Resilient Community Design

Building community resilience – the ability of whole communities to thrive in place over time with dignity, justice, and ecological sanity – is OAEC’s ultimate goal.

Permaculture Design in Haiti

A Resilient Community Design process facilitated by OAEC Permaculture Program staff in Haiti.


Community resilience is the ability of human groups to adapt to changing conditions over time by developing social and physical infrastructure that can withstand external shocks. With Resilient Community Design (RCD) – OAEC’s adaptation of the permaculture design process – we enable groups to better address their cultural, ecological and economic needs by deepening ecological understanding of their place, strengthening practices of self-governance through collaborative decision-making, and increasing social cohesion and personal welfare through collective work. The three pillars of RCD – ecoliteracy, self-governance, and social/personal wellbeing – enhance a community’s long-term resilience capacity.

What Is Resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to lead a continued existence by incorporating change (Holling, 1986) and social resilience is the ability of human communities to withstand external shocks to their social infrastructure. Folke et al. (2003) identify four critical factors for social-ecological (or biocultural) resilience:

  1. Learning to live with change and uncertainties, which includes learning from crisis;
  2. Nurturing diversity for reorganization and renewal, which includes nurturing, sustaining and enhancing social-ecological memory;
  3. Combining different kinds of knowledge for learning, which includes combining different systems of knowledge;
  4. Creating opportunity for self-organization, which recognizes the interplay between diversity and disturbance.

Bio-cultural Diversity

Cultural diversity and biodiversity are interlinked in a concept known as bio-cultural diversity. Bio-cultural diversity refers to, “the interactions between biodiversity and diversity within a cultural context, as situated in the landscape” (Belay, 2012). It is at the landscape level that cultural and religious practices, as well as social and cultural institutions, established in a specific cultural context, play an important role in the perception of the value, use and management of biodiversity (UNESCO, 2007). Bio-cultural diversity at the local level can also be understood as, “the causal relationship between ecosystem, species and genetics on the one hand and the richness and ecological knowledge, cultural values and practices, institutions, and language on the other hand” (Maffi, 2010, p. 5).

Resilient Community Design provides a learning platform for communities to work towards greater resilience by recognizing that biological and cultural diversity are linked systems, which is essential for resilience – especially in these times of rapid environmental and social change at the local and global levels.


Resilient Community DesignHow Resilient Community Design Works

Resilient Community Design is a facilitated design process formatted into an accessible curriculum used by people from diverse cultures and locations. The curriculum follows a predictable pathway but is flexible in duration of process, frequency of engagements, techniques, languages, literacy, numeracy, numbers of participants and more. Each engagement is tailored to the community to fit their particular needs, desires, issues, and opportunities.


OAEC beekeepingOutcomes of Resilient Community Design

The explicit goal of a design process is for a community to create an ecologically and culturally regenerative site design map that can be implemented overtime.

Additional goals are embedded in the process:

  1. Growing ecological literacy and sense of place;
  2. Magnifying sovereignty-thinking, community determination, community governance, and a collective sense of agency by practicing group decision-making and communication;
  3. Intensifying social cohesion and fostering relationships by working together;
  4. Heightening personal well-being through greater social and ecological connection.

African proverb

Permaculture Design Program

Resilient Community Design is a methodology for group resilience based in permaculture, a design approach based in observation and systems thinking that enables people to create ecologically and socially sustainable human settlements beneficial to the ecosystems they are nested within.

OAEC’s Permaculture Design Program empowers place-based communities to design their own solutions toward ecological regeneration, social justice, and personal and community well-being. We model and teach ecological design, certifying thousands of students from communities across the world in permaculture design. We also work with place-based communities as well as individual farmers, ranchers, and landowners to integrate ecological design principles and practices into their systems design.


Permaculture Design

OAEC Permaculture Design project

Students collaborating on a design project at OAEC.