SES Principles

This is a quick reference card for the SES. Quotation Extracted from the book [][#biggs_principles_2015].
This is Work in Progress

The 7 principles

Key concepts

Complex adaptive systems (CAS): systems of interconnected components characterized by the potential for emergent and non-linear behaviour; the capacity for self-organization and adaptation based on past experience; and inherent uncertainties regarding system behaviour.

Connectivity (P2): the way and degree to which resources, species or social actors disperse, migrate or interact across ecological and social landscapes.

Diversity (P1): the range of different elements comprising three interrelated aspects: variety (how many different elements), balance (how many of each element) and disparity (how different the elements are from one another).

Ecosystem services: the benefits people obtain from their interaction with nature, including provisioning services (e.g. water, timber), regulating services (e.g. climate regulation) and cultural services (e.g. nature-based recreational and cultural activities).

Feedback (P3): a mechanism, process or signal that loops back to influence the SES component emitting the signal or initiating the mechanism or process. Monitoring is a specific form of feedback, in which the information about responses of the SES feeds back to actors so that they can change the way they utilize, affect or manage an SES.

Learning (P5): the process of modifying existing or acquiring new knowledge, behaviours, skills, values or preferences at individual, group or societalsocietal levels.

Mental models (P4): people’s cognitive representations of external reality.

Modularity (P2): the extent to which a network or system consists of distinct compartments that are unconnected or only loosely connected to one another.

Participation (P6): active engagement of relevant stakeholders in SES management and governance.

Polycentricity (P7): a governance system with multiple, nested governing authorities at different scales.

Redundancy (P1): situations where several species or SES components perform the same function.

Regime shifts (P3): large, persistent and often abrupt changes in the structure and dynamics of SES that occur when there is a reorganization of the dominant feedbacks in a system.

Resilience approach: a perspective for the analysis of SES which assumes that SES behave as CAS and focuses on the capacity to deal with both unexpected shocks and ongoing change in such systems.

Resilience of SES: the capacity of an SES to sustain human well-being in the face of disturbance and change, both by buffering shocks and by adapting or transforming in response to change.

Resilience of ecosystem services: the capacity of an SES to reliably sustain a desired set of ecosystem services, in the face of disturbance and ongoing evolution and change.

Response diversity (P1): the diversity of ways in which different species or SES elements respond to a disturbance.

Slow variable (P3): a variable whose rate of change is slow with respect to the timescales of ecosystem-service provision and management, and are for practical purposes often considered constant.

Social–ecological systems (SES): integrated systems of humans and nature that constitute a complex adaptive system with ecological and social components that interact dynamically through various feedbacks.

Sustainability: achieving human well-being in the present without compromising the social, economic or environmental foundations that underpin the potential for future well-being.

Worldview (P4): a collection of ideas that allow individual people to construct a composite image of the world and understand their experiences and how they should act.

P(pp. 22-23).

The ordering of the principles does not prioritize their importance. Rather, we grouped those principles that focus on generic SES properties and processes that enhance ​resilience (P1–P3), and those that focus on the way in which SES are governed (P4–P7) (Fig. 1.4).

This follows the distinction made by Jentoft et al. (2007) between the ‘system-to-be-governed’ and the ‘​​governance system’. We also distinguish between SES governance and SES ​management, where governance is taken to be the social and political process of defining goals for SES management and resolving trade-offs, while SES management is defined as the actions taken to achieve these goals, and includes monitoring and implementation (Pahl-Wostl 2009).

(p. 24).

