‘Recovery capitals’ are resources that can be used to generate more or new resources, for the purpose of supporting wellbeing.

In the ReCap project, there are seven recovery capitals – natural, social, financial, cultural, built, political, and human.

This concept can be used to support strengths-based, holistic and community-led approaches to recovery.

Read more about recovery capitals below.

The Recovery Capitals Framework

The Community Capitals Framework (1) was taken as the starting point for the Recovery Capitals Framework. Drawing on the practice expertise of end-users and additional academic knowledge, this was developed into multidimensional approach to disaster recovery that considers people, geographies and temporality, while interweaving issues of access, equity, and diversity.

ReCap uses an adapted version of the Community Capitals Framework which was originally outlined by Flora, Flora and Fey (1) in the context of community development and consists of seven capitals – natural, social, financial, cultural, built, political, and human.

Definitions of each of the seven community capitals have been developed based on the literature and consultation with project end-users, and abbreviated versions are provided in the Guide to Recovery Capitals (available online and in PDF).

Within ReCap, recovery is understood as a complex, non-linear, multi-layered process that occurs as people and communities work to resolve the impacts of a disaster. As described in the AIDR Community Recovery Handbook,  people and communities are ‘recovered’ when they are able to lead a life they value living, even if it is different to life before the disaster event. Recovery is intertwined with disaster prevention, preparedness and response, and can provide an opportunity to improve upon pre-disaster circumstances and increase resilience.

ReCap focuses not only on amount of capital available within communities but also on the distribution of capital within and between groups of people. This reflects a commitment to social justice and an understanding that rather than affecting all people equally, disaster impacts and recovery trajectories tend to reflect existing social inequities and often exacerbate them. Yet ReCap recognises that differences in disaster vulnerability does not arise from inherent characteristics of people or communities – instead, vulnerability is perpetuated by structures of inequity within societies. By focusing on recovery capitals, ReCap aims to emphasise the strengths within each community that exist despite any structures of inequity, which can be drawn upon to support community recovery.

ReCap frames each recovery capital broadly in order to account for the richness of experience and diversity amongst people and communities. Each type of capital will have different meanings and relationships to other forms of capital for different people, communities and contexts. As a collaboration across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, the project includes Māori researchers, and with increasing input from Aboriginal researchers and advisors, this project continues to benefit from different perspectives based on cultural, environmental and societal contexts.

The ReCap project uses the concept of ‘recovery capitals’ to help understand the ways that many factors interact and influence recovery in diverse disaster contexts, and how resources can be drawn upon to support wellbeing.

Capitals are traditionally defined as resources that can be used to generate more or new resources. However it is important to define what these capitals may be used for, because it is not always the case that ‘more is more’. The ReCap project sees the value of capitals as lying primarily in their usefulness for supporting wellbeing. Therefore, within the Recovery Capitals Framework, capitals are defined as resources that can be used to generate more or new resources for the purpose of supporting wellbeing.

Capitals are dynamic: they can increase, decrease and transform over time.

By paying attention to recovery capitals, each person or community can assess their existing strengths and resources, and identify priorities for enhancing their capitals to support their recovery based on what is important to them. This aligns with strengths-based and community-led approaches to resilience and recovery.

The Recovery Capitals Framework involves the separation of community factors into seven domains for the sake of categorisation which, in this project, assists in the process of mapping evidence and producing useful outputs. However, of course, these aspects of life do not exist in isolation from each other, and the attempt to separate them may be particularly incongruent with Indigenous worldviews. ReCap attempts to highlight the deep connections between the aspects of the world that are categorised separately within this framework, and recognises that many phenomena and resources can be conceptualised as constituting multiple forms of capital simultaneously.

The Recovery Capitals Framework draws from Bronfenbrenner’s socioecological model(2) in adopting a multi-level and multi-dimensional framing to allow the exploration of the interactions between these levels and dimensions.

People, households, communities

In terms of people, each of the capitals can be conceptualised at an individual level, a family/household level, and a community level (with varying senses of the term ‘community’ e.g. based on place, interest, identity or circumstance). This multilevel approach allows for exploration of the interplay between the recovery of people and communities.

As outlined above, the distinctions are situated within a non-Indigenous perspective with strong self-nonself boundaries. The project recognises this framework may not align with collectivist worldviews and relational conceptualisations of a notion of self.

