again these are not new for planning theory (Hajer and Wagenaar 2003). In each situation, participants are grappling with the real dilemmas of acting in the face of uncertainty (not to mention the face of power) and highlighting the very real interlocking problems of scale, power, agency and structure in governance. Engaging with resilience thinking generally and adaptive governance in the particular has drawn out key challenges for the future of metropolitan planning and the role of metropolitan planners. Resilience thinking assumes systems (including governance systems, urban systems and ecological systems) are complex adaptive systems. These integrated social-ecological systems are not conceptualized by resilience science as simply “a collection of amoebas or atoms” but rather “constituted of facts and artifacts...and specifically, of meanings, interpretations, and value positions” (Wagenaar 2007, 34). Adaptive governance is an attempt to codify a mode of governance that prioritizes the mutual dependency of these linked social-ecological systems in pursuit of normative aspirations toward sustainable human-nature relations. The rich reflective discussions generated by this empirical work with metropolitan planners indicates planning theory and practice should stay engaged in the broader governance debates emerging from resilience science.

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Reflections on Approach and Results

Bridging the Knowledge-Policy Divide


Of note throughout the workshop was the active processing by participants of ways in which one could operationalize resilience. Challenges were often identified as flip-sides of the same coin. On the one hand, there was great caution expressed about the scale at which resilience was applied to metropolitan planning and the intended scope of such an exercise:

Given the decision to present material directly from resilience science without heavily translating the material into “planning speak,” it is not surprising that researchers from resilience science and planning, as well as the practitioners, raised the issue of translation again and again. The language and density of ecological concepts was clearly one issue as captured by this participant: The language is opaque. It is actually quite dreadful. I think that needs to be addressed. In a way, I will be looking at ways to try and simplify some of the language and make it more digestible.

Almost without exception we were able to collectively work through any problematic concepts and find lay descriptions of complex ecological concepts or appropriate metropolitan planning analogies where relevant. But it was not always an easy process and did not have exact outcomes. Reporting on these is not the purpose of this paper, nor was the research designed to comprehensively elicit these. Indeed, as captured in the quote above, how the concepts are translated is likely to be context-dependent and best judged by the practitioners working in that context. It also forms an important source of learning for the relevant stakeholder group and as such, represents a significant and early collaborative task in bearing the transfer of resilience science to planning towards infancy. It also stands in contrast to the experience of Waardekker et al. (2009), and provides a more cautionary note about the ease with which resilience can be applied across disciplines and between research and practice. This is particularly the case when attempting to operationalize beyond the metaphorical level.

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I wonder if in terms of practical application that your frame isn’t too large. That it doesn’t actually become an attempt to capture all policy inter-relationships. It becomes public policy. It becomes too unmanageable for people.

On the other hand, there was a recognition that to operationalize a resilience approach nothing less than a paradigm shift was required, which necessitated a change-management exercise: And you know how long change-management takes and what resources need to go into it … and when you go across those cross-scales and stuff then you really begin to see what the scale of the change-management exercise is. Frightening beyond belief. Whether we have time to do it is another big challenge.

The facilitators observed that participants were able to immediately assess the barriers, opportunities, risks and potentialities of resilience science for metropolitan planning. Participants were engaged in current metropolitan planning processes that demanded attention to questions of problem framing and decision-making in the face of uncertainties and communication with broad audiences. They saw intriguing ways in which resilience science could provide assistance. In addition, they even seemed to have internalized some of their learning during the workshop. Indeed, the very


act of holding the workshop meant the wheels of influence were already in motion, changing the frames of those playing key “broker” roles with a broad range of stakeholders in the urban system. Participant observation in this context was akin to watching Forester’s conceptualization of planning as “problem framing” come to life (Forester 1989; Forester 1993). The planners were working through the real life potential of a new frame, one that has proved paradigm-changing in natural resource management, but faces new challenges in application to urban planning.

natural resource management and systems ecology. Careful interdisciplinary exploration and further empirical work is required in this regard. With respect to planning, we suggest two related, yet distinct, ways forward: first, development and use of resilience as the frame for analysis of ecological system considerations in metropolitan planning processes; and second, a further exploration of resilience as the overarching frame for metropolitan planning processes.

Resilience as a Frame for Analysis Concluding Remarks

The Risk of Losing the Ecological Participants framed the urban system as an integrated social, ecological, economic system. They interpreted social-ecological resilience, and the frameworks offered by both the RAH and Berkes et al., more broadly than of relevance to questions of natural resource management (RAH 2007; Berkes et al. 2003). For example, when working through the historical timeline exercise in the RAH for the city of Glasgow, a combination of technological, institutional, infrastructure and economic disturbances or crises were identified. It was only towards the end of this working session, and in response to the absence of any environmental related inputs, that the facilitators brought this to the attention of participants. This resulted in the inclusion of a handful of additions. The adoption of a resilience thinking approach by planning practitioners by no means guarantees a more ecological approach to planning outcomes. This has implications not only for planning scholars and practitioners, but also resilience scholars as they invite the extension of resilience thinking to domains beyond


frame complex planning problems and to challenge mindsets based on linear conceptualizations of urban change. They saw it as a potentially more powerful concept than “sustainability” for engaging internal and external stakeholders in challenging status quo responses to urban problems. However, they drew attention to the paradox that resilience thinking demands acknowledgement of uncertainties at the same time decision-makers want more, not less, certainty.

