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Enhancing the Ostrom social-ecological system framework through formalization

Jochen Hinkel, Global Climate Forum
Pieter W. G. Bots, Delft University of Technology
Maja Schlüter, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University


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Frameworks play an important role in analyzing social-ecological systems (SESs) because they provide shared concepts and variables that enable comparison between and accumulation of knowledge across multiple cases. One prominent SES framework focusing on local resource use has been developed by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues. This framework is an extensive multi-tier collection of concepts and variables that have demonstrated relevance for explaining outcomes in a large number of case studies in the context of fishery, water, and forestry common-pool resources. The further development of this framework has raised a number of issues related to the formal relationships between the large number of concepts and variables involved. In particular, issues related to criteria for ordering the concepts into tiers, adding new concepts, defining outcomes metrics, and representing dynamics in the framework have been identified. We address these issues by applying methods from research fields that study formal relationships between concepts such as domain-specific languages, knowledge representation, and software engineering. We find that SES frameworks could include the following seven formal components: variables, concepts, attribution relationships, subsumption relationships, process relationships, aggregation relationships, and evaluation metrics. Applying these components to the Ostrom framework and a case study of recreational fishery, we find that they provide clear criteria for structuring concepts into tiers, defining outcome metrics, and representing dynamics. The components identified are generic, and the insights gained from this exercise may also be beneficial for the development of other SES frameworks.

Key words

formalization; framework; ontology; SES; social-ecological system; taxonomy

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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