Whether we speak of "people and ecosystems" as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment does or "coupled social and ecological systems" as the emerging literature on adaptive governance does, it is clear that the present, past and future of human and biophysical systems are closely and intricately interconnected. This presents significant challenges for developing effective governance responses.
More often than not policy developers and decision-makers are faced with:
- Problems of Complexity: intricate nature of ecosystem dynamics, differing spatial reach and temporal dimensions, impact of thresholds and feedback loops, and human dimensions
- Problems of Uncertainty and Change: science is incomplete, some of our understandings may be wrong, some ecological and social changes are not foreseen, existing knowledge is not fully integrated
- Problems of Fragmentation: the governance landscape is not sufficiently linked or co-ordinated, centralisation and decentralisation of governance is often not appropriately balanced, important users and constituents are outside the process
To address complex interaction and to manage uncertainty and periods of change, governance approaches that are adaptive have much to offer. A key characteristic of adaptive governance is collaborative, flexible and learning-based issue management across different scales.
The adaptive governance project under development at UNU-IAS aims to add to the emerging conceptual and applied work in this field.
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Folke, Carl., Thomas Hahn, Per Olsson, Jon Norberg (2005). "Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems." Annual Review of Environmental Resources 30: 411-73.
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Olsson, Pier., Lance H Gunderson, Steve R. Carpenter, Paul Ryan, Louis Lebel, Carl Folke, CS Holling (2006). "Shooting the Rapids: Navigating Transitions to Adaptive Governance of Socio-Ecological Systems." Ecology and Society 11(1): 1-18 [online].