Applying resilience thinking: Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems

This guide from the Stockholm Resilience Centre outlines seven key principles that can be used to develop resilience in social-ecological systems. Each principle comes with guidance on how to implement it and also provides a case study to demonstrate how it has been done. 


"A resilience approach to sustainability focuses on how to build capacity to deal with unexpected change. This approach moves beyond viewing people as external drivers of ecosystem dynamics and rather looks at how we are part of and interact with the biosphere – the sphere of air, water and land that surrounds the planet and in which all life is found. One of the main ways in which people depend on and interact with the biosphere is through their use of different ecosystem services, such as the water we use for cooking and drinking, the crops we grow to nourish ourselves, regulation of the climate and our spiritual or cultural connections to ecosystems. People also change the biosphere in a myriad ways through activities such as agriculture, and building roads and cities. A resilience thinking approach tries to investigate how these interacting systems of people and nature – or social-ecological systems – can best be managed to ensure a sustainable and resilient supply of the essential ecosystem services on which humanity depends."


  • Principle 1: Maintain diversity and redundancy 4
  • Principle 2: Manage connectivity 6
  • Principle 3: Manage slow variables and feedbacks 8
  • Principle 4: Foster complex adaptive systems thinking 10
  • Principle 5: Encourage learning 12
  • Principle 6: Broaden participation 14
  • Principle 7: Promote polycentric governance systems 16


Stockholm Resilience Centre, (n.d.), Applying resilience thinking: Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems. Retrieved from: