Topics Integrated Working 3

A model for exploring resilience

Published: 21/01/2020

Author: Sian Templeton

Emotional resilience is being able to maintain personal and professional wellbeing, having capacity to respond to life challenges positively and flexibly, and adjust to change effectively.

My colleagues from the University of Gloucestershire and I come from a range of educational backgrounds and interests including: sustainability, policy, vulnerability, inclusion and resilience. 

This shared interest has resulted in collaborating on a book around the topic area of resilience. In one of our first planning meetings we were sharing ideas about resilience and how it might be applied to our different areas of interest. During one particularly focused afternoon we ended up developing a model which captured our different areas of interest but also aimed to help develop a more ‘dynamic’ and systemic understanding of resilience rather than the static ‘within-person’ approach.

This emerged as a result of our concerns around the rise of manualised programmes and government discussion on building ‘character’ and resilience where the emphasis is on the individual to change regardless of the context in which they find themselves placed. We have called this the Dynamic Interactive Model of Resilience (the DIMoR) and are interested in how this may be adapted within the field of social care.

Dynamic Interactive Model of Resilience

The DIMoR is based on four key theoretical underpinnings including Daniel, Wassell & Gilligan from the field of social care. Significant is their idea that children and young people are active participants in their own lives who have developed their own coping strategies, which should be respected, rather than passive victims of events. Their focus is on individual qualities and protective factors which enable healthy development whilst considering characteristics of vulnerability and how children and young people can ‘cope, survive and even thrive in the face of great hurt and disadvantage (Daniel, Wassell & Gilligan 1999). These concepts form a central component of the DIMoR and are represented visually below.

Resilience Blog 1

Vulnerability, Protective Factors, Risk and Invulnerability

The next stage of the model came from Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-Ecological Model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) which emphasises the importance of context on human development with its key feature being the nested systems centring around any individual. These systems help to explain the mediating influences on development moving to increasingly distal influences. Closest to the individual are families, friends, schooling etc. moving on outwardly through aspects such as parental workplace, wider cultural context and finally to the dimension of time where aging, the environment and the specific period of time in which the individual is placed will impact on development. It helps to explain for example, that a family who has a good understanding of how the school system works can liaise and interact with school in a confident manner, while a family who has had less positive experiences might be less confident and struggle to advocate for their child. 

Resilience Blog 2

Bronfenbrenner's Bio-Ecological Model

Ungar built on Bronfenbrenner’s model, providing clear links to resilience in his discussion as to how in particular circumstances, one system or another can become more influential to the outcome, where in certain circumstances, the environment is more important than individual characteristics and sometimes, individual characteristics are more significant (Ungar, 2013).

Ungar refers to ‘differential impact’, whereby protective factors can be more or less influential depending on context and time. An idea he termed ‘equifinality’.  An example of equifinality in the education arena for a teenager could be when the school environment becomes more important than the home environment. The differential impact could be when the protective factor of belonging to a group of friends has greater impact than that of the parents. 

Finally, in 2017, Downes proposed a further model of resilience, which attempted to reconceptualise foundational assumptions by proposing a cross-cultural, spatial systems domain that took account of individual agency in resilience trajectories. Downes drew upon both Bronfenbrenner and Ungar’s models of resilience, and it is his idea of individual agency that we felt was an important omission from previous models about resilience.

As a result of discussions around these models and how we felt that elements of all of them were key to an understanding of resilience, the DIMoR was developed.  We believe that resilience is not at one end of a spectrum, rather that it is the emergent property of dynamic and reciprocal interactions between the individual and contextual systems.  Bronfenbrenner’s ideas of nested systems is still incorporated, but the potential for individuals to move between these nested systems rather than remain static in the middle, (in line with Ungar’s notion of equifinality). The arrows represent the journeys of both the individuals and systems which contain those individuals.

The adaptation of Daniel, Wassell & Gilligan’s model is then super-imposed on top which takes account of both the interactive systems around the individual as well as the individual.  While the focus on interactivity is not new, the DIMoR acknowledges that individual agency – itself a complex system – has to navigate contexts that are also complex adaptive systems and that the individual is both within a system and acting on the system. 

The figure below is a visual representation of the model, with some examples of different factors that might help to further interpret the model.

Resilience Blog 3

Daniel, Wassell & Gilligan's model

In summary, the DIMoR is a proactive and holistic approach to the development of resilience and argues that:

  • Resilience is not ‘caused’ by support systems or one-off interventions.
  • Resilience is the emergent property from dynamic interactions with and within complex systems over time. 
  • Resilience is not an individual (or system) trait.
  • Resilience is a responsive characteristic which changes shape and structure within its own risk-protective, vulnerability-invulnerability framework as a result of interactions with the surrounding systems that, crucially, it is a part of not apart from.

The DIMoR has potential for application within the field of social care in supporting understanding of children, young people and their families and how a variety of factors have impacted/ influenced their current presentation. Developing this further, it could provide the opportunity to facilitate a holistic assessment as to where to offer support and intervention in order to build familial resilience on different levels. This assessment could be shared with the family to both develop their understanding and also to ascertain their ‘take’ on where changes might be made to optimise familial and individual resilience.

Sian Templeton

Sian Templeton

Sian Templeton is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Gloucestershire and a practicing Educational Psychologist working with teaching staff, children, young people and their families. She has worked in a variety of educational settings with a focus on supporting the social, emotional and cognitive needs of vulnerable learners to enable them to engage with education. She achieved this through working directly with the young people, with the families, teaching staff and a range of professionals from health and social care. Her research includes learner resilience, emotional education and supporting young offenders in re-engaging with education. Sian is involved in editing and contributing to a book with Springer publications entitled ‘Reconceptualising Resilience’ which is due to be published next year.


Bronfenbrenner U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Harvard university press.

Daniel, Wassell & Gilligan (1999) Child Development for Child Care and Protection Workers. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Downes P. (2017). Extended Paper: Reconceptualising Foundational Assumptions of Resilience: A Cross-Cultural, Spatial Systems Domain of Relevance for Agency and Phenomenology in Resilience. International Journal of Emotional Education9(1), 99-120.

Morin E (2008) Introduction to the Complete Thought, Gedisa: Barcelona

Ungar M. (2013). Resilience, trauma, context, and culture. Trauma, violence, & abuse14(3), 255-266.