From a founding membership of just a few individuals to its current membership of over 200 members representing about 85 organizations, the Resilience Measurement, Evidence and Learning Community of Practice (RMEL CoP) is an expansive multi-sectoral network. The RMEL CoP was launched in 2016 bringing together different disciplines and sectors to shed light on different parts of the resilience measurement puzzle and by so doing, generate credible evidence on what works in resilience, and improve the design and implementation of resilience interventions. Previous convenings in New York, Rome and Kampala (in 2017 at the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) Lab in Kololo), have brought together early innovators and thought leaders in resilience measurement to grow the network and develop a vision, strategy and work plan for the community.

Building on these convenings, the RMEL CoP hosted its first Resilience Measurement, Evidence and Learning Conference  on the 13th and 14th of November 2018. The conference, which was followed by a convening day on the 15th of November, 2018, was held at the Jung Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana– a colourful and vibrant city that demonstrated its resilience after the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Close to 200 delegates representing academia, the public, private and development sectors, were welcomed to the conference including the Makerere School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), which was represented by the Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab Director (EA RILab), Nathan Tumuhamye and the RAN Engagement Officer and RMEL CoP Knowledge Management Coordinator, Natasha Kassami.

The conference was heralded by a guided tour of the city of New Orleans on the morning of Monday 12th November, 2018 and an afternoon business meeting for members of the CoP that were able to fly in a day early for the conference. At the business meeting,  Nancy MacPherson, the Strategic Adviser of the RMEL CoP and former Managing Director for Evaluation at The Rockefeller Foundation, revisited the founding ‘promise of the Community of practice’ while Dorcas Robinson, the Director of the RMEL CoP shared the achievements of the CoP to-date. The meeting also gave members the chance to interact and become acquainted with each other, while they mapped key dates and significant events that have shaped their careers and the field of resilience on a colorful timeline, an activity that was led by the equally colorful Angelica Ospina, Senior Researcher, Resilience, International Institute for Sustainable Development. The success of the meeting and the start of the conference was commemorated with a cheery cocktail reception that also served to celebrate the achievements of the 2017-2018 RMEL Innovation Awards. Sharing on the awards was Nancy MacPherson, who highlighted the significance of innovation in propelling the field forward and also shared the achievements of the four grants that were awarded to collaborative teams.

The first day of the conference notably kicked off with a high-level panel chaired by Tim Frakenberger, Director of TANGO and with key note speakers Greg Collins (USAID), Tim Waites (DfID), Lucca Rossa (UN FAO) and Tiffany Griffin (USAID). ‘Resilience has changed the way we speak,’ Greg Collins begun. ‘We went from looking at vulnerabilities to people, their assets and capacities to survive – key to capturing that is resilience measurement.’ The plenary highlighted the advances of the field and shared the ‘case for investing in resilience measurement’, while shedding light on the challenges in moving the field forward, where the need for simplified tools that can be understood and adopted by governments was mentioned among others. The first plenary concluded with an inspiring commission by Tiffany Griffin who tasked delegates to move towards proactive resilience measurement that considers ‘potential risks on the horizon’. She also reminded the delegates of their primary responsibility and the purpose of their work. ‘Do not forget that it is about people,’ she commented. ‘We can get so involved in the problems, that we forget the people we are working for. What we are doing ties into real lives every single day.’ On that inspiring note, participants set off eager and energized for the rest of the conference. The two-day conference featured a total of 3 keynote plenaries and 6 breakout sessions that featured a total of 28 presentations. Some the topics discussed over the two-days during the breakout sessions include:

  1. Financial Inclusion and Risk Management & Economic Returns and Resilience
  2. Climate Change and Resilience
  3. Gender and Resilience Measurement
  4. Innovations in Resilience Measurement
  5. Resilience Evidence and Program Action
  6. Psychosocial Dimensions and Resilience

The ResilientAfrica Network represented by the EA RILab Director delivered a presentation under the theme ‘Resilience Capacity’. In his presentation, Nathan shared RAN’s methodology to measuring the resilience of communities. These findings have been used to inform grant calls for innovations that offer students, faculty and the community the chance to contribute to strengthening communities’ resilience to shocks and stresses. In his session, Nathan was also joined by the former Vice President of Uganda- Gilbert Bukenya, MD, who shared about the lessons learnt from the ‘Rockefeller Public Health Schools without Walls’ initiative.

In addition to the insightful and forward thinking presentations delivered, the conference also offered delegates several opportunities to network and participate in activities that promoted shared learning. One such opportunity was on the evening of the 13th of November, when an elaborate world café session was organised in collaboration with partners like the Global Resilience Partnership, Stockholm Resilience Center, the Resilience Alliance, Mercy Corps, International Institute for Sustainable Development and World Vision, among others. At the world café session, participants were invited to join a table of their choice, learn and share their experiences on different thematic discussions. The discussions were centered on 11 themes including:

  • ‘A New Take on Tech: ICTs for Resilience Measurement & Learning’, a discussion led by Josh Woodard Regional ICT & Digital Finance Adviser, FHI 360 and Angelica V Ospina Senior Researcher, Resilience, International Institute for Sustainable Development
  • ‘An Introduction to Resilience Measurement’ led by Brad Sagara Deputy Director of Research and Learning, Mercy Corps and Jill Scantlan Regional Resilience Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Advisor, Mercy Corps
  • ‘Framing extreme events and their consequences as natural experiments to better understand vulnerability and resilience’ led by Dr. Michael Loevinsohn Director, Applied Ecology Research and Prof. Nancy Mock Professor, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
  • ‘Integrating Gender & Resilience: Challenges and Opportunities’ led by Vidhya Sriram STA Research, Food and Nutrition Security, CARE, Mara Russell Director, Food Security and Resilience, CARE and Garrett Schiche Director of Program Quality, Lutheran World Relief

The convening day on Thursday 15th November was another such opportunity for shared learning and collaboration. The day lent itself to more hands-on activities and actionable discussions like the discussion on how evidence from resilience measurement is being used to inform investment, better programming and resilience practice and how the RMEL community might facilitate to the generation of actionable knowledge and support adaptive management in resilience practice.

All in all, the first RMEL CoP organised conference was an extremely successful gathering that highlighted state-of-the-art methods and advances in resilience measurement, evaluation and learning, and stimulated dialogue between a diverse set of actors, approaches and methods while building a case for resilience programing and investment. We are hopeful that more conferences of this nature will help build a wide-ranging network of members that collaborate in the strengthening of resilience of vulnerable communities.

‘Photographs by Andrew Goss’