Measuring Resilience

The Resilience in Agriculture course was developed by ILCI’s cross-cutting themes team at Cultural Practice, LLC. Sarah Eissler is the lead content developer and Dee Rubin is the cross-cutting themes training coordinator. 

Course outline

This work was funded in whole by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under Agreement #7200AA19RFA00010 as part of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors alone.


Welcome to the third session of a training module to address resilience. Resilience is one of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement’s four cross-cutting themes, the others are gender, youth, and nutrition. In this session, we will be addressing the importance of measuring concepts of resilience in agriculture.

Session 2 Review

Now, let’s review session 2. Click on each number below to hear more about what we learned in the last session on resilience in agriculture. 

  1. We learned that there are many different approaches to building resilience, which requires a multi-sectoral and integrated response. Building resilience in agriculture is centered around equipping and empowering farmers and value chain actors to absorb and recover from the different shocks and stressors that threaten their agricultural production and livelihood, ultimately reducing their vulnerability to future shocks and stressors. Building resilience also empowers farmers and value chain actors to mitigate agriculture’s contribution to climate change.
  2. The effects of climate change on agriculture are complex. The agricultural sector specifically must build resilience to respond to potential negative impacts of climate change.
  3. Climate smart agriculture is one such approach that aims to sustainably increase productivity and resilience (adaptation), reduce and/or remove greenhouse gasses (mitigation), and enhance achievements of national food security and development goals.

Measuring Resilience

In this session, we are discussing and thinking about the ways in which we can measure resilience in our own work.  We will talk about a measurement framework, important indicators and questions to consider when developing a measurement framework and a resilience theory of change. We will also touch on ways to include relevant cross-cutting themes into measurement frameworks.

Before we start, let’s begin with an overarching question to consider throughout this session. When thinking about measuring resilience, we first have to ask: resilience for whom or for what? Whose resilience are we measuring or focused on? Or what systems’ resilience do we want to measure? We will come back to this idea later in the session, but from the beginning, we should be thinking about this.

Resilience Framework

Let’s return to the definition of resilience and resilience framework that was discussed in session 1.

USAID’s definition and framework to measure resilience includes three main components:

  • shocks and stressors,
  • capacities (including absorptive, adaptive, and transformative), and
  • well-being and development outcomes.

In the next few slides, we will discuss measurement indicators in these three areas.


Let’s revisit USAID’s definition of resilience. It is defined as the ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth. Now let’s think about what we mean by ‘measuring resilience’.  Click on the icons to learn the difference between measuring resilience and resilience capacities.


Measuring resilience requires using panel data to understand how the same individuals, households, communities or systems have responded to various shocks and stressors over the long term to achieve wellbeing outcomes. This requires long-term panel data and only a few such studies and/or measurements of this exist.

Resilience capacities

Measuring resilience capacities is something we can do without long-term panel data and requires a strong resilience theory of change and hypothesis around which factors or capacities drive resilience and lead to stronger wellbeing outcomes within a given context.

Measuring Resilience

When conceptualizing this resilience measurement framework, we make some broad assumptions. 

First, we assume that in the absence of resilience capacities, shocks and stressors would have a negative or adverse impact on wellbeing outcomes.

Therefore, we assume that resilience capacities are what enable systems, communities, households or individuals to withstand the adverse impacts of the shock or stress event. We then measure the extent to which resilience capacities enable households, individuals, communities and systems to prepare for, mitigate and respond to shocks and stresses in a way that reduces or eliminates negative impacts on individual and household well-being.

Resilience Theory of Change

We’ve now looked at USAID’s resilience conceptual framework in depth and we have talked about the three main elements: shocks and stressors, resilience capacities, and wellbeing outcomes. We know that there are many types of shocks and stressors that can pose negative risk to individuals, households, communities, and systems. We know that they all do not experience these shocks and stressors in the same way. And we know that they all have different access to resources, experiences, assets, and sources of resilience to strengthen different levels of capacities to manage and proactively respond to risk and shock and stress events.