Key insights from the individual principles (10.2 P.253)

This book discusses seven principles that enhance the resilience of ecosystem services to disturbance and ongoing change. As the capacity of an SES to sustain desired ecosystem services in the face of disturbance and change is a central aspect of the resilience of SES in general ( Chapter 1 ), our assessment of the principles also points to general aspects of building resilience in SES. The first three principles focus on generic social–ecological features of SES: (P1) maintain diversity and redundancy, (P2) manage connectivity and (P3) manage slow variables and feedbacks. The remaining four principles focus on key attributes of the SES governance system: (P4) foster CAS thinking, (P5) encourage learning, (P6) broaden participation and (P7) promote polycentric governance systems. We have assessed how each principle enhances the resilience of ecosystem services, but also how it might compromise resilience, and we have summarized the available evidence for its functioning across case studies and social–ecological contexts. We have further highlighted challenges for operationalization and implementation of each principle as well as key research gaps. Although none of the principles is fully established or understood, we found evidence for the importance of all seven principles. A summary of our key findings with respect to each principle is given in Box 10.1. With respect to the generic features of SES (P1–P3), our review highlights that it is not simply diversity of SES elements such as actors and species that is important for resilience, but diversity in combination with functional redundancy (P1 – Diversity). Furthermore, we find evidence that more diversity is not always beneficial for sustaining the capacity of SES to produce desired sets of ecosystem services. Especially when it comes to the social domain, high levels of diversity can compromise the ability of society to find consensus for collectively adapting and responding to change, and can thereby compromise the resilience of desired ecosystem services. The international stalemate around action in response to climate change could arguably be interpreted in this way (Harris 2007).

P1. Maintain diversity and redundancy.

Response diversity, in combination with functional redundancy, is particularly important for providing options to maintain ecosystem services. in the face of disturbance and change. In general, ecosystem services produced by SES with high levels of diversity and redundancy tend to be more resilient than ecosystem services associated with low diversity and low redundancy systems. However, very high levels of diversity or redundancy come at the cost of increasing complexity and inefficiency, which may reduce the capacity for adaptation to slower, ongoing change. Operationalizing this principle involves recognizing the value of diversity relation

Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems (p. 255). Cambridge University Press. Édition du Kindle.

P2. Manage connectivity.

There is no simple relationship between connectivity and resilience of ecosystem services. Connectivity can enhance resilience by providing links to sources of ecosystem recovery after a disturbance or providing new information and building trust in social networks. However, if connectivity is too high a localized disturbance can spread throughout the system or knowledge can become overly homogenized. Operationalizing this principle involves analysing the social and ecological connectivity of the relevant SES, identifying important ​nodes or elements and optimizing connectivity patterns to facilitate restoration or minimize the risk of disturbances spreading.

P3. Manage slow variables and feedbacks.

There is a well-developed theoretical basis for managing slow variables and feedbacks to maintain, restore or create new SES configurations or ‘regimes’ that underlie the production of desired ecosystem services. However, there are substantial practical difficulties in identifying the possible feedbacks and slow variables that underlie regime shifts and transformations, and their consequences for ecosystem services. Maintaining key regulating services as a proxy for important slow ecological variables may be one practical way forward. Likewise, building shadow networks and social capital may be particularly important to grasp windows of opportunity for transformation.
Where key feedbacks are known, practical measures should focus on monitoring changes in slow variables and feedbacks, developing governance structures that can respond to this information in a timely manner, strengthening feedbacks that maintain desired SES configurations, weakening feedbacks that trap SES in undesired regimes and addressing missing feedbacks between key SES ​drivers and changes in ecosystem services.

P4. Foster CAS thinking.

Fostering CAS thinking may help researchers, policy-makers and ecosystem managers develop ​mental models that appreciate the properties of SES as CAS, and ultimately influence institutions and decisions around the ​governance and management of SES and ecosystem services. In particular, CAS thinking may increase the resilience of ecosystem services by emphasizing the need for more integrated approaches, the existence of diverse perspectives, the potential for non-linear change and the pervasiveness of ​uncertainty in the management of SES. However, ​empirical evidence for effects on the resilience of ecosystem services is limited. In practice, CAS understanding co-occurs and co-emerges with approaches that emphasize ​learning, experimentation and ​participation. Operationalizing this principle entails recognizing the barriers to cognitive change, acknowledging epistemological pluralism, investing in building an uncertainty-tolerant culture, using system frameworks, investigating potential non-linearities and thresholds, and matching institutions to CAS processes.

