Area development?
Do the WUR resilience test!

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Doe de WUR-veerkracht-test!

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BY Inge Janse | PHOTOGRAPHY Jeroen Hofman

November 2018

Rural areas need a lot of resilience to cope with challenges such as climate change and the bio-economy. Professor Koen Kramer and his team developed three tools for measuring and improving this resilience. Which should make Wageningen UR the place to come to if you want to test an area’s resilience.

Why are you researching the resilience of rural areas?

“Resilience is how well you cope with change. We are in the middle of that, with climate transitions and the new circular thinking. These changes affect a lot of domains such as the economy, ecology, society, governance and technology. But what makes one area such as Greenport Venlo successful at making a transition while in other areas the population goes on shrinking? For research on that, resilience offers a good, positive communicative concept, and a mathematically sound base.”

What led to an overarching approach like this?

“Farmers, ecologists, economists and managers: we all run up against the classic problem that everything is geared to sectors. But in big transitions, all the domains are interwoven. Area development demands an integral approach. For that we offer a staged plan that give project leaders guidelines and structure. That way you don’t overlook anything and you can make conscious choices to do things or not to do them. We certainly don’t try to involve all the domains we can think of in every area. Our approach helps to clarify which domains you can choose to leave out.”

The Resilience Rosetta: an example. This is a model that uses indicators on various scales to clarify what all the stakeholders mean by resilience and get everybody speaking the same language.

The Ecosystem Service Cascade illustrates the analytical side of the research. This model indicates in which chain the structure and dynamics of ecosystems lead to ownership and valorisation of the ecosystem service.

What can you do with this approach?

“Through our solution you see the impact of choices on resilience, so you can weigh up the various interests properly. If you want to strengthen the economy, for instance, that will have implications for the landscape. This means all the parties speak the same language and get the same knowledge. Moreover, it provides guidelines for finding the cause of the resilience problem and for identifying the options you have.”

What does your solution consist of?

“We’ve developed three interconnected instruments: the Resilience Rosetta, the rural stress test, and the Ecosystem Service Cascade. The Rosetta provides language-related support, to help clarify what all the stakeholders mean by resilience and where their ideas overlap. Then everyone speaks the same language.

A fictitious example of a resilience analysis. The case: a transition of the pork industry in the south of the Netherlands from one that produces for a local market, with a ‘green loop’ (above), to one that produces for the global market, the red loop (below). Traffic light colour coding is used.

A quantification of the data from the Rosetta expressed using the Cascade. Above: A process is set in motion of regional action, local participation and adaptive management. Below: There is a continuing commercialization of ecosystem services, especially recreational ones.

Aerial view of the village Termunterzijl at the shore of Eems and Dollard. PHOTO Aerovista/Shutterstock

“If you know what you aim to achieve, such as ‘more sustainability’ or ‘stemming depopulation’, then you use the rural stress test to identify a system’s strengths and weaknesses. Using resilience indicators from the domains, you can decide whether plan A is better than plan B. The stress test is partly quantitative and partly qualitative. We work with interviews about quality of life, and we use hard statistics, such as quantifications of biodiversity, real estate values and the percentage of empty premises. So you don’t get a result like ‘the resilience of your area is 0.35.’

‘Area development requires an integral approach. To that end, we offer a staged plan that gives project leaders guidelines and structure’

“The third instrument is the Ecosystem Services Cascade, in which we link existing models with the domains of Rosetta and the stress test. The Cascade is really the analytical side of the research, in which we use data and models to calculate what would happen if you implemented plan A or B, and what you would need to do so.”

Koen Kramer: “Our aim is that the rural stress test should be seen on the market as a mark of quality for plans.”


Prof. Koen Kramer


Special professor of quantitative genetics of forests at Wageningen University & Research

Resilience research

The functioning of ecosystems and forests, the role of biodiversity, and the effects of climate change


Koen Kramer works on this research with a team of scientists from various disciplines of Wageningen University

Where is the method already being used?

“We are developing these instruments for the ‘Nature Balances’ and evaluations done by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency (PBL). At present these are still entirely based on ecology, and the PBL wants to include social and economic developments. Together we are looking at whether resilience could provide the basis for their broader approach. At WUR we have experts for that who can make all the calculations, from the ecological and social aspects to the economic scenarios.”

‘Our solution shows you the impact of choices on resilience. If you want to strengthen the economy, for instance, that has implications for the landscape’

“Someone from our team is also going to spend one day a week in the office at the municipality of Winterswijk, to help with area development there, bringing in the resilience perspective. And we are talking to Farmer, Beer and Water in Brabant, The Netherlands. They want high-quality water for their area, so farmers, Bavaria and nature play a big role in that. We make use of our instruments for the discussions between these parties.”

What next?

“We want to further hone and apply our instruments in actual area development through case studies. Our aim is that the rural stress test should be seen on the market as a mark of quality for plans: did an area development project pass the WUR resilience test? We want to develop into an impartial party that helps people choose the right analysis for a resilience scenario – and can also implement it. As Wageningen, we want to become the Centre of Resilience.”

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