A resilience theory of change is essentially the roadmap to connecting these three elements and the various factors involved. It provides the outline for how a program or intervention will strengthen resilience capacities needed to sustain or improve targeted wellbeing or development outcomes in the face of selected shocks and stressors.

It asks the question: if / then – referring to the hypothesized factors that will help certain groups to build capacities that enable them to successfully manage or respond to shocks or stressors in ways that yield positive development and wellbeing outcomes. Each box here should distill the key shocks and stressors, targeted resilience capacities, and expected wellbeing and development outcomes.

For example, let’s consider a crop breeding program aimed at developing a heat tolerant variety of wheat. A very simple resilience theory of change statement would presumably read something like “IF the farmer adopts a heat tolerant variety of wheat, THEN they will not experience crop loss during extremely hot days or months”

This theory of change first identifies WHO needs to build resilient capacities: wheat producers.

It then identifies the shock or stress event affecting the wheat producers: extreme high temperatures.

Then, it identifies a source of resilience and resilience capacity that will help the producer manage the risk: adopting heat tolerant wheat varieties.

Finally, it identifies the wellbeing outcome: reduced crop loss.

Here the theory of change hypothesizes that adopting a heat tolerant variety of wheat will enable wheat producers to reduce and manage the risk of losing wheat crops during high temperature events, leading to a positive development outcome of higher wheat yields even if faced with higher temperatures.

Keep in mind, this is a really simplified theory of change. Likely, many other resilience capacities at each level – individual, household, community, and systems level – will be needed to achieve adoption of the heat tolerant varieties.  This theory of change assumes that all wheat producers experience similar high temperature days, have the same level of risk to their livelihoods as wheat producers, and that all wheat producers have the same knowledge, skills, preferences, experiences, and access to resources to adopt a heat tolerant variety of wheat, which we have learned throughout this course, is not the case.


Here we can see how concepts of resilience can overlap in a very basic theory of change, using the example presented in the previous slide.  Be sure to click on the orange arrows below to learn about activities, outputs, outcomes, and impact.

The activities are considered the program or research intervention activity. Using the previous example, it would be the research designed to develop the heat tolerant wheat variety in response to the shock of high temperature days affecting wheat crops.

The outputs are the resilience capacities that are strengthened. This would be the introduction and testing of the heat tolerant wheat variety with wheat producers.

The outcomes are the results of the activity and outputs, meaning that the effective resilience response is adopted. In the previous example, this would be the producers’ adoption of the heat tolerant wheat variety. Finally, the impact is the improved or maintained wellbeing or development outcomes. In the previous example, this would be the maintained or improved wheat crop yields during periods of high temperature days.


Now let’s test what we’ve just learned. After you have read this scenario about a rice producing household and the theory of change, match the items in Column A to the appropriate category in Column B. The categories in Column B refer to the resilience theory of change. 


That’s right! In this case:

  • the WHO is a smallholder household;
  • the Stress / Shock Event is a drought;
  • the Resilience Capacity is diversifying crops and income-sources; and
  • the Wellbeing Outcome is Reduced risk of losing incomes.

Developing a Theory of Change

We just presented some very basic examples of resilience theories of change to show how the main concepts of resilience link together. But in reality, developing a resilience theory of change can be very complex as it aims to identify which resilience capacities need to be strengthened in order to have positive outcomes. As we have learned, resilience capacities actually overlap, and are integrated across multiple levels.

One type of resilience capacity alone is not sufficient to build resilience to respond to a shock or stress. Multiple sources of resilience and resilience capacities at all levels are needed to build resilience to maintain wellbeing in the face of shock and stress events.

