When it comes to building resilient communities, the answers lie within communities themselves

TACSI systems initiatives director Kerry Jones shares some of the ways we’re helping communities drive the change that’s needed to build resilience and regeneration.

24 June 2021

By Kerry Jones, Systems Initiatives Director

As our rural and regional communities face increasingly complex challenges, helping them foster resilience so they can pave new ways to lead, imagine, connect and invest in their own future has never been so important.

Many communities find themselves in positions where they don’t feel like they’re in control of owning and leading their futures. In the wake of the pandemic and devastating bushfires, pre-existing and new trauma is compounding at an alarming rate – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Kerry Jones
Kerry Jones

Communities need to be able to adapt to these various challenges 

The issue that most communities face is that the people tasked with solving these challenges tend to use traditional problem-solving methods that ignore the root of these challenges, and fail to listen to the stories that have borne witness to these challenges. 

The communities where we see the most difference are those where people are able to acknowledge those challenges and share stories about the different types of trauma, and then find the strength to move through.


“To truly create change, we need to have honest conversations.”

Kerry Jones, TACSI Systems Initiatives Director

For communities to be adaptive, they need to be resilient

When people look at resilience, they tend to focus on the gaps: “Oh, you have to be more resilient. What’s not resilient? We have to fix what’s not resilient.”

Whereas if you go in with a strength-based mindset and ask, “What is strong here? What’s there wanting to grow, but it’s just not had the chance to do so? Where can new connections happen?”, all those gaps and vulnerabilities get addressed in that process without having to hone in on them.

We’re helping communities become more resilient with a strength-based, community-owned approach

A strength-based approach means people who wouldn’t normally see themselves in these kinds of roles recognise that they’ve actually got something to contribute. Our Town is a great example of this, where communities are celebrating what’s strong and building off of that, so they get momentum, they get energy, they get progress. 

The Regional Innovators Network (RIN) is another example, where the focus is empowering communities to build their own capability, instead of relying on fly-in-fly-out social innovators.  

The stronger the connections and diversity between people within the community, the more resilient the community will be when facing climate challenges like a fire or a flood. 

Community-owned means everything is planned, defined, designed, implemented and decided at a community level. 

Bolstering resilience can’t be done from the outside in. It must be driven by the community. Resilience is about community connections, open conversations and people seeing that they have the power to create the kinds of communities they want to live in.

Resilient communities are grown and nurtured over time. Work supporting communities to grow their resilience must move at the pace of community, and focus on bolstering strengths, connections and momentum. It is about walking alongside towns and building capacity so that towns can lead the change they want to see.

Resilient communities have the skills to have tough conversations. They are places where people are safe to be themselves, and where healing from trauma – at both an individual and at a community level – is supported. 

Resilient communities are finding ways to connect around a shared vision for the future, one that incorporates different generations and bridges racial, generational and old/new divides. These dives may still exist but communities are finding shared ground amongst these.

Our Town was initiated as community-led, and this year it’s really shifted into being community driven and hopefully soon, community-owned. We’ve learned that If we take action without truly being led by the community, it always goes wrong.

Our Town workshop on Kangaroo Island
Our Town workshop on Kangaroo Island

Our work with First Nations communities has deeply influenced this approach

When First Nations communities reflect, it’s always around connection and shared knowledge. For them, knowledge is not just about transferring knowledge from one brain to another, it’s about real embodied knowledge. 

We can learn from how First Nations communities connect, reflect and learn from each other and Country. In his book Sand Talk, Tyson Yunkaporta talks about how we can innovate as ancestors by starting with respect, connection and reflection before moving to action. He notes that we tend to start the wrong way around and then wonder why we have to circle back and start again.

With help from TACSI’s Aunty Vickey, Tyson, and Aboriginal people across the communities we work with, we’re learning how to start with deep respect and connection.

We’re taking these learnings into our work with the bushfire initiative program

The bushfire resilience program is a partnership between TACSI, Monash University, Paul Ramsay Foundation and Metal Manufacturers Limited partner, with the intention to work with communities who have been impacted significantly by the 2019/20 Summer fires, and who prior to that were experiencing deep levels of inequality.

Our goals are to understand how a major event like this can be a catalyst for transformation, demonstrate how to do community-led work, and examine what really needs to be in place from a policy perspective for that to be enabled.

We want to foster the skills that enable communities to constantly learn and adapt, to see themselves in their community in the broader system, and create new connections that help them well beyond the five years of this funding, and to have the power to decide where the money goes.

Jess Dart from Clear Horizon shares five things she’s experienced in her work with communities

  1. How local people can be awesome social innovators. At the Our Town retreat, I was amazed to see community members describing how they challenge their assumptions and keep learning and moving forward.

  2. 10 years of funding on the table is a game changer

  3. Less is more. Having a simple set of four practice principles has really helped drive our work, and kept us all anchored to the most important aspects

  4. The importance of building the right sort of evaluation in at the start, using developmental evaluation process that supports the work, and keeping an eye on the long game of impact measurement

  5. The importance of being intentional about handing over power. If we’re initiating a community-led approach, then there will be a phase when it’s not led by the community. It works when we are really deliberate about that transition phase.

…and three things that don’t work when building resilient communities

  1. It doesn’t work if the support team sets a fast pace. We really had to learn to slow down and go at the pace of community

  2. It doesn’t work when we don’t pay enough attention to equity and inclusion, which needs to be baked in from the beginning

  3. It doesn’t work if we don’t look after ourselves, and think about using mentally healthy approaches. We have to walk our talk!

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