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Shooting the Rapids: Navigating Transitions to Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems

Per Olsson, Stockholm University
Lance H Gunderson, Emory University
Steve R Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Paul Ryan, CSIRO
Louis Lebel, Chiang Mai University
Carl Folke, Center for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research
C. S. Holling, University of Florida


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The case studies of Kristianstads Vattenrike, Sweden; the Northern Highlands Lake District and the Everglades in the USA; the Mae Nam Ping Basin, Thailand; and the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia, were compared to assess the outcome of different actions for transforming social-ecological systems (SESs). The transformations consisted of two phases, a preparation phase and a transition phase, linked by a window of opportunity. Key leaders and shadow networks can prepare a system for change by exploring alternative system configurations and developing strategies for choosing from among possible futures. Key leaders can recognize and use or create windows of opportunity and navigate transitions toward adaptive governance. Leadership functions include the ability to span scales of governance, orchestrate networks, integrate and communicate understanding, and reconcile different problem domains. Successful transformations rely on epistemic and shadow networks to provide novel ideas and ways of governing SESs. We conclude by listing some 𔄬rules of thumb” that can help build leadership and networks for successful transformations toward adaptive governance of social-ecological systems.

Key words

social-ecological systems; adaptive governance; transformability; shadow networks; leadership; resilience

Copyright © 2006 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