Additionally, it’s important to note that the ability of an actor to utilize a resilience capacity – meaning their ability to adopt a resilient response in the face of a shock — depends on a whole slew of other resilience capacities. A program must identify its scope of influence, and then select resilience capacities that it can reasonably expect to strengthen as a result of its programming alone. Some resilience capacities may be beyond the reach of the program or intervention, given the existing level of vulnerability in that context. Therefore, not all programs will be able to achieve the same level of well-being outcomes.

These identified resilience capacities should contribute to the desired resilient response that is hypothesized to lead to improved well-being outcomes. This means that these capacities need to be accessible and reasonably employed by those whose resilience the program or research is aiming to strengthen.  A program’s resilience theory of change needs to select which resilience capacities it intends to strengthen within the given context and program scope of influence. And then it can measure these selected capacities and resilience responses over the course of the program. 

Identifying Indicators

So now let’s talk about indicators. First, we are going to review shocks and stressors, which we covered in session 1.

In session one, we defined what we mean by a shock and a stressor, and clarified that shocks and stressors are different from problems. Hover over the numbers to see a few examples of immediate shocks and stressors that may pose negative impact on well-being outcomes, such as pests and disease outbreaks, droughts, erratic rainfall, acute political unrest, poor or weak governance structures, long term climatic variability, and population pressures. There are others. The main point here is to identify the key shocks and stresses that pose the greatest risk to the intended outcomes.

Shocks and stressors

Shocks and stressors pose different kinds of risks and can vary in terms of timing, scale, frequency, and severity. For example, a drought that lasts for one month may require a different response than a drought that lasts for one year. A drought could be smaller in scale, meaning it could affect only a few communities and therefore a community or local government response is needed. But a drought could be larger in scale and affect large portions of a country and may require a national response. Additionally, a drier environment may be used to droughts because they occur more frequently in that area. This environment would have built up resilience capacities to respond to frequent droughts and therefore would be less vulnerable to the risks posed by droughts. But a wetter area that does not have droughts would be more vulnerable to a drought and therefore require different sets of resilience capacities to respond to the risk.

Additionally, a drought or other type of immediate shock or stress event may lead to downstream shock events or additional follow-on shocks. For example, a drought may lead to price increases for food items, or a natural disaster could lead to disease outbreaks due to water, sanitation and hygiene issues. When measuring resilience, it’s important to understand these kinds of variations of shocks and stressors and potential follow-on events. We must first identify the different shocks and stressors that impact *whose* resilience you are measuring. Context matters!

In summary, the key takeaway from this slide is that we then must understand that shocks and stressors impact individuals, households, and communities differently – either in frequency or severity – which in turn, impacts the level and types of capacities needed to respond.

Resilience Capacities

Next, we will look at how to measure resilience capacities, which are essentially the ways in which people, households, communities, and systems are able to manage and respond to potential or actual risks posed by the shocks and stressors. Each resilience capacity is measured using multiple indicators or indices that are developed based on the specific context and program design. Specifically, when we think of resilience capacities, we think about the assets, resources, and strategies used to respond to shocks and stressors. Remember from Session 1 that USAID considers three types of capacities: absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities.

Hover over the three icons to learn more about each type of capacity.

Absorptive capacity are strategies, assets, and resources employed during the shock or stress event to reduce the negative impact of the event.

Adaptive capacity concerns the preventative measures taken to reduce the potential risk of negative impacts during a shock or stress event.

And transformative capacity concerns the enabling environment and factors that contribute to creating conditions to sustainably build resilience. Next, we will look at some examples of each of these.

Absorptive, Adaptive and Transformative

Examples of absorptive capacity can include building a cash savings, informal safety nets, or selling assets that were accumulated during non-shock periods to be able to reduce the immediate negative impact of a shock. In other words, ways that can absorb the shock’s adverse impact.

Examples of adaptive capacity include having an increased access to information and financial services, and nutrition and health status, relying on increased social capital linkages, having an increased confidence in one’s ability to adapt, accumulating assets as a safety net, and diversifying livelihoods and crop to proactively reduce the risk of negative or adverse impacts of a shock or stress. These are some examples of adaptive capacity, but there are many others.

