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  • Bernard McCaul & Gabriela Cácere

How Do We Know if Our Systems Are Resilient to Shocks and Stresses?

The authors raise a critically important point about the need to integrate resilience lenses into market systems approaches. Increasingly, a healthy market system has to include resilience as a central element or capacity. At the same time, resilience is not a single, easily definable capacity. For example, as a society develops, the way it manages risks will change over time, including how they share/define responsibilities related to responding to shocks and stresses. For development practitioners, how to balance immediate support to ensure people/market actors can make it through a shock with building the capacity of the system to better share/manage risks related to shocks over the longer term can be a tricky. As the blog suggests, and will be a key thread through the Market Systems Symposium, understanding resilience in a systemic context is an iterative learning journey that is about ongoing change, as opposed to a definable solution.


The supply of goods and services can often be disrupted not only in normal times, but in times of crisis when they are needed most. This happens when socioeconomic systems are not performing well, or not at all. Many of you may have experienced this firsthand at some time in your life. Shocks and stresses impact on socioeconomic systems, and reverse hard-earned development gains disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable. At GOAL, we believe that the ability of vulnerable populations to be resilient to shocks and stresses is associated with how productive, inclusive and resilient critical socioeconomic systems are to ensure they are functional not only in normal times, but also during and after times of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how interconnected and vulnerable our societies and systems are. Now more than ever we need to work towards more inclusive and resilient societies. We need to go beyond addressing short-term needs to provide longer-term solutions for the wellbeing of people and making sure that no one is left behind.

“At GOAL, we believe that the ability of vulnerable populations to be resilient to shocks and stresses is associated with how well critical socioeconomic systems are functioning in normal times, as well as during and after times of crisis”.

​GOAL’s approach to Resilience Building GOAL has developed the Resilience for Social Systems Approach, or R4S, to inform a resilience approach for humanitarian and development interventions by improving the understanding of socioeconomic systems and how they react to shocks and stresses. The R4S is a step-by-step guide, structured into five key components, to identify, map, and synthesize socioeconomic systems against risk scenarios. One of the central innovations in R4S is its system mapping tool which aims to improve understanding of complex socioeconomic systems and how they would react to different shocks and stresses. R4S also provides new guidance on analysing determinant factors of systemic resilience. The R4S approach has been applied by GOAL across a range of socioeconomic systems in different contexts and programmes in Latin America and Africa. Some countries where the R4S has been applied are Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Sierra Leone.

How does the R4S Approach work?

​The R4S comprises 5 key components.

  • Component 1: Prioritising socioeconomic systems based on their relevance to the target group, opportunity to achieve change at scale, feasibility within resources of intervention, and the contribution to the target groups resilience.

  • Component 2: Mapping the current status of the prioritised socioeconomic systems to understand the role of the various actors in the systems and their relationships with each other.

  • Component 3: Identifying and prioritising risk scenarios which could potentially affect the selected socioeconomic systems, considering the probability of occurrence and level of impact.

  • Component 4: Analysing the systems’ resilience through a vulnerability assessment and causal loop analysis. Then assessing the system against six determinant factors of resilience: connectivity; diversity; redundancy; governance; participation and learning. Based on this analysis, a systemic theory of change is developed and a map setting out the future vision of the system with proposed changes to increase resilience and inclusion.

  • Component 5: Adopting a participatory monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning process. From the selection of the target systems to the analysis and monitoring of change, the entire process should be undertaken in close engagement with the system stakeholders.

Practical examples of R4S approach

The R4S has been implemented in “Barrio Resiliente”, an urban resilience programme funded by USAID and implemented by GOAL in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and most recently, in Colombia. The R4S has facilitated GOAL’s systems approach to build the resilience of informal urban settlements by identifying, understanding, and implementing interventions in critical socioeconomic areas (e.g., social housing, drainage, etc.) which are relevant to build resilience.

Another example in an urban programme is the Fecal Sludge Management System (FSM) in Freetown, Sierra Leone. GOAL worked to identify and prioritise risk scenarios which could potentially affect the FSM, in addition to a vulnerability and resilience assessment carried out through a participative process with system actors. As a result, recommendations on how to strengthen the system’s resilience were built to influence future interventions on FSM by GOAL or other key systems stakeholders.

Other examples of the R4S approach are its application in the artisanal fishery system in northern Honduras, which has guided the design and implementation process of the “Resilience of the Blue Economy Programme” since 2016. This programme targets marginalised indigenous and afro-descendant populations and seeks to improve the competitiveness of artisanal fishing companies, organizations and fishermen and women to ensure an economic integration to the market while still preserving the mangrove ecosystem and increasing their resilience to climate change. During the nationwide lockdown in Honduras in 2020 due to COVID-19, the GOAL team and partners working on the Resilience of the Blue Economy programme assessed the vulnerability of the artisanal fishery system by using the R4S. This analysis helped to understand the reaction and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this system. It was discovered that 83% of system functions and operability were interrupted totally or partially. Furthermore, it informed the programme team and systems actors to quickly adapt and advocate for the system’s response and recovery support among different stakeholders and government actors.

Finally, GOAL is rolling out the R4S Approach as part of a diagnostic market research that is being led by the The Young Africa Works in Uganda: Markets for Youth programme in Uganda. The Markets for Youth programme, funded by the Mastercard Foundation, is being implemented by GOAL, private sector partners and three Ugandan Civil Society Organizations. This is an agricultural market systems development intervention designed to enable 300,000 rural young women and men, refugees and people living with disabilities to access dignified and fulfilling work over a five-year period. The R4S Approach will help develop recommendations on key interventions to build the different systems resilience to main risk scenarios triggered by drought, climate change, and other factors.


Humanitarian and development programmes that do not account for the resilience of vulnerable groups, or the socioeconomic systems they depend on, are much more likely to experience unintended negative consequences in the short and/or long-term. Therefore, we need to strengthen our understanding of systems’ dynamics between its different components (stakeholders - including the Target Group - resources, regulations) and assess the potential impacts from actual and future risk scenarios. This will ultimately improve the well-being of the most vulnerable populations, despite shocks and stresses.

For more information about the R4S, please visit:

For more information about GOAL programmes, please visit:

If interested on a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) about the R4S, please complete this form to receive an invite and course details once its launched.

Bernard McCaul

Latin America Regional Director and Deputy Director Programme Innovation, GOAL

A Chartered engineer with a Master’s Degree in Engineering Science, Bernard has over 24 years' experience in private sector consulting and international humanitarian and development programming. Bernard is the inspiration behind GOAL’s Resilience Innovation and Learning Hub and led the development of the Resilience for Social Systems (R4S) Approach and the Analysis of the Resilience of Communities to Disasters (ARC-D) Toolkit. Bernard has also guided the development of GOAL’s programmes in the LAC region, targeting resilience of informal urban settlements (Barrio Resiliente) and Resilience of the Blue Economy.

Gabriela CáceresResilience Innovation and Learning Hub Coordinator, GOAL

A Chartered Environmental Engineer with a Master’s Degree in Demography and Development, Gabriela has ten years’ experience in monitoring, evaluation, learning and accountability of development programmes. She has vast knowledge and experience in resilience in informal urban settlements, local planning for development, training and providing technical advice on resilience at community and system’s level. Gabriela collaborated in the development for GOAL of the of the Resilience for Social Systems (R4S) Approach and the Analysis of the Resilience of Communities to Disasters (ARC-D) Toolkit.Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.

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