Resiliency Planning: “We are Playing Checkers When We Should be Playing Chess”

By Rex L. LaMore, Ph.D., Director of CCED

When we finally reach our post-COVID world we should expect that world to be different from our pre-COVID world. The reasons for this transformation are in part due to some of the losses and challenges we have experienced in combatting this global pandemic and also in part due to the shortcomings we have in our capacity to respond justly and effectively to unanticipated catastrophic events. It is this second shortcoming that I would like to focus on in this article as it is the one that calls upon community development professionals to apply themselves most vigorously.  

Historically, community and economic development professionals have relied heavily on past social/economic trends, market trends, and other patterns to predict future probable scenarios. In general, this has served us well in helping communities anticipate future needs and opportunities, and to develop and implement strategies to overcome those challenges, seizing upon those opportunities. What has fundamentally changed, however, in our reliance on these tried methods of community building is the more frequent occurrence of what are known in planning literature as “black swan” events. A “black swan” event “is an unpredictable, rare event of such a significant magnitude that it can change the course of history and in retrospect is often totally predictable.”1 

The occurrence of such events has historically been rare but, for a variety of reasons, seems to be occurring more frequently. Since the end of World War II, the United States has enjoyed a period of relative social, economic, and environmental stability. That past “stability” is fading as historically marginalized people strive for social justice and equity. The economy is transformed by global competition and severe income inequality, and the environment destabilizes as we begin to reach local and global environmental tipping points. With the apparent end of this period of “relative stability” we find that the methods we have relied upon in the past to predict future probable scenarios are much less reliable. As noted in the title of this article, we are “playing checkers when we should be playing chess”!   [Fig. 1, This image was developed from a series of conversations with a CERI Resiliency planning group. We believe it highlights the complexity of 'Resiliency' and how it is related to various systems at play in our Michigan communities.]

So, if the “game” has changed what might be our best course of action as we move into a more unstable/unpredictable future? The concept of “resiliency” has entered into the lexicon of community and economic development practice.  

Working to create a more resilient society calls upon us to assist “people, households, businesses, communities, countries and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.”2 Becoming more resilient as a people charges us to develop our capacity to: recover from shocks (manmade or natural) to the system; learn from past shocks and communicate about possible future shocks; develop our ability to self-organize and to be self-reliant in times of crisis; and create and maintain strong and effective networks that are inclusive and facilitate trust and collective action for our mutual aid.  

Obviously this is not a simple challenge that can easily be accomplished. It will require effort, resources, and most importantly a willingness to embrace change. At the writing of this article over 500,000 of our loved ones, friends, and co-workers have died from COVID in the U.S. and worldwide totals are almost three million and counting. Let us learn from this tragic experience and honor the sacrifice of those we have lost by striving to create that more resilient and just future for our communities and the world. Together we can make a difference!  

To learn more about resiliency planning, see Brogan Eisler’s and Kylie White’s article on “Spring 2021 CERI Projects” and Harmony Fierke-Gmazel's article on “The 2021 Resiliency Planning Webinar Series:  Programs, Tools and Research for Resilient Regions and Communities in Michigan”. (Links and videos are embedded in articles for more in-depth insight) 

For more information contact Rex L. LaMore, Ph.D., Director, Center for Community and Economic Development,  


  1 Taleb, N. N. (2010) [2007]. The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable (2nd ed.). London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14103459-1. Retrieved 25 April 2020. 

  2 Adopted from USAID, 2012:  

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