Examples of transformative capacity relate to indicators that contribute to enabling conditions to sustainably build resilience. These often occur over the long-term and can often be missed when measuring resilience capacities. Examples include improved governance, increased levels of women’s empowerment, access to formal social safety nets, access to improved infrastructure and markets, and reduction in systemic discrimination.

Wellbeing Outcomes

Finally, there are many types of wellbeing and development outcomes. These are selected or identified depending on what the objective of the research or overall aim of a resilience program or study is. Here are just a few examples of the different wellbeing outcomes that are commonly measured, including yields, incomes, or health indicators, such as food security, nutritional status, among others.

Putting it all together


While this training spends time distinguishing between absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities, in practice, they conceptually and empirically overlap. We distinguish between them to provide a clear way of thinking about the range of capacities that make up resilience, but when developing a resilience theory of change, it’s less important to ascribe indicators to the type of capacity than to identify the relevant indicators overall. Resilience measurement for programming typically involves the following types of indicators: resilience capacity indicators, shock/stressor indicators, effective resilience response indicators, and well-being indicators. Now, click on the identifying indicators tab on the left to learn more.

Identifying Indicators

To develop an index of indicators to measure resilience capacities, the researcher needs to identify which assets, resources, or strategies are most relevant to the unit that is being measured for its resilience and the context. Here we come back to the first question – resilience for whom? A strong resilience theory of change will make hypotheses about which assets, resources, or strategies – when employed to respond to a shock or stressor – leads to better wellbeing or development outcomes.

Let’s Review

Now let’s test your knowledge about what you’ve learned. Drag each item from Column A to the correct example in Column B. 


That’s right!

  • Household nutritional security is an example of a wellbeing and development outcome.
  • A drought is an example of a shock.
  • Cash savings is an example of an absorptive capacity.
  • Women’s empowerment is an example of a transformative capacity. Livelihood and crop diversification is an example of an adaptive capacity.

Addressing Cross-Cutting Themes

Importantly, when we think of the resilience framework and measuring resilience, we have to acknowledge that people experience different disturbances and even have different experiences to a similar disturbance. People, households, communities, and systems have differing levels of access to build and agency to employ capacities – including resources, assets, and strategies employed to respond to shocks or stressors.

There has been a lot of research done on the different ways in which men and women, for example, have different access to opportunities and experience different barriers to accessing those opportunities. Often, these are shaped and reinforced by social norms. In the next few slides, we will look at some examples for why it’s important to consider and measure gender differences when thinking about resilience.

Research has also focused on the ways in which youth are disadvantaged and advantaged compared to older groups in strengthening and employing these capacities to build their resilience. For example, several studies have shown that youth in agriculture may experience higher barriers in accessing capital, securing modern farm equipment, and accessing quality land to maintain their crops and engage in the agricultural sector. However, these studies also showed that youth were better able to access information using the internet, were higher educated, were healthier and more able to migrate in search of other opportunities than older groups. In resilience work, it is essential to carefully think about these differences and address the barriers experienced to building and employing capacities to ensure wellbeing outcomes are met for all.

Gender and Resilience

We are going to take a closer look at the gender dynamics of resilience and why it’s important to incorporate these measures into a resilience theory of change. It’s important to consider gender dynamics for each component of measuring resilience. Specifically, we need to consider the gender differences in exposure to, frequency of, and severity of shocks and stressors; the gender differences in levels and functioning of resilience capacities, and finally, the relationship between shocks, capacities, and wellbeing outcomes. 

Gender Indicators

When designing resilience programming or interventions, as we said in the beginning of this session, we must think about WHOSE resilience is being targeted. Are they older or younger men? Are they older or younger women? Are they all or some of these categories? Of course, there are important differences between individuals, households, and communities beyond gender and youth, but for purposes of this training, we will just consider these. We encourage you to constantly think about what important social identities exist that shape the experience your target group may have in building resilience to shocks and stressors.

