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Transforming the social-ecological systems framework into a knowledge exchange and deliberation tool for comanagement

Stefan Partelow, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany; Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany
Marie Fujitani, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany
Vigneshwaran Soundararajan, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany
Achim Schlüter, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany; Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany


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The social-ecological system framework (SESF) can be useful for applied research and management practice beyond its traditional academic applications. In this article we transform the SESF into an image-based practical tool to facilitate knowledge exchange and deliberation processes within community-based natural resource comanagement settings. We develop a transdisciplinary methodology to transform the SESF into simple and context relevant images that are understandable by nonspecialists, yet the image-based framework still conveys its core tenets of systems thinking, a checklist for system complexity and conceptualizing social-ecological interactions. We then demonstrate a mixed-method approach for testing the usefulness of the image-based framework for enhancing communication, knowledge exchange, and deliberation processes. We show how the academic uses of the SESF, its core tenets, can serve the same purpose for nonacademic actors. When transformed, the image-based SESF has potential to be a tool that can enhance communication and knowledge exchange between actors in governance settings. We demonstrate our methodology with small-scale fishers involved with comanagement in the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica. In the example, we show how scientists must learn from fishers, to understand how they view their system, in order to make the image-based tool useful in context. We then test its usefulness by exploring the hypothesis that the image-based framework can help fishers discuss with more depth and complexity because it provides a simple conceptual base for systems thinking and a core set of variables to consider as interacting. Furthermore, we explore how using the framework during deliberation may be able to alter the social-psychological outcomes of participants using field experimental methods. We discuss our combined methodology, for transforming the framework and measuring deliberation impacts, while reflecting on new ways of thinking about how the SESF can be useful for applied research and practice.

Key words

collaboration; comanagement; environmental governance; facilitation; sustainability; transformation

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087