Tag Archives: Resilience 2011

Information and communication technologies in the Anthropocene

UPDATED: Slides from the talks at the end of this blogpost

The use of social media for political mobilization during the political uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East during 2010 and 2011; digital coordination of climate skeptic networks during “Climategate” in 2010; and the repercussions of hackers in carbon markets the last years. These are all examples of intriguing phenomena that take place at the interface between rapid information technological change, and the emergence of globally spanning virtual networks.

Exactly how information and communication technologies affect the behavior of actors at multiple scales, is of course widely debated. The question is: how do we make sense of these changes, from a wider resilience perspective?

Some of these discussions took place at the 2011 Resilience conference in Arizona in a panel convened by us at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and with generous support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada). Ola Tjornbo from Social Innovation Generation (SIG) at the University of Waterloo, explored some of the opportunites, but also profound challenges, related in trying to design effective virtual deliberation processes. Ola noted that while several success stories related to crowd-sourcing (Wikipedia) and collective intelligence (e.g. Polymath) do exist, we have surprisingly little systematic knowledge of how to design digital decision-making processes that help overcome conflicts of interest related to issues of sustainability. Some if these issues are elaborated by SiG, and you can find videos from an interesting panel on “Open Source Democracy” here.

Richard Taylor from SEI-Oxford presented a rapidly evolving platform for integration and dissemination of knowledge on climate adaptation – weADAPT. This platform combines the strengths of a growing community of climate adaptation experts, a database of ongoing local climate adaptation projects, semantic web technologies, and a Google Earth interface. The visualizations are stunning, and provide and interesting example of how ICTs can be used for scientific communication.

Angelica Ospina from the Centre of Development Informatics at the University of Manchester, showcased some ongoing work on mobile technologies and climate adaptation resilience. As Ospina noted, ICTs can provide some very tangible support for various features of resilience, ranging from self-organization, to learning and flexibility. You can find a working paper  by Angelica here.

To summarize: three very different yet complementary perspectives on how ICTs could be harnessed in the Anthropocene: by building new types of virtually supported decision making and collective intelligence processes; linking expert communities and local natural resource management experimentation together; and by exploring the resilience building strengths of decentralized mobile technologies.

Slides from the talks

Victor Galaz (intro)

Ola Tjornbo

Richard Taylor

Resilience 2011 slides and videos

Slides and videos for keynote and invited speaker presentations at Resilience 2011 are now available online.



I didn’t see all of these talks, but those that I did see were good. I particularly recommend Bill Clark, Elinor Ostrom, Carlo Jaegar, and Marten Scheffer’s talks.

Trend Spotting: Network Analysis is Growing in Social-Ecological Studies

The network perspective and its accompanying style of analysis – social network analysis (SNA), and more generally network analysis – is a growing trend within the field of social-ecological studies and resilience research.

At the recent conference Resilience 2011, 11-16 March in Tempe, Arizona, USA, my quick overview after having been there noted a growing number of papers that were based on network analysis, or a network perspective, especially when compared with the number of network papers at the Resilience 2008 conference in Stockholm. Although a proper analysis needs to be made, it seems clear that the overall number of presentations were many more in 2011, but likely also the ratio of presentations in comparison with the total, and the scope of problems addressed. A new trend this time, although I did a presentation at the SUNBELT conference in Italy last year on the subject, was the focus and special session on ‘social-ecological network analysis’ (SENA).

Papers, books, and special sessions

To this trend we can add the growing number of published papers, chapters and books and special sessions at international conferences.

To mention a few key compilations of publications since 2008, there is the special issue in Ecology & Society from 2010 edited by Beatrice Crona and Klaus Hubacek and an upcoming book edited by Örjan Bodin and Christina Prell entitled “Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Governance” (the book can be pre-ordered). To the former I contributed with the paper “Scale-Crossing Brokers and Network Governance” (Ernstson et al. 2010), and to the latter with the chapter “Transformative Collective Action” being my take on studying collective action for transformation (in contrast to Ostrom’s theory for more stable arrangements)(read more here: Ernstson 2011; I also co-authored two chapters).* (Also see Graeme Cumming’s book “Spatial Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems“, and Christina Prell’s introductory book on SNA.)

To these publications there is also a growing number of special sessions that has been organized at conferences on how to use SNA in ecosystem governance studies, including at least: IHDP in Bonn 2009, SUNBELT 2010 in Trento, and now Resilience 2011 in Phoenix/Tempe. As evidence of a growing epistemic community, we can also add our e-group NASEBERRY, and the courses given during these last couple of years (e.g. this one).

Resilience Research & Networks: Workshop in Vienna 26 May With Top Scholars

What is penciled out above is of course just a quick “trend spotting” from my own constrained position in this emerging community