The information here presents several important indicators and initial questions to consider regarding gender differences and inequalities that men, women and youth may experience in the face of shocks and stressors and their ability to build capacities to respond. The idea here is to think about and answer these questions for your own research and your own target audience. How might you integrate these indicators into your own resilience theory of change to assess important gender differences in resilience capacities?

Click on each of the indicators on this slide to hear more about why and how each can be included as a measure of gender in resilience.


Decision making power or influence is important to understand. For example, who makes the decision to adopt a new crop variety on one’s field? Are there nuances to this decision? Perhaps a woman decide to adopt a variety if it is for her plot of land, but can she make this decision for her husband’s agricultural plot? Does she need to discuss with her husband to adopt a new variety on her land or the household’s, or does the husband have full decision-making control?

Assets, Control and Ownership of Assets

We should consider who has access to, who owns, and who controls what assets. What kinds of assets does one own? Can they sell that asset if they wanted to? Can someone else sell their asset if they wanted to? Under what circumstances can one sell an asset they own or someone else owns?

Access to Natural Resources

We should consider access to resources. We should ask what kinds of natural resources men, women, and youth have access to and what kind of access they have? Is that access moderated by someone or something else? For example, if a woman can only cultivate on land if her husband gives her a small plot, then that access is moderated by her husband. Perhaps not all women in a community will have the same access to land, depending on to what land their husband gives them access to, for example.

Participation in Groups

We should consider participation in community groups and types of social capital individuals may have. We know from previous sessions that social capital is an important source of resilience. Where do individuals build social capital? What kinds of community groups does someone participate in and how frequently? Is that participation moderated by someone or something? Perhaps due to social norms, women are not able to participate in community groups, but men are – meaning men may have access to social networks to rely on when they need help in the face of a shock or stress event, but maybe women do not.

Roles and Responsibilities

We should consider roles and responsibilities of important tasks. We should ask who is responsible for which task in the household? How about for agricultural production and in agricultural value chains? How about for other important livelihood activities? We should then understand how much decision-making control they have over how that task is completed.

Time Use

We should consider how much time use a person spends on any given task or how much time they have available in any given day. Important questions to ask are how much time does a person spend on their expected tasks and do they have control over that time? Who decides how much time is spent or when can the amount of time spent on a task be changed?

Freedom of Movement

We should consider one’s freedom of movement. Where can one go? Who decides or controls where one can go? For example, are women allowed to travel outside of the home without permission? How far outside of the home can they travel? Are they allowed in all market stalls or are women only allowed in certain areas of a market?


We should consider the existing social and cultural norms. It’s important to ensure that resilience theories of change and indicators are culturally and socially relevant, but first we must understand the existing norms that shape how men and women interact with each other and their community. What are the social expectations for how men should behave and how women should behave, or spend their time, or do in any given day? 

Laws and Policies

We should consider the existing laws and policies. What are existing and potentially discriminatory laws and policies and how are these enforced? Are certain laws more strictly enforced than others?

Gender-based Violence

We should consider gender-based violence. In any programming or research, we must consider current attitudes towards gender-based violence and the factors that may exacerbate the risk for GBV.


Gender is a factor at all levels of resilience. Improved equity in household decision-making will not only affect individual outcomes for the woman, but also outcomes for the household and the community. System-level changes are key to women’s increased opportunities to earn income and own and manage assets. Changes in gender norms are transformative capacities that underlie improvements in absorptive and adaptive capacities.

Case study: Malawi

Now let’s look at some examples about how men and women may experience shocks and stressors differently and have different types of capacities to respond. This study was published in the Journal of Development Studies in 2017. You can read the full article here by clicking on the information icon in the bottom right corner of your screen.