P5. Encourage learning.

Learning about social–ecological dynamics through experimentation and monitoring is essential for enabling adaptation in response to changes in SES and ecosystem services. Learning at societal levels requires trust, and appropriate relationships and institutions to flourish.
Applying this principle entails investing in social–ecological monitoring, providing opportunities for extended engagement, encouraging diverse participants, and effective ​facilitation and resources. However, the optimal ways in which learning might be facilitated specifically in the context of enhancing resilience of ecosystem services in SES is currently unclear and requires further research.

P6. Broaden participation.

Participation is important for building trust and relationships, and for facilitating the learning and ​collective action needed to respond to change and disturbance in SES. However, a nuanced understanding is needed of who participates, under which conditions participation is appropriate and how participation takes place. Operationalizing this
principle requires clarifying goals and expectations; involving the ‘right’ people, inspired and motivated leaders and facilitators; sensitivity to ​power; and sufficient resources and skills to enable effective ​participation.

P7. Promote polycentric governance systems​. ​

Polycentricity provides a ​governance structure that enables other key resilience-enhancing​ principles, especially ​learning and experimentation, participation, connectivity, and ​diversity and ​redundancy. Coordination amongst governance units, negotiation of ​trade-offs between users, and social ​capital and ​trust are essential for effective polycentric arrangements. There is currently a lack of understanding of how this principle should be operationalized in different contexts. Comparative case studies are likely to be very helpful in this regard.

Interactions among principles


As SES are highly interconnected systems, the properties and processes associated with the different principles do not become effective in isolation from each other. Applying any one principle in isolation will rarely lead to enhanced resilience of ecosystem services. For instance, polycentric governance (P7) and effective learning (P5) both depend on the social ​capital and trust developed through participation (P6),
(P6), whereas connectivity (P2) may not enhance resilience in the absence of diversity (P1) among nodes.

Principles that build understanding of the complex, non-linear dynamics of an SES provide the ​knowledge base that governance and management can build on when preparing for and addressing change. This may include enhancing the response capacity of the SES by managing for ​diversity (P1) and connectivity (P2) or creating governance structures that allow for participation (P6) and learning (P5). A supportive SES and governance structure (P7) provides opportunities for operationalizing participation (P6) and creating ​response diversity and redundancy (P1). CAS thinking (P4) is essential to create the awareness and the ​mental models needed to inform new models of ​governance and management that can support these outcomes and address key feedbacks of SES (P3). ​Facilitation of ​collective action is essential for implementing the principles. In summary, our analysis of the various mechanisms through which each principle enhances the resilience of ecosystem services has revealed three key mechanisms:

i. Increasing understanding of critical SES components and processes (P3 – Slow variables and feedbacks, P4 – CAS thinking, P5 – Learning) as well as suitable management options (P5 – Learning, P6 – Participation, P7 – Polycentricity); 

ii. Preparing the SES for unexpected events by creating awareness of their likelihood (P4 – CAS thinking), and providing alternative approaches and ways of dealing with emergent issues when suddenly needed (P1 – Diversity, P7 – Polycentricity); 

iii. Enhancing response capacity by providing a diversity of response options (P1 – Diversity), building the trust needed to make decisions and take action (P6 – Participation) and providing ways to make use of different responses at the right scale (P2 – Connectivity,P5 – Participation, P6 – Learning, P7 – Polycentricity).

