Measuring subjective household resilience: insights from Tanzania

Working and discussion papers
June 2016

In this paper, the feasibility and utility of a subjective approach to measuring household resilience is explored. Subjective measures comprise of a person’s self-evaluation of their household’s capability and capacity to respond to climate extremes or other related hazards. To date, most quantitative approaches to resilience measurement rely on objective indicators and frameworks of assessment. More recently, subjective methods of resilience measurement have been advocated in helping to overcome some of the limitations of traditional approaches.

While subjective measures may hold significant promise as an alternative and complementary approach to traditional, few standardised quantifiable tools have been tested at scale. With this in mind, a nationally representative survey was carried out in Tanzania to explore perceived levels of household resilience to climate extremes and to assess the utility of standardised subjective methods for its assessment. The focus of the study is primarily on flood risk, examining a range of self-assessed resilience-related capacities and patterns of resilience across socio-demographic groups.

Survey results show that most of the population perceive their household to be ill prepared to respond to (66%), recover from (75%) and adapt to (61%) extreme flooding. Factors that are most associated with resilience-related capacities are advance knowledge of a previous flood and, to a lesser extent, believing flooding to be a serious community problem. This suggests further investment in early warning and awareness-raising regarding extreme flooding could be warranted. Somewhat surprisingly, although most socio-demographic variables – such levels of education, livelihood type and rural/urban locality – show weak associations with perceived resilience-related capacities, almost all exhibit statistically significant differences –with the exception of a household’s wealth.

If corroborated in future work, these findings may pose a challenge to a number of traditional assumptions about the factors that underlie household resilience to climate variability and change. Most notably it calls into question the suitability of many objective and observable socio-demographic factors as proxies for household resilience.

This paper argues that the insights offered by the subjective questions, and the lack of correlation with the objective measures, require better understanding of the relationships between a household’s perceived resilience and objective approaches to resilience measurement. Above all, efforts to evaluate and quantify resilience should take into account subjective aspects of household resilience in order to ensure a more holistic understanding of resilience to climate extremes.