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Kindred Spirits Talk Resilience Measurement

This post was written by Tiffany Griffin, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor with the Bureau for Food Security, who interviewed Eugenie Reidy, Program Specialist with UNICEF in Nairobi, Kenya.

Within minutes of that first chat, I came to think of Eugenie Reidy, Programme Specialist, at UNICEF in Nairobi, Kenya, as my kindred spirit when it comes to resilience measurement. After our initial exchange at a technical meeting on resilience1 measurement, she offered to send me a paper she and her colleagues were working on related to a mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative methods employed jointly) approach to measuring resilience in Somalia. I was super excited to read it, but after actually reading it, I realized just how big a contribution Eugenie and her colleagues were making. It was then that I knew I had to interview her for our blog.

Tiffany: Can you describe your mixed methods approach, as well as how it allows for multiple levels/units of measurement?

Eugenie: There is good consensus now that a mixed methods approach is appropriate for measuring resilience, which is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. You couldn’t use quantitative without qualitative, or vice versa. And it allows you to bring multiple levels together, rather than being confined to just a household or community level inquiry. For example, in the FAO-UNICEF-WFP baseline survey in Somalia, we started with qualitative data collection – using community consultations, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and existing data or research – at the individual, household and community levels.  After that, a quantitative step involved a structured household survey; but, it went beyond household level information by asking questions about the wider ‘enabling environment’ including security, governance, and environment. As the steps go on (diagram below), they build a multidimensional understanding of resilience.

Tiffany: How has your background as an anthropologist infused the mixed methods approach taken in Somalia?

Eugenie: I don’t think you need to be an anthropologist to be willing to spend time with people to learn how they live.

Our team in Dolow (Somalia) brought curiosity, as well as willingness to listen and learn. We enjoyed heading into the bush to join communities in their traditional meeting spaces. We were made welcome by the people we met – reminded of the deep traits of hospitality which can be concealed in times of insecurity.

This was rural South Central Somalia, and just the fact we got out of our cars was a good start: a smiling old woman said, “People normally speed past us, or if they stop they stay in their vehicles. We are happy that you are here and sitting on this mat with us…”

Sometimes data collection feels like a cold and extractive process. But here, where we insisted on community discussions ‘on their terms’, conversation flowed so readily that we were rarely able to leave in under three hours.

Tiffany: What would you say to critics who argue against mixed methods because of cost?

Eugenie: Often it’s integrating qualitative methods that transforms data collection into a mixed methods approach – and that’s typically not the most expensive of the two forms of data collection. In Somalia, structured household surveys were always intended, but we insisted on adding qualitative phases before and after them – to inform the questions and then validate and deepen the findings.

Ultimately it is cost-effective to know better the realities you’re working in, especially if you’re trying to take a multi-dimensional approach to building resilience. As the former FAO Representative in Somalia, Luca Alinovi, retorted when asked about the costs of measuring resilience, “If you think it’s expensive, try ignorance”.

Tiffany: How has the process of coordination between FAO, UNICEF, and WFP been?

Eugenie: As with any joint working, it can start slowly. Over time, relationships get stronger, and the learning and collaboration kicks in. One issue we have faced however is high staff turnover; this can break the momentum. Otherwise, we have found the coordinated approach, to be very enabling and positive. Really importantly it has gone beyond measurement: working together we’re able to look at shared higher objectives relevant to resilience, and to reflect these in our program focus.

Tiffany: What was the most surprising finding from the qualitative work?

Eugenie: Personally, I think I underestimated the general sense of trauma people were feeling after years of conflict and loss. 

Plenty of other things took us by surprise: the fundamental role of social capital or networks in everyone’s lives; the huge amounts of movement; the pivotal and changing roles of women, who were both shock absorbers and ambassadors of resilience; and youth. We often didn’t see young men or women at our consultations because they were too busy actually being resilient elsewhere; as a woman explained, “You ask where the young people are?! They are not here, they can’t talk to you about resilience because they’re out doing it!” 

Overall, as aid agencies, we can underestimate how much people are agents of their own resilience. That wasn’t possible after consultations with those communities in Dolow. That’s not to say that the famine didn’t devastate people – it did – but their resilience is extraordinary, and they are rightly proud of it. It is our hope that a mixed methods approach to understanding people’s resilience might also be able to do justice to it.

To read more about resilience efforts at USAID, hear to the USAID Resilience Policy and Program Guidance.


1USAID defines resilience as "the ability of people, households, communitites, countries, and systems to migrate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stress in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilities inclusive growth". USAID Resilience Policy and Program Guidance