Resilience: Regime

Regime or basin of attraction is equivalent to state or set of states that a system can exist in with its characteristic system structure, function, feedbacks and identity. The system can be in alternate regimes with desirable or undesirable states/regimes whereby its desirability based on collective human attitude, expectation and point of view.

A regime shift means that after crossing a threshold, the system suddenly reorganizes or tips into a new situation/regime with different set of structures, functions, feedback and identity.

In social innovation terms, a basin of attraction would represent the current state of a system regime. Westley et al. define a regime as “the dominant rule-sets supported by incumbent social networks and organizations and embedded in dominant artefacts and prevailing infrastructures, of say, particular industries or social problem arenas.” (2011).

In this three-dimensional framework the map is comparable to the effect of gravitational fields Einsteinian space (Walker, et al., 2004). Different basins exert force that can attract the system and in turn the different basin shapes are continuously influenced by external factors. This is critical when looking at how to move to a different, desired, system state. It may be difficult to get from “here to there” without dropping into an unwanted state due to its attractiveness and resilience characteristics.

Regime shift is when a system crosses a threshold into an alternate regime of that system; the function structure and processes differ from the one in the old regime. This implies that the system moves from one dynamic/relative equilibrium to another tipping into (undesired or desired) states with different potential / performance characteristics.

Crossing back might prove difficult or simply impossible.


High-Low Resilience

Resilience threshold can be of either of low resilience or high resilience.  From a systemic perspective they can be seen as negative or positive from systemic perspective: the key aspect is to understand within the adaptive cycle the ideal resilience needed.


High resilience provides low stability and facilitates the move to a system state that is part of a different threshold.  Less disturbance (internally or externally controlled or externally)  is needed to push the system into a new resilience.

How fast and large are Resilience Threshold shifts?

Critical consideration; slow variables determine  the resilience of a system. The temporal and spatial dynamics of threshold shifts depend on the main processes causing feedbacks that affect variables of the system:

  • Slow variables

Factors that slowly in response long-term processes and that constrain response of fast variables. Measurement of slow variables often require techniques that differ from those used to measure fast variables

  • Fast variables

Factors that change rapidly and that are mostly easily measured by managers. Rhey are often focal variable for managers.

They are difficult to ascertain loss of resilience due to high variability. Fast variables are generally those of concern to systemic situation, like crop production, Sales and gdp.

Is it possible to reverse Resilience Threshold shifts?

Sometimes it is possible to restore a degraded system into its former state, but it is often difficult, slow and expensive. Hence, threshold shifts are of major policy relevance and justify a precautionary approach to reduce the causes of resilience loss but also a proactive approach to enhance systems resilience.

Today, the main drivers of environmental change are land-use change, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation and invasive species. The threat posed by these drivers is aggravated by their cumulative effects but also by the possibility of interactions between the effects.

How can we prevent Resilience threshold shifts?

Preventing a pending threshold shift requires addressing the various pressures impacting a system at the scales in which they act, global (external to internal)  to local.

  • Control local pressures to increase the resilience to global scale drivers. Global scale dynamics are difficult to predict and manage and reaching international consensus is often challenging, therefore, controlling local pressures, which are more amenable to management, is essential.
  • Improve the adaptive capacity of social systems. Informed, flexible and inclusive decision-making is needed to react timely to system feedbacks. This requires knowledge sharing, learning from past experiences, and the ability to move from business-as-usual unsustainable pathways to innovative forms of human-nature interaction.
  •  Improve knowledge on threshold shifts. This should be an overarching goal, including scientific research continued development of threshold shift databases, technology development, and educational outreach.