Web of Resilience

Description: A hands-on group exercise to communicate the concept of resilience. While it is focused on elements of a native bush ecosystem, this context for the game leads easily into describing an inter-dependent local economy.

Divide participants into groups of no more than 15 (minimum of 6, ideal around 12). If you have any more than that divide them into smaller groups. Get them to stand in as tight a circle as they can, so their shoulders are touching.

Allocate 20-30 mins


  • One large ball of string and
  • One sticker per person in each group - the large removable parcel labels that you buy on a roll. 


Write on each sticker in advance, the name of a different element of NZ native bush. The list could be Pururi Tree (with big seeds), Soil, Kiwi, Worm, Rainfall, Kereru (Wood Pigeon), Leaf Litter, Gecko (Lizard), Frog, Weta (wingless cricket), Wetland, Sand Fly, Bat, Fantail, Fungi, Raupo, and so on.  You can adapt it for species more appropriate to your area.  Here are two websites to help you. NZ Flora and NZ Fauna.


The stickers are handed round, everyone sticks theirs to the top of their chest. The ball of string is then passed across and around the circle.  As it arrives at each person they hold the string in one hand and pass the ball to the next person with the other.  The only rule is that as you pass the string to someone you must make clear what your relationship is to them.

As the string is passed around you can chip in any relevant extra information on woodland ecology, about relationships between the different elements.

After a while you end up with a complex web of string between everybody. When it is finished, get everyone to pull the web tight, and then to put their hands on top of it and see how strong it is. At this stage people feel quite proud of this web they have created, and are rather pleased with themselves.

Once you have the web created you can make the following observations:


"In nature, this web of relationships is inherent in all ecosystems, and it is the diversity of relationships that makes these ecosystems work.  These webs are very complex and resilient, but they are also very fragile.  We intervene in them at our peril, as we can never really know what effects we are having, as we have insufficient understanding of the relationships.

While we have just done this exercise about the bush, we could just as easily do it about a town, with the butcher, the church, the schools, the farmers and so on.  Before cheap oil, our communities and our economies depended on these networks of relationships and connections.  Cheap oil gave us the dubious ‘luxury’ of thinking we could live without them.  People now often live with no idea who lives next-door to them.  Life beyond 'peak oil' will need these connections.  Transition Towns is an example of a way to re-weave this complex web of beneficial relationships.

This game is a useful tool for seeing and giving form to what we have thrown away and what cheap oil does for us."


You can then walk around the circle and ask them to note how some people are holding more strings than others.


“These are the key elements of the ecosystem. When we make interventions in this system we do so at our peril. We could be a farmer who decides to clear the trees and drain the wetland. We could be the planners in a town with a strong local economy who decide to permit a large out-of-town supermarket.  Either way we often don’t see the results of this intervention immediately.

What happens when we clear the Puriri (the person who is the Puriri lets go of their strings)?  We can see that it doesn’t make much obvious difference.  So then we drain the wetland (wetland person lets theirs go).  Again, it looks a bit worse but not much.

Then, using a plausible narrative (“so then the farmer did this, and then that . . .”), get people to let go of their strings one after the other; at a certain point it all collapses.  The point to make is that you have no idea of knowing when that happens.

You build the out-of-town supermarket and three years later the high street is deserted. In essence, human beings before cheap oil used good design, and networks of relationships to make things happen. Since cheap oil we have lost all that. We will need to rebuild it.”

For added dramatic effect, you can brandish a pair of scissors and cut the strings!  As a way of teaching people about permaculture principles and about how cheap oil has transformed our society, this can be a very powerful exercise.

It would be ideal to do this exercise outdoors, in the bush, but it can be done indoors almost as well.

Source: Tools for transition in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins

Resources required: Games Resource List (PDF, 124 KB)