Communicating Resilience Thinking to Non-Experts
Achieng' Otieno

Achieng' Otieno Communications Officer - Nairobi, The Rockefeller Foundation

April 10, 2017

Communicating Resilience Thinking to Non-Experts

In the course of our noble duty to improve lives make the world a better place, we development practitioners and NGO workers are notorious for using strange terminologies and acronyms to describe our work.

The longer we stay in the field, the more naturally we emit contractions. We are mostly in like company and so we assume all who hear will understand, or we are just in a hurry while heading somewhere to do something urgent and important that will improve someone’s life.

However, unless we are in communications we often do not realize that when addressing larger audiences or those in other fields, we often run the risk of leaving half the room behind as we proceed with our banter. To quote Marshall McLuhan, ‘the medium is the message’, and once the audience feels disconnected from what we are saying because of how we said it, we are, well, done!

“We often run the risk of leaving half the room behind as we proceed with our banter.”

To avoid the awkward monologue that follows such a scene, we need to ensure our audiences stay engaged and with us each step of the way.

One such terminology is ‘resilience.’ Granted, it is not an entirely new concept, but experience has shown us that there are variations on what it is called (or the word used to refer to it), and how well it is understood. This is based on context, and this varies all over the world really.

On the front line are we development workers, who have a level of understanding of resilience and are then charged with the responsibility of ensuring our partners and beneficiaries share it understanding as we implement initiatives.

Our partners and beneficiaries are not always as astute as we are on the intricacies of resilience, yet they often have their own experience with it, if any. Additionally, they must receive and understand not only what we say, but also accept what we are proposing they do, based on what we hope will be a shared understanding of this term.

Tips for Communicating Resilience

At The Rockefeller Foundation Africa Regional Office Resilience Academy held last December in Nairobi, I had an opportunity to share with our grantees and partners from the region some tips on how to communicate resilience to ‘non-experts’—referred to as such with all respect to the subjectivity in exposure and understanding of the term.

Make no assumptions that they have never heard of it, or they do not know its meaning. Many languages and dialects have a name for Resilience or a variation of it; the gap usually exists in connecting it to daily life, or quality of life, to make it come more alive.

Invite feedback as soon as you share your thinking on Resilience, hear theirs, and address any gaps promptly to ensure there is a shared understanding as the conversation proceeds.

Nip confusion quickly often resilience is confused with other terms in development, such as climate adaptation and mitigation (Resilience is actually a bridge between the two); Disaster preparedness and risk reduction (yet this is only half the story. We can be prepared to survive but not know what to do afterwards, or how to turn the negative effects of a disaster into gains); Sustainability (what is sustainable is not always resilient, yet what is resilient is always sustainable). Clarify these up front.

Acknowledge its complexity but not with any more complex words. Rather, use phrases such as bend, not break; not every disruption has to become a disaster; rebuilding better.

Use imagery or stories. Take photos for less literate or visual communities. Nothing like a good story to bring the point home, and there are always case studies ready to go for this purpose.

Use teaching aides and not to mean PowerPoints! Try a tennis ball to bounce and watch it go even higher and with even greater strength from the impact of being hit hard against a surface. Or stretch a rubber band, an apt demonstration of tenacity, without snapping.

This list is by no means exhaustive and expertly, the point is to simplify the term so much that they can discuss and apply it with as much ease as you do.

Hoping they are useful to ensure your audience stays with you on any terminology or issue you address, and especially when implementing your work.

If the audience and beneficiaries can see what you are saying and understand why, the higher the chances for a win-win, and that’s what we need!

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