MOOC – Transforming Development: The Science and Practice of Resilience Thinking

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Transforming Development: The Science and Practice of Resilience Thinking explores how concepts from resilience may help us re-think and transform current development practice.

With concerns about climate and global environmental changes, extreme events, and increases in social, economic, and political shocks, the concept of resilience is proving popular across a range of sectors as a way to understand and respond to our surprise-riddled world.

Resilience thinking includes the ability to persist in the face of change, adapt to new realities, or transform to fundamentally new paths for development. Resilience thinking is more than a theory, more than a set of tools. It is a way of seeing the world, offering a new perspective on how change happens in the world. Resilience thinking provides a new approach for building understanding and taking action in a complex world that is deeply interconnected and ever-changing. A world where planned approaches, existing knowledge and current solutions are not enough to effectively respond to the challenges in a highly dynamic and uncertain future. Addressing poverty, injustice, and inequality, and advancing human well-being remain a major ambition and challenge for the 21st century. Now is the time to consider how development will happen in a context radically different from the past.

This course includes examples from practitioners working with resilience concepts in diverse contexts around the world. It is supported by strong scientific evidence and case studies from researchers at a number of universities. Above all, this course is committed to being a platform that brings together individuals and organizations from around the world, with the common goal of transforming development.

This course is for:

  • Development practitioners, policymakers and managers around the world, as well as those working in the development field with an interest in resilience thinking as it relates to policy and practice
  • Students interested in the intersection of resilience, sustainability and development, and with a general interest in local to global sustainability challenges
  • Anyone with an interest in development, resilience thinking, and sustainability

Course begins: 30 April 2018
Course ends: all graded content must be submitted by 23:00 UCT on June 30, 2018
Length: Seven modules released weekly, with a two-week catch-up period at the end
Effort: 2-4 hours per week
Price: FREE
Languages: English, with French and Spanish transcripts available
Prerequisites: None
Requirements: An internet connection to access course materials

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Understand and describe the context of the Anthropocene, and why it matters for development practice
  • Identify, explain, and analyze the latest key issues and debates regarding global environmental change, sustainability, and resilience in relationship to development
  • Possess a general understanding of complexity and complex systems in ways that helps analyze the world and diverse development contexts
  • Identify concrete and cutting-edge ways that core concepts of resilience thinking can be applied in practice
  • Understand the recent and ongoing evolution of resilience thinking tools used in development practice
  • Identify and explain specific local-global (cross-scale) connections and have a handle on how they might shape your work
  • Identify, compare, and analyze existing approaches to understand their transformative potential, using resilience thinking
  • Contribute to collective learning about the strengths and weaknesses of resilience thinking in the context of development policy and practice

Course logistics and requirements:
The course begins on April 30, 2018. Students can enroll at any time before or after that date and can complete course materials at any time by 23:00 UTC on June 30, 2018. After that course content will no longer be available.


  • Pre-recorded lectures
  • Readings
  • Quizzes
  • Discussion activities
  • Resilience Live – Q&A sessions

New content is released every Monday. Once the content is released, it remains accessible for the duration of the course. All course components can be completed at any time that is convenient for the students.

Certificates: Students who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate of proficiency signed by the course instructors. In order to successfully complete the course, students must score an average of 70% or higher on the graded components of the course.

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Prologue: Welcome to the Course – An introduction to the course and what to expect

MODULE 1: Setting the Scene – Development in a changing world
(Released on 30 April 2018)
We have entered the geological epoch of the Anthropocene, the age of humans. Humanity is now the largest driving force of change on the planet. What does this mean for development? In this new reality, development must be able to navigate slow and rapid change, complexity, and surprise. This module will set the scene for how resilience thinking can help development practice navigate uncertainty.

1.1 Welcome to the Anthropocene
1.2 Resilience thinking
1.3 A new context for development
1.4 Anthropocene analysis: Gender and development – rethinking why it matters
1.5 Anthropocene analysis: Food and development
1.6 Practitioner reflection: Mercy Corps – Does development need resilience?

MODULE 2: Taking action in a complex world
(Released on 7 May 2018)
In the Anthropocene, why does the world seem so complex? In this module, we define what we mean by complexity, and some ways to think about complexity in the context of development.

2.1 Features and dynamics of complex systems
2.2 Persistent problems and unwanted surprises
2.3 Resilience thinking for practice
2.4 Seven building blocks for applying resilience thinking
2.5 Weaving diverse knowledges and evidence
2.6 Practitioner reflection: Southern Africa Food Lab – making change happen

MODULE 3: Transformation for rethinking development practice
(Released on 14 May 2018)
Development practice as we know it needs to be able to navigate uncertainties. However, the business-as-usual approach is not working in the Anthropocene. A new way of thinking about innovation and the capacity to transform is necessary in order to thrive in the face of uncertainty and change. This module defines transformation, outlines some of the science around transformation, provides examples of transformative development practice and reimagines the role of innovation.

3.1 Defining the need for transformations to sustainability
3.2 The promise and perils of transformative change
3.3 Rethinking innovation and scale
3.4 Creating space for transformative change
3.5 Searching for opportunity and driving change
3.6 Practitioner reflection: R-Labs – building community and making hope contagious

MODULE 4: The journey from theory to practice
(Released on 21 May 2018)
Modules 1-3 provide a strong foundation for why, theoretically, resilience thinking could help transform development practice in the Anthropocene. Module 4 highlights a number of approaches and tools that can help practitioners, policymakers, and others rethink their development interventions.

4.1 A conversation on gender, development, and complexity
4.2 The evolution of resilience assessment
4.3 Wayfinder: A next generation guide to resilience assessment
4.4 Practitioner reflection: Resilience thinking from the field

MODULE 5: Our intertwined planet: New understandings for development
(Released on 28 May 2018)
This module highlights the importance of seeing the social, ecological, and cultural as inseparable. It also emphasizes that for development to succeed in the Anthropocene, all of these dimensions must be considered together in development practice.

5.1 Ecosystem services and human wellbeing
5.2 Reconnecting people and the planet
5.3 Food, culture, and biodiversity in the Pamir Mountains
5.4 Addressing the complex poverty puzzle using resilience thinking
5.5 Care, agency, and knowledge for people and planet
5.6 Practitioner reflection: With Our Own Hands – celebrating food and life

MODULE 6: Why the global matters for development
(Released on 4 June 2018)
This module explores how humanity’s actions in one place and time, can have surprising consequences for other places and times. This module explores why the global matters for local development and how changes at the local level can scale up and have global implications.

6.1 Teleconnectivity in a globalized world
6.2 Syndromes and vulnerabilities of a connected world
6.3 Anthropocene analysis: Water – the bloodstream of the biosphere

MODULE 7: Reimagining development practice
(Released on 11 June 2018)
Knowing all this, where do we go from here? This final module uses “futures thinking” as an approach towards development practice. The different chapters present ways of thinking that can help us change the present for the better, through imagining positive alternative futures for development and indeed, for humanity.

7.1 Doughnut economics
7.2 The transformative power of storytelling
7.3 Futures thinking and scenario planning
7.4 Finding transformative potential: Pockets of the future in the present
7.5 Nurturing our imaginations
7.6 Sustainable Development Goals: A transformative agenda?

Epilogue: Reflections from the instructors and a call to action