Kate WilliamsonFEATURE
Kate Williamson Kate Williamson © Andrew Benson/The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Connecticut

The Psychology of Community Resilience and Self Reliance

Katie Williamson spent last summer traveling—with a mission. As a co-researcher with The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, Williamson, a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, visited coastal communities across the state to find out how people envision climate resilience and what it means for long-term individual and community adaptation.

Williamson worked to provide fresh perspectives for the Conservancy’s Coastal and Community Resilience programs through in-depth community engagement. She met with community leaders and residents of disparate races and ethnicities, genders, occupations and socioeconomic statuses to get a deeper picture on priorities, learning opportunities and challenges to communities becoming self-reliant.

Williamson thinks about self-reliance in the context of localization—transitioning communities to be able to meet the many needs of their residents in a scenario of increased resource constraints. “When I first asked about self-reliance, many participants responded with ideas for meeting basic needs—community gardens, water sources, energy generation, public transportation,” she said. “Yet individuals also described a more complex picture: values, education, leadership, health, manual skills and knowing local experts were important too.”

Williamson used interviews paired with an interactive cognitive-mapping method from environmental psychology to further reveal how people think and feel about climate adaptation. A key theme that emerged was that for municipalities to be climate resilient at a local level—without depending on outside support—people, businesses, local governments and organizations would benefit from considering and preparing for a “new normal” that challenges “business as usual.”

“Many people seemed energized by the idea,” she says. “And if we’re all willing to work together toward improved resilience in coastal areas, they can be wonderful, although different, places to work, live and play for many generations to come, regardless of what our changing climate brings.”