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The Author

Michael Ungar, PhD, is the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family, and Community Resilience and Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. He is also the founder and Director of the Resilience Research Centre which supports ground-breaking research on resilience, program evaluation, training and program design in dozens of countries around the world.

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What Works: A Manual for Designing Programs that Build Resilience

What Works is an easy-to-use guide that is ideal for anyone working with children and families in social service or humanitarian settings, as well as community facilitators, counselors, and policy makers. It includes plenty of case examples of programs in both low-and-middle-income countries (where financial and human resources are scarce) and high-income countries (where resources are easier to find but problems can still be very complex).

While the manual is about programs designed for young people and their families, its 7-step model of program design will be just as useful in any setting where improving resilience is the goal.

Get the Manual

Click Here to Download

A free electronic copy is available by clicking on the link above. If you wish to obtain a hardcopy please place an order.

Order a Printed Copy

To order a printed version of What Works: A Manual for Designing Programs that Build Resilience (available at a minimal cost of $15.00 Canadian plus shipping from the Resilience Research Centre) place an order by e-mailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (shipping costs vary by country). A quote will be sent before your order is processed.

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Video Interviews with Successful Program Designers

Each of the videos is also a case study in the manual.


The Seven Steps of Program Design

What Works describes in detail seven steps for designing great programs that build resilience. To help explain each step, the manual compares program design to cooking for a hungry family.

Step 1: Choose a Program

Just as a great cook knows what people want to eat, the best programs are designed to address people’s most important problems. These will be the problems that people are the most motivated to change.

Step 2: Create Your Program Outline

A program outline (sometimes called a logic model) is very useful when designing a program to build resilience. Much like a meal plan, or menu, it provides you with a map to ensure that program activities create desirable outcomes.

Step 3: Gather Your Resources

Every meal starts with a trip to the market or the garden. Once you know which program is needed (Step 1) and have figured out what you want to achieve (Step 2), then you are ready to gather the resources necessary to create your program.

Step 4: Build Links from Your Program to Other Services and Supports

Great cooks rely on other family and friends to help with meal preparation. Program designers, too, create programs that build resilience by reaching out to other programs and people’s natural support systems (e.g., family and friends).

Step 5: Adapt Your Program to the Local Context

Just as great cooks change recipes to suit local tastes, programs that build resilience change to fit the culture and context of their participants.

Step 6: Track Your Success

Empty plates and heaps of praise tell cooks that their food has been appreciated. Program designers also need ways of measuring their success. Regardless of what evidence is produced, the goal is always the same: convince young people, families, communities, and funders that a program that builds resilience has value and is worth the investment of their time and money.

Step 7: Plan for Sustainability

Cooks design their kitchens to prepare food day-after-day. Program designers create resilience-promoting programs that last for years. An effective, well-designed program is one that is sustainable and reaches as many people as possible.

Inside What Works

  • A brief history of the concept of resilience and its application to practice (with a focus on the needs of children, youth and families in challenging contexts).
  • A definition of resilience that emphasizes a systemic, social justice approach to program design.
  • A discussion of seven principles that ensure that programs nurture and sustain resilience.
  • A list of the seven most important processes that promote resilience.
  • Detailed instructions for the seven steps which designers use to create programs and ensure that they’re effective.
  • Inspiring case studies of great programs gathered from around the world.
  • A troubleshooting section that anticipates some of the challenges that may occur when using the manual in different settings and with different types of organizations.
  • Exercises (e.g., a service use satisfaction questionnaire; resilience assessment; appreciative inquiry tool; a workshop design checklist) and resources to make it easier to use a resilience approach to program design.
  • Guidance on how to monitor program outcomes and convince funders to keep funding programs that work.

Have You Designed a Program that Builds Resilience?

We would love to showcase the work of program designers from around the world whose programs are helping to build resilience. Send us a brief description of your program and, if you like, a link to a video about the work you are doing. We’ll feature these programs on the Resilience Research Centre website so that other program designers can hear about your work. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to share your story.

Program Examples

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