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Sustainable development and community resilience

"Sustainability, is better seen as a measure of the relationship between the community as learners and their environments, rather than an externally designed goal to be achieved" (Sriskandarajah et al, 1991).

All too often "sustainability" is seen as an outcome - a tangible situation that we strive to define and arive at - rather than a process of "planned change" ... or "managed learning". This process must involve the building of sustainable relationships between people, and between people and their environment. To do this requires the development of learning societies ... capable of adapting to feedback, with improved abilities to improve decision making through the sharing of information, communication and understanding. As Allen (20011) points out, Agenda 21 clearly identified information, integration, and participation as key building blocks to help countries achieve development that recognises these interactions. It emphasises that in sustainable development everyone is a user and provider of information. It stresses the need to change from old sector-centred ways of doing business to new approaches that involve cross-sectoral co-ordination and the integration of environmental and social concerns into all development processes. Furthermore, Agenda 21 emphasises that broad public participation in decision making is a fundamental prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.

As these multiple dimensions of development have been taken into account by governments, agencies and other organisations, so we have seen a different language emerging in development papers and reports. The World Bank defines participation as 'a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them', and talks about the need to 'empower' the poor -- helping them move from being 'beneficiaries' to 'clients' (World Bank 1996). The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) coined the term 'sustainable human development' to describe the very human-centeredness of sustainable development (UNDP 1996). Within Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Vice-President Pierre Beemans suggested that development is 'change that improves the conditions of human well-being so that people can exercise meaningful choices for their own benefit and that of society'. This ability lies at the heart of current initiatives to strengthen governance initiatives, particularly those with a focus on community resilience and community adaptation in the face of global environmental change and other sustainability issues.

Sustainable development

The concept of social resilience is closely linked to the ideas of sustainable development outlined here. A number of other papers that extend the ideas of sustainable development highlighted through the links here can be found from the social learning and governance sections. The main index points to related topic areas that can support the achievement of these ideas in practice.

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Will Allen
This site is researched, written & maintained by Dr Will Allen.

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