These key mechanisms set the stage for various ​interactions between principles, which can be ​facilitating, ​synergistic or ​​antagonistic (Fig. 10.1). Facilitation, that is, a situation where one principle needs another principle in order to be effective, is the most common form of ​interaction between the principles. A prominent example is learning (P5) which is facilitated by diversity (P1), connectivity (P2), feedbacks (P3), participation (P6) and polycentricity (P7). While learning can take place without these, its effectiveness in addressing complex problems and developing shared understanding and strategies to enhance resilience of ecosystem services is limited. ​Diversity of actor groups, perspectives and ​knowledge systems (P1) enhance learning by providing a broader knowledge base and by making the problem-solving process more inclusive, which can have positive effects on collective action. ​Connectivity between actors (P2) facilitates ​learning because of a higher level of ​trust
and mutual understanding and a better exchange of information and knowledge, but it also includes the danger of ​homogenization of knowledge. Learning builds on new insights generated from information feedback from changes in ecosystem services; however, if these feedbacks have large time lags due to slow variables (P3) learning about important changes in ecosystem services and thus timely responses to changes thereof can be inhibited. Participation (P6) is a ​necessary condition for social learning because it creates the environment in which social ​interactions and learning can take place. Lastly, polycentric ​governance systems (P7) are more likely to enhance social learning because they provide connectivity and interaction possibilities between different ​governance actors that are needed for mutual exchange of experiences and learning and for bridging organizations that link knowledge across different levels and groups.

Polycentricity (P7) stands out as a principle that facilitates the function of several of the other principles (but does not automatically do so). Polycentric governance structures facilitate connectivity (P2)
between actors by creating meaningful links between previously independent actor groups, and facilitate ​learning (P5). While learning (P5) is facilitated by a range of principles as noted above, it also facilitates other principles, particularly those associated with a better ​understanding of SES dynamics. Experimentation targeted at the effect of slow variables and feedbacks (P3) and their role in the dynamics of SES and the generation of ecosystem services can enhance understanding and management of these processes, if managers and policies allow. Experience with managing complex SES that is deliberated and reflected on in social learning processes can foster CAS thinking (P4), and enhance appreciation of the fact that SES are CAS and that management approaches need to take their inherent ​uncertainty and ​non-linear behaviour into account. Lastly, CAS thinking (P4) facilitates all other principles as ecosystem-service governance and management that builds on CAS understanding is more likely to be effective as it addresses CAS characteristics in a given context.

Two principles are synergistic when they mutually mutually enhance each other. For instance, the capacity of an SES to respond to a ​disturbance may be enhanced if connectivity (P2) is at moderate levels in an SES that is also diverse (P1). Diversity provides response options that can become effective if there is connectivity between actors or parts of the ecosystems associated with the provision of specific ecosystem services. In a similar way polycentric governance (P7) may be more effective if the governance units are diverse groups (P1) providing more response options and ​perspectives for understanding and governing SES. Polycentricity is synergistic with participation (P6) because it creates arenas where actor groups can participate and introduce their knowledge and perspectives into SES and ​ecosystem-service governance. At the same time participation is crucial for effective polycentric governance because it creates the ​trust and social ​capital needed to make it effective. Participation (P6) and connectivity (P2) can interact synergistically to enhance the resilience of ecosystem
services when the fact that actors in a participatory process are already connected elsewhere increases the
likelihood of achieving ​collective action because there is a shared basis of trust and mutual understanding on which to build.

Finally, some principles can be antagonistic, where the abundance of one reduces the effectiveness of another. One example is the ​impact of diversity (P1) on participation (P6). While diversity is generally seen as working synergistically with other principles such as participation (see above), there can be cases where high ​diversity of actors and interests can lead to conflict that makes participation difficult and can render it politically ineffective due to the drowning of a particular perspective. A similar reasoning applies to the interaction of diversity (P1) and ​polycentricity (P7). Connectivity (P2) on the contrary can reduce diversity (P1) in SES, such as when knowledge becomes homogenized in social settings or when connectivity facilitates invasive species to spread widely in ecological systems​. As a consequence of the homogenization of ​knowledge learning (P5) is also compromised. Finally, slow variables and ​feedbacks (P3) can prevent effective learning when time lags are large.

Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems (pp. 262-263). Cambridge University Press. Édition du Kindle.


Tags: #SES, #transformation, #resilience, #commons

Main Reference:


Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems . Cambridge University Press. Édition du Kindle.


Other References

[#biggs_principles_2015]: (no bib generated)

[@biggs_principles_2015]: (no bib generated)

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