This paper compares objective and subjective ways of evaluating resilience, a concept that has quickly risen to prominence among the international development community. Donors, governments and civil society organisations are making ever larger political and financial commitments towards supporting resilience in the face of changing global risks. Accurate measurement of resilience is thus crucial in ensuring that resilience-building activities are effective and target communities most in need.

To date, resilience measurement has been heavily reliant on objective tools and approaches. These refer to measurement practices that are independent of the judgement and perspectives of those being evaluated (either with regard to how resilience is defined or evaluated). More recently, scholars and practitioners have proposed a range of subjective approaches. They follow a contrasting approach – seeking to factor people’s own judgements and evaluations directly into the measurement process: they make use of people’s perceptions of what resilience means to them and rely on self-evaluations of their own capacity to deal with risk. While both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, little is known about how objective and subjective modes of evaluation compare.

This paper addresses these questions, focusing on measurements of household resilience to a range of risks. The authors introduce a new method of subjective evaluation termed the Subjective self-Evaluated Resilience Score (SERS). Using a survey of 2,308 households in Northern Uganda, they assigned a range of SERS modules alongside a traditional objective module of resilience measurement. This allowed like-for-like comparisons of the objectively and subjectively evaluated resilience scores for the first time.

The survey findings suggest there is a moderate relationship between objective and subjective modules, with SERS scores demonstrating similar positive influences on the main components of objectively-evaluated resilience. While both modules share many of the same underlying factors, there are notable differences, particularly with regard to associations with coping strategies, levels of education and exposure to prior shocks. The researchers also investigate different ways of characterising subjectively-evaluated resilience and find few areas of divergence.

The findings highlight the need for existing measurement toolkits to pay closer attention to the selection of pre-existing indicators and offer opportunities for combining subjective and objective methods of evaluating resilience.

This is a modified version of a paper first published in September 2018.

Grantham Research Institute Working Paper series ISSN: 2515-5717 (online)

CCCEP Working Paper series ISSN: 2515-5709 (online)

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