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A framework for conceptualizing and assessing the resilience of essential services produced by socio-technical systems

Susara E van der Merwe, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Enterprise Resilience Department, Risk & Sustainability Group, Eskom, South Africa
Reinette Biggs, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Rika Preiser, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


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Essential services such as electricity are critical to human well-being and the functioning of modern society. These services are produced by complex adaptive socio-technical systems and emerge from the interplay of technical infrastructure with people and governing institutions. Ongoing global changes such as urbanization and increasing prevalence of extreme weather events are generating much interest in strategies for building the resilience of essential services. However, much of the emphasis has been on reliable and resilient technical infrastructure. This focus is insufficient; resilience also needs to be built into the human and institutional processes within which these technical systems are embedded. Here, we propose a conceptual framework, based on a complex adaptive systems perspective, that identifies four key domains that require investment to build the resilience of essential services. This framework addresses both the technical and social components of the socio-technical systems that underlie essential services and incorporates specified and general resilience considerations. The framework can be used to guide resilience assessments and to identify strategies for building resilience across different organizational levels.

Key words

complex adaptive systems; critical infrastructure; electricity supply; essential services; resilience assessment; socio-technical system

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087