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Characterising rural resilience in Aotearoa-New Zealand: a systematic review


The concept of ‘resilience’ has recently gained traction in a range of contexts. Its various interpretations and framings are now used to examine a variety of issues, particularly relating to the human dimensions of global change. This can pose challenges to scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers seeking to develop focused research programmes, design targeted interventions, and communicate across disciplinary boundaries. The concept of resilience is widely used in Aotearoa-New Zealand, where it informs both government policy and research programmes. Resilience is particularly relevant in this small developed nation, which is heavily reliant on primary production in rural areas and affected by a range of geological and climatic hazards. To understand the range and extent of application of resilience in the rural context, we use systematic review methods to identify, characterise, and synthesise this knowledge base. Currently, research applying the concept of resilience in the rural context is limited in areal extent, largely quantitative in nature, and led by a small number of researchers. There is limited evidence of collaboration. Research has focused on a small number of hazards, failing to capture the diversity of risks and hazards in addition to their impacts. The results of our analysis and methodology offer important insights for meta-analyses of risk and hazard scholarship. The findings provide a baseline to track the future progress and effectiveness of resilience interventions and help inform current and future research priorities targeting persistent vulnerabilities in rural New Zealand and elsewhere.

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  1. Note that rurality can be defined in a number of different ways—population density, political boundaries, or reliance on sources of primary production (e.g. McIntosh et al. 2008). For the purposes of this systematic review, the Statistics New Zealand (2014) classification was particularly apt, in that it uses residential and workplace addresses to demarcate a range of categories that reflect the diverse social characteristics of those currently living across the New Zealand urban–rural spectrum.

  2. The initial search conducted on 19 December 2016 produced 2263 results. Databases were monitored for relevant additions until 27 March 2017. Five potentially relevant studies were added during this time for a total of 2268 records. Three of those were added to the systematic review.

  3. The * search operator finds all words beginning with the preceding letters. ‘Zealand*’ thus also returns results for ‘New Zealander(s).’ ‘Resilien*’ returns results for resilience, resiliency, and resilient.


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This study was supported by the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges National Science Challenge (funded by the NZ Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment) as part of the Rural Co-Creation Laboratory. We would also like to thank Simon Horner from Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research for his expert job designing the Fig. 6 infographic.

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Correspondence to Sam Spector.

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Editor: James D. Ford.

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Spector, S., Cradock-Henry, N.A., Beaven, S. et al. Characterising rural resilience in Aotearoa-New Zealand: a systematic review. Reg Environ Change 19, 543–557 (2019).

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  • Rural
  • Primary industries
  • Agriculture
  • Tourism
  • Hazards
  • Risks
  • Resilience
  • New Zealand