This paper has examined the relevance of resilience thinking for metropolitan planning practice from a practitioner’s perspective. The perspective of practitioners has not been addressed in the literature to date and is a critical part of a thorough examination of the interdisciplinary potential of resilience thinking and planning. Through an intensive workshop with senior planners from Glasgow, Stockholm and Melbourne, three potential uses of resilience thinking were examined: resilience thinking as a metaphor for the dynamics of change in linked social-ecological systems; as a frame for analysis; and as a frame for governance. Key insights generated for each of these are summarized briefly below. We believe these demonstrate not only the considerable potential that resilience thinking offers to planning theory and practice but also some of resilience thinking’s inherent challenges.

Resilience as a Metaphor for Change Participants saw real potential in using resilience thinking to help them in their ongoing work to

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For the participants, the Resilience Assessment Handbook was a thorough guide to generating a comprehensive set of systems and narrative-based historical and future knowledge to inform decision-making in complex urban conditions. They at once aspired to this breadth of knowledge and recognized the idealism of such an aspiration. The practical demands of the everyday working environment, including the sheer breadth of issues, ongoing dynamics of urban change and political realities meant much knowledge is instead retained intuitively and informally and enacted through situated judgment.

Resilience as a Frame for Governance

the shift from government to governance. Arguably, these are debates to which resilience thinking has yet to provide unique insights. In summary, we found that exposing planners to resilience thinking quickly engaged well-established debates about the role of planning and governance, the role of the planner and research-practice/knowledge-action relationships. We are less certain that the body of research on social-ecological resilience yet provides new insights into these debates for planning theory or practice. This theoretical exploration is an important but separate exercise and has not been the purpose of this paper. Resilience thinking is expanding rapidly as a research field. The transfer of resilience thinking to planning has barely begun. In future contributions to this interdisciplinary exploration we encourage attention to the analytical and governance dimensions of resilience alongside its metaphorical power. Our own approach suggests that collaborative learning between researchers and planning practitioners is critical and insightful. Finally, the voice of planning practitioners has been shown to reveal unique insights into the interdisciplinary potential and also its challenges. Such attention will help explicate where the potential of resilience applied to planning really lies.

By working through the Berkes et al. (2003) framework for resilience-building for adaptive capacity, participants were able to identify good and bad governance practices. This provided a new way to structure evaluation of the overall governance approach and was illuminating. However, this primarily revealed longestablished governance debates around the balance between hierarchical control and self-organization or “localism” and the dilemma of how to act amidst

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Cathy Wilkinson is a planner completing her doctoral research within the urban theme of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden. Dr Libby Porter is a Lecturer in Spatial Planning at the Department of Urban Studies, University of Glasgow. Dr Johan Colding is the research coordinator of urban studies at the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and a theme leader for the urban theme at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Acknowledgments The authors of this paper are deeply grateful to the workshop participants for the generosity of their willing exploratory spirit. The Glasgow workshop was supported by a grant from the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Research Foundation. The article benefits from critical feedback on early results presented at the 2009 AESOP Conference in Liverpool, UK. This research is also supported by grants from Formas and Urban-Net. The authors are grateful for critical feedback from the anonymous reviewers.

2 “Institutions” here means the rules and conventions of society that coordinate human interaction, including formal constraints (rules, laws, constitutions), informal constraints (norms of behavior, conventions and self-imposed codes of conduct), and their enforcement characteristics (North 1990). Property rights arrangements, including rights and obligations to land and resources, represent key institutional mechanisms that frame human activities in relation to natural resources. 3

One of the authors of this paper worked for the Victorian State Government between 1998-2006, including time as the Executive Director, Metropolitan Strategy responsible for the preparation and implementation of Melbourne 2030 (Melbourne’s most recent metropolitan strategy) and contributed data on Melbourne during the workshop. 4

Anecdote circles are similar to a narrative interview but held in groups in order to create learning opportunities (Callahan et al. 2008). Like Parkhill et al. (2010, 45) we hope that our focus on framing questions so as to elicit anecdotes enables our participants’ “judgments and decision-making processes, their values and subjective preferences, (are) rendered more visible by them being embedded in meaningful, contextually and morally rich, value-laden and affectively charged stories.” 5

Notes 1

The term panarchy is used after the Greek god Pan, the universal god of nature, and a play on the notion of hierarchy and embodies “notions that sustain the self-structuring capacity of systems (system integrity), allow adaptive evolution, and at times succumb to the gales of change” (Gunderson and Holling 2002).


The Resilience Alliance (RA)“is a research organization comprised of scientists and practitioners from many disciplines who collaborate to explore the dynamics of socialecological systems” (RA 2009). Separate handbooks for scientists and practitioners are available, the latter of which was used for the purposes of this empirical research. Key Resilience Alliance scholars, including Ann Kinzig, Lance Gunderson, Allyson Quinlan and Brian Walker, were the primary authors of the RAH.

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Lead Photograph The Watts Towers. South Los Angeles, California. Photograph by Tom Kemeny.

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Metropolitan Planning and ResilienceThinking: A Practitioner’s Perspective  

Cathy Wilkinson, Libby Porter and Johan Colding