Visions of Resilience

Design-led Transformation for Climate Extremes. Climate change is re-writing the record book on weather extremes and local communities face the brunt of these impacts.

In Australia, agencies at all levels of government are turning to concepts like resilience to emphasise preventive disaster management. But resilience is a novel concept for Australia’s emergency management institutions and translating it into practice will be challenging.

Design-led Transformation for Climate Extremes (Visions of Resilience) is a VEIL-led research project about working with local communities to envisage and support new strategies to build local resilience to extreme weather events. The project was funded through the Australian Government’s Natural Disaster Resilience Grant Scheme and brought together researchers and designers from VEIL (University of Melbourne), Victoria University, La Trobe University and Wageningen University (The Netherlands).

Despite the level of sophistication in our climate models we have little understanding of what future extremes might involve at the local level. Coupled with the lack of experience in building local resilience, this problem demands significant innovation in the way emergency management helps communities plan for and survive extreme events.

The project used a participatory scenario-based process to explore worst-case climate conditions in two Victorian towns over a 25 year time horizon. The process involved community participants developing challenging propositions for building resilience, many that involved radical change. These propositions (or ‘visions of resilience’) were then used in follow-up workshops involving local and state level agency professionals to identify barriers and challenges to change. Many of these barriers represent important areas for innovation in emergency management. Ultimately, this project showed that building local resilience to climate extremes must be seen as process of social innovation rather than traditional emergency management planning.

The final report and workshop manual produced for this project are available for download.

Background and project rationale

As long-term strategists (eg. Herman Khan, 1967) encountered in the mid 1900’s, expert or probability-based approaches to strategy development can prove counter-productive when institutions face a risk-landscape of very high uncertainty and complexity. Because climate change will affect so many natural and human systems and in so many ways, it is ushering in a ‘new’ and highly uncertain risk environment. The way organisations understand this new environment and the methods they use in response will play a key part in the success (or failure) of societal adaptation.

Traditionally, organisations have approached disaster risk management with a heavy reliance on ‘probability’ or ‘expert’ assessments of the likely type, extent and frequency of negative events. This approach has developed over a period, and within institutions, where preservation of a status-quo (ie. in organisational structures and functions) has been prioritised. The statistical methods used to define risk estimates have been built around historical records of disaster events and assumptions about the frequency of natural disaster events having a ‘normal distribution’. This has allowed planners and decision-makers to identify and focus on risks deemed ‘most likely’ (in the middle of the frequency distribution bell-curve) and hence, develop a sense that risks can generally be known, quantified and therefore predictable. Unfortunately, this approach ensures that those decision-makers, and the community generally, remain under-prepared for ‘surprise’ events that do not conform to statistical predictions and often cause catastrophic impacts. It appears that the emerging field of climate change adaptation has adopted many of the same methods and approaches that are .

This project seeks to demonstrate and refine an approach to adaptation planning and decision-making that is aligned with future-oriented ‘scenario-based’ approaches used by organisations exposed to highly disruptive technical, social and geopolitical ‘shifts’. The project involves an iterative design-charette process used by VEIL to explore future scenarios and adaptation responses. The charrette process involves workshops with local community stakeholders, decision-makers, climate change scientists and designers. Together, these people work to creatively envisage a common desired ‘climate-proof’ future for two pilot areas. Importantly, each future is explicitly ‘built’ in response to a set of plausible (but deliberately extreme) context-specific weather conditions set in 2037. The envisaged futures act as a framework or ‘testing-ground’ against which the adaptive capacity of relevant institutions is assessed and potential transformations are proposed.

What does the project involve?

Structured as a design-led action research project, we are interested in the methodology being applied as much as the outcomes produced. The essential steps involve:

  1. Identifying two case study communities that are at risk from multiple climate hazards – Anglesea and Creswick were chosen.
  2. Developing context specific scenarios set in 2037 that translate climate projections into fictional narratives about everyday conditions and challenges for both towns.
  3. Conducting two-day design workshops in Anglesea and Creswick with community members to produce a series of ideas designed to maintain and build resilience of each community.
  4. Developing community ideas into a set of coherent strategies and visions of resilience for Anglesea and Creswick (with an opportunity for feedback from the community).
  5. Conducting half-day workshops with key organisations relevant to each town to explore pathways for enabling community strategies and identify barriers.
  6. Drawing from workshop outputs, a literature review and interviews to identify mechanisms for change at Local, State and Federal Government level.


Domain maps

Two possible versions of a domain map as referred to in stages 2 and 3 of the visioning workshop process. Please note the differences in the Behaviour & Culture, and Organisations segments to better reflect the local context of the case study towns from the project.

Spatial maps

During stages 2, 3 and 6 of the visioning workshop, participants use spatial maps of the town (at two different scales) to mark assets, vulnerabilities, and adaptation ideas. Below is an A0 size domain border that can be used around the outside of the spatial maps to help participants to think across a range of categories.

Resilience principles

The resilience principles are used in stages 6 and 8 to guide the development of adaptation ideas and strategies.

Wild cards

Wild cards are an optionally inclusion in stage 8. They can be used to ‘test’ adaptation ideas and assets.

Project sheets

The project sheets are used in stage 9 as a guide for creating more tangible adaptation projects.

Pathways and Barriers Workshop Tools

Preconditions checklist

The preconditions checklist is used in stage 3 to help identify a broad cross section of preconditions required to achieve the vision.

Topology of barriers checklist

The topology of barriers checklist is used in stage 5 to help identify a range of possible barriers to the preconditions determined previously.

Leverage opportunities checklist

The leverage opportunities checklist is used in stage 6, this checklist encourages a broad range of leverage opportunities to be identified.

Project lead

Che Biggs