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Social-Ecological Transformation for Ecosystem Management: the Development of Adaptive Co-management of a Wetland Landscape in Southern Sweden

Per Olsson, Center for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research
Carl Folke
Thomas Hahn


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We analyze the emergence of an adaptive co-management system for wetland landscape governance in southern Sweden, a process where unconnected management by several actors in the landscape was mobilized, renewed, and reconfigured into ecosystem management within about a decade. Our analysis highlights the social mechanisms behind the transformation toward ecosystem management. The self-organizing process was triggered by perceived threats among members of various local stewardship associations and local government to the area’s cultural and ecological values. These threats challenged the development of ecosystem services in the area. We show how one individual, a key leader, played an instrumental role in directing change and transforming governance. The transformation involved three phases: 1) preparing the system for change, 2) seizing a window of opportunity, and 3) building social-ecological resilience of the new desired state. This local policy entrepreneur initiated trust-building dialogue, mobilized social networks with actors across scales, and started processes for coordinating people, information flows and ongoing activities, and for compiling and generating knowledge, understanding, and management practices of ecosystem dynamics. Understanding, collaborative learning, and creating public awareness were part of the process. A comprehensive framework was developed with a shared vision and goals that presented conservation as development, turned problems into possibilities, and contributed to a shift in perception among key actors regarding the values of the wetland landscape. A window of opportunity at the political level opened, which made it possible to transform the governance system toward a trajectory of ecosystem management. The transformation involved establishing a new municipal organization, the Ecomuseum Kristianstads Vattenrike (EKV). This flexible organization serves as a bridge between local actors and governmental bodies and is essential to the adaptive governance of the wetland landscape. It is also critical in navigating the larger sociopolitical and economic environment for resilience of the new social-ecological system. We conclude that social transformation is essential to move from a less desired trajectory to one where the capacity to manage ecosystems sustainably for human well-being is strengthened. Adaptability among actors is needed to reinforce and sustain the desired social-ecological state and make it resilient to future change and unpredictable events.

Key words

Adaptability, adaptive co-management, ecosystem management, key individuals, leaders of change, organizational change, resilience, self-organization, social memory, social-ecological systems, transformability

Copyright © 2004 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