The authors examined the effect of temperature shocks on wellbeing outcomes for agricultural households in Malawi. They examined if these effects differed by types of households. In Malawi, most of the country follows matrilineal norms. This study included households from both the matrilineal and patrilineal areas.

The authors find that overall, households were negatively affected by the temperature shocks. These negative effects include lower household food consumption and lower caloric intake. However, these negative effects were more severe for households in patrilineal areas where only women managed land. They were not more severe in matrilineal areas.

Here we ask, why? Why do men and women land managers who are experiencing the same shock have different outcomes?

The authors suggest these differences are linked to land tenure security. In the patrilineal areas, women do not inherit and have less access to land, therefore having low land tenure security. Other research has shown a significant association between land tenure security and investing into agricultural inputs. Therefore, the authors suggest that access to land ownership is an important source of resilience. So, in this case, we can understand why the wellbeing outcomes differed between the different types of households, because each land manager (men, women, and those managed jointly by men and women) had access to different important resources, such as land tenure. 

Case study: RISE program

Let’s look at another example, like USAID’s Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced program or RISE. As we talk about the program, you can refer to the RISE resources in the information icon in the bottom right corner of your screen

This program was implemented in Burkina Faso and Niger. It used sex-disaggregated monitoring data on capacity indicators to reveal differences between men and women’s capacity to build resilience in the face of shocks and stress events.

It’s monitoring data included indicators related to women’s participation in household activities, in groups and in political processes, decision-making power over various sources of household income, their ability to secure loans, and overall level of confidence. They used this data to understand the important differences between men and women’s access to resilience sources that affected their resilience capacities and then overall wellbeing and development outcomes. They looked at outcomes such as household food security and nutrition. 

Using this data, the RISE program was able to monitor and better understand changes to the resilience capacities and wellbeing of women, men, girls, and boys in order to deliver more effective program support. You can read the 2020 Monitoring Report for more information about how the data were analyzed and what kinds of recommendations were made to better support men, women, boys, and girls in the program in the information icon below.

In addition to the Monitoring Report, the RISE program conducted a qualitative gender analysis in 2018 to assess lessons learned of the first phase of the RISE program to improve the next iteration of the program. The analysis revealed that women face key barriers to accessing and benefitting from similar resources, opportunities, and experiences than men, and were therefore less resilient in the face of shocks and stress events. This gender analysis revealed in-depth findings to highlight the nuances that monitoring data were not able to. For example, the analysis identified a discord between national laws and customary laws where women may have equal rights under national law but did not under customary law. And customary laws were more strongly enforced. Additionally, the analysis revealed important differences in how women in Burkina Faso and Niger experienced nuanced challenges, dynamics, barriers, and opportunities to build resilience. These points highlight the need for resilience theories of change to be contextually driven and relevant for those whose resilience a program is aiming to build.

Now, take a few minutes to read about the gender analysis findings of differences in challenges experienced from women in the RISE program.


Let’s review what we’ve covered in this session. Click on each icon below to review our four main takeaways from session 3. 

  1. First, measuring resilience and resilience capacities are different. Measuring resilience capacities aim to assess which factors or capacities drive resilience and lead to strong wellbeing outcomes in the face of shock and stress events.
  2. Second, resilience theories of change hypothesize which resilience capacities will enable the person, household, community, or systems to effectively respond to a shock or stress event in a way that maintains or improves wellbeing outcomes.
  3. Third, resilience theories of change are complex and must be developed in the scope of the program or intervention and be contextually-relevant.
  4. Finally, individuals, households, communities, and systems have different exposure and vulnerabilities to shock and stress events, and have different access to resources, skills, knowledge, and experiences to build resilience capacities to respond to those events.

Next Steps

Thank you for your participation in the third session of the Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement’s training on resilience in agriculture. Now, use the buttons below to continue to the final session of our training module on resilience in agriculture, which is focused on resilience for improved outcomes. You can also use the buttons below to navigate back to the Innovation Lab’s homepage or learning hub.