Ecology and Society Ecology and Society
E&S Home > Vol. 19, Iss. 2 > Art. 52 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Managing social–ecological systems under uncertainty: implementation in the real world

Ana Nuno, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London
Nils Bunnefeld, School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling
EJ Milner-Gulland, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London


Full Text: HTML   
Download Citation


Management decisions for natural resources are not made in a vacuum; the environmental and ecological conditions as well as the socioeconomic and political contexts affect goals, the choice of interventions, their feasibility, and which outcomes are obtained. Although uncertainty is recognized as a feature of natural resource management, little attention has been given to the uncertainty generated by institutional settings, historical contingency, and individual people’s influence. These implementation uncertainties, related to the translation of policy into practice, make it difficult to predict the outcomes of management interventions within social–ecological systems.

Using the conservation of species hunted for bushmeat in the Serengeti as a case study, we investigated the challenges and potential barriers to successful implementation of natural resource management policies. We used a mixed-methods approach, combining semistructured interviews with scenario building, social network, and institutional analysis exercises. Using a management strategy evaluation (MSE) conceptual framework, we obtained insights into the constraints and opportunities for fulfilling stakeholder aspirations for the social–ecological system, analyzed the multiple roles played by different institutions in the system, and described the interactions between different actor types. We found that the respondents had generally similar views about the current and future status of the Serengeti but disagreed about how to address issues of conservation concern and were more uncertain about the actual outcomes of management interventions. Improving conservation implementation (rather than research, monitoring, or status assessment) was perceived as the key priority to be addressed. Institutional barriers were perceived as an important challenge given that the decision-making and implementation processes were broadly distributed across a number of institutions. Conservation social networks were centered on very few individuals, suggesting their importance in bridging across conservation arenas but also potentially affecting the resilience of governance structures.

Our study gives an improved understanding of the underlying causes of discrepancies between conservation plans and outcomes for this case study, as well as providing a novel framework for the analysis of implementation uncertainties more broadly. A next step would be to use this framework as a basis for collaboratively developed models that integrate research findings with specific management questions. By bringing tools and findings from social psychology, natural resource management, and bioeconomics together into a unified operational framework, researchers may be better able to understand the barriers to successful resource management and engage with stakeholders to overcome them.

Key words

bushmeat; implementation uncertainty; institutions; knowing–doing gap; management strategy evaluation; protected area management; Serengeti; social–ecological modeling; social networks; stakeholders

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