William Barnes, National League of Cities
Alan Berube, Brookings Institution
Margaret Cowell, Virginia Tech
Kathryn Foster, State University of Buffalo
Archon Fung, Harvard University
Amy Liu, Brookings Institution
Phil Thompson, MIT
Exploring How Governing Matters to Regional Resilience
The Governance working group has pursued two main questions, each yielding foundational insights for the broader BRR projects. The first explores the concept of resilience itself. The second examines regional governance as a core factor that may influence how resilient a region is to its challenges.
Resilience Studies -- What appears straightforward at first glance—resilience is the ability of a place or person to “bounce back” from a stress or strain—becomes rapidly complex in application. Is resilience a capacity for bouncing back, that is, the stores of economic, social, demographic and other attributes of a person or place that make it able to withstand or recover from a challenge? Or is resilience a measure of performance, that is, how well the person or place actually bounced back regardless of starting points or the severity of the challenge? Further complicating assessment of resilience is the reality of multiple types of challenges, from one-time shocks such as a terrorist attack to chronic strains exemplified by a multi-year economic transformation.
Resilience is a “fuzzy concept” in social and policy sciences. When assessing resilience across metropolitan regions, research suggests that resilience is most readily measured as a capacity rather than as performance. A performance-based analysis is hampered by the need to identify a sufficient number of places facing a relatively similar challenge at roughly the same time. Empirical tests also reveal that a region may have high capacity for resilience in one realm, such as economic growth, but low capacity in another.
Analyzing performance-based resilience lends itself to single- or comparative case study work. Margaret Cowell’s dissertation, “Understanding Resilience Through Regional Responses to Economic Restructuring,” on eight deindustrializing regions, supplemented by a deep history of metropolitan Detroit in the 1970s, offers a useful illustration. Cowell identified four possible resilience trajectories: bowing out, bidding down, betting on the basics, and sharing the wealth.
Surprisingly, all eight Rust Belt regions chose to either “Bet on the Basics”—that is, cling to their manufacturing legacy—or “Bow Out”—that is, diversify their economies. Notably, the research found that regions that those that bet on the basics were less likely to exhibit adaptive resilience than those that chose to bow out.
The research also indicates that timing matters. Many of the regions that responded swiftly were more adaptive. Regions whose leaders adopted more creative regional responses were than those who tried to solely recreate the past.
Governance — For the past two years Kathryn A. Foster and William Barnes have collaborated on a project to “decompose” into dimensions and indicators the multifaceted concept of regional governance. Such a framework holds promise for understanding why some regions operate under certain models of regional governance and what difference a region’s form of governance makes to regional outcomes.
The key hypothesis is that regional governance can be described by five dimensions: 1) the actor group, 2) agenda, 3) internal capacity, 4) external capacity, and 5) regional track record. Case studies in measuring these indicators create for the first time a quantifiable way to compare regional governance across place.
Foster and Barnes, with assistance from the National League of Cities, the University at Buffalo Regional Institute and collaborating professionals, plan to test the regional governance framework in the field, yielding a handbook for assessing regional governance as a foundational element of regional resilience.