Resilience management in social-ecological systems: a working hypothesis for a participatory approach

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Copyright © 2002 by the author(s). Published here under licence by The Resilience Alliance. Walker, B., S. Carpenter, J. Anderies, N. Abel, G. Cumming, M. Janssen, L. Lebel, J. Norberg, G. D. Peterson, and R. Pritchard. 2002. Resilience management in social-ecological systems: a working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conservation Ecology 6(1): 14. [online] URL:


Resilience Management in Social-ecological Systems: a Working Hypothesis for a Participatory Approach
Brian Walker1a, Stephen Carpenter2, John Anderies1b, Nick Abel1b, Graeme Cumming3, Marco Janssen4, Louis Lebel5, Jon Norberg6, Garry D. Peterson2, and Rusty Pritchard7 ABSTRACT. Approaches to natural resource management are often based on a presumed ability to predictprobabilistic responses to management and external drivers such as climate. They also tend to assume that the manager is outside the system being managed. However, where the objectives include long-term sustainability, linked social-ecological systems (SESs) behave as complex adaptive systems, with the managers as integral components of the system. Moreover, uncertainties are large and it may bedifficult to reduce them as fast as the system changes. Sustainability involves maintaining the functionality of a system when it is perturbed, or maintaining the elements needed to renew or reorganize if a large perturbation radically alters structure and function. The ability to do this is termed "resilience." This paper presents an evolving approach to analyzing resilience in SESs, as a basisfor managing resilience. We propose a framework with four steps, involving close involvement of SES stakeholders. It begins with a stakeholder-led development of a conceptual model of the system, including its historical profile (how it got to be what it is) and preliminary assessments of the drivers of the supply of key ecosystem goods and services. Step 2 deals with identifying the range ofunpredictable and uncontrollable drivers, stakeholder visions for the future, and contrasting possible future policies, weaving these three factors into a limited set of future scenarios. Step 3 uses the outputs from steps 1 and 2 to explore the SES for resilience in an iterative way. It generally includes the development of simple models of the system's dynamics for exploring attributes that affectresilience. Step 4 is a stakeholder evaluation of the process and outcomes in terms of policy and management implications. This approach to resilience analysis is illustrated using two stylized examples.

A fundamental difficulty in managing socialecological systems (SESs) for long-term, sustainable outcomes is that their great complexity makes it difficult to forecast the future inany meaningful way. Not only are forecasts uncertain, the usual statistical approaches will likely underestimate the uncertainties. That is, even the uncertainties are uncertain. There are several reasons why uncertainties are large and difficult to characterize:
• Key drivers, such as climate and technological

will change the future, and perhaps cause the predictions to be incorrect.
• Thesystem may change faster than the forecasting

models can be recalibrated, particularly during turbulent periods of transition, so forecasts are most unreliable in precisely the situations where they are most wanted.

change, are unpredictable. Many change nonlinearly. If important ecological or economic predictions are taken seriously, people will react in ways that

• Human action inresponse to forecasts is reflexive.

These aspects of uncertainty limit the usefulness of forecasting methods for the scientific study and management of regions in transition. Given these limits to understanding, we must focus on learning to live within systems, rather than "control" them. One might argue that it is impossible to deal with such fundamental limits of understanding, and our only...
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