Local, regional & macro scales

In terms of systems and infrastructure, capitals can also be understood at multiple levels which intersect and interact with each other: local (neighbourhood or town), regional (city or state) and macro (national or global).

It is important to recognise that people impacted by disasters may be living across a wide geographic area, and to consider those that may be left out of place-based approaches to community recovery.

Time: prevention, preparedness, response, recovery 

The Recovery Capitals Framework includes consideration of temporality, acknowledging that capitals fluctuate and transform over time and have a dynamic influence on disaster recovery. Recovery is a lengthy and dynamic process, and the experiences in the short-term aftermath of a disaster will not necessarily reflect the circumstances a decade later.

This temporal dimension also allows for a nuanced approach to the ‘phases’ of disasters – prevention, preparedness, response and recovery – treating them as interdependent and overlapping rather than discrete and linear. While the focus of ReCap is on recovery, this is not at the exclusion of the other phases: for example, preparedness activities influence recovery, and recovery processes can affect preparedness for future disasters. In prolonged disasters, such as pandemics and long fire seasons, these lines are blurred even further with prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities occurring simultaneously.

 

The experiences of Indigenous peoples have largely been overlooked in the field of disaster recovery in Australia, and we are currently developing a focused approach to this as part of the ReCap project. We are grateful to Williamson, Weir, Cavanagh and Markham for their valuable insights on this issue (3,4).

A note on terminology 

Much of the knowledge included in this resource regarding Indigenous peoples relates specifically to Aboriginal peoples, and in these cases the term ‘Aboriginal’ has been used when describing what we know. However, as this resource is intended to be applicable in all contexts within Australia, the term ‘Indigenous’ has been used when outlining what to consider, so as to be inclusive of Torres Strait Islander peoples.

ReCap Acknowledgements

Funding

ReCap is funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

Academic team

Contributing partners

Illustrations by Oslo Davis. ReCap logo by Alana Pirrone and Oslo Davis.

The ReCap project has drawn upon relevant data and findings from the Beyond Bushfires study and related research conducted by the University of Melbourne, Australia; on Resilient Wellington and related research conducted by Massey University, New Zealand; and other relevant disaster recovery research. The authors gratefully acknowledge the specific contributions of Professor Daniel Aldrich (Northeastern University, USA), Dr Melissa Parsons (University of New England, Australia), Professor Mehmet Ulubasoglu and& Farah Beaini (Deakin University, Australia) and the conceptual contributions of all academic, end-user organisations and other stakeholder partners including:

  • Australian Red Cross
  • Leadbeater Group
  • Victoria State Emergency Service
  • Country Fire Authority
  • University of Melbourne Department of Social Work
  • Wellington Region Emergency Management Office
  • New Zealand Red Cross
  • Fire and Emergency New Zealand
  • Phoenix Australia
  • Social Recovery Reference Group
  • Australian Department of Home Affairs
  • Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
  • Emergency Management Victoria
  • Resilient Melbourne
  • Creative Recovery Network
  • Regional Arts Victoria
  • Flourish Kia Puāwai
  • Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group
  • Maroondah City Council
  • Bushfire Recovery Victoria

ReCap is a collaboration across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we live and work, and pay our respects to the cultures, Country and Elders past and present of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia. We also acknowledge Māori as tangata whenua of Aotearoa New Zealand. The ReCap project has been deeply enhanced by contributions of Indigenous team members and partners across both countries. We recognise the continuing connection to land, waters, culture and community of Indigenous peoples and the role this plays in disaster prevention, management and recovery.

Get in touch with ReCap

CONTACT RECAP

Please contact Phoebe Quinn on (03) 8344 3097, [email protected] or [email protected].​

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References

  1. Flora C, Flora J, Fey S. Rural Communities: Legacy and Change. 2nd ed. Boulder, Colorado, USA: Westview Press; 2004.
  2. Bronfenbrenner U. The ecology of developmental processes. In: Damon W, Lerner RM, editors. Handbook of Child Psychology: Vol 1: Theoretical Models of Human Development. New York: Wiley; 1998. p. 993–1028.
  3. Williamson B, Weir J, Cavanagh V. Strength from perpetual grief: how Aboriginal people experience the bushfire crisis. The Conversation. 2020;
  4. Williamson B, Markham F, Weir J. Aboriginal peoples and the response to the 2019–2020 bushfires, Working Paper No. 134/2020. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra; 2020.