Resilience is the capacity of any system to maintain its function, structure and identity despite distur- bances. Assessing resilience has been elusive due to high levels of abstraction that are difficult to empiri- cally test, or the lack of high quality data required once appropriate proxies are identified. Most resilience assessments are limited to specific situation arenas, making comparision one of the unresolved challenges. Here we show how leveraging comparative analysis can provide insights on how Arctic communities (N = 40) can best deal with social and environmental change. We found that the capacity to self-organize, and nurturing diversity are sufficient conditions for Arctic communities whose livelihoods have been resilient, or for communities whose livelihoods have been transformed. Our study provides an alternative perspective on how to assess resilience by leveraging comparsion across cases. It also identify governance patways to support adaptations and transformations in the Arctic, a geography with some of the most dramatic social and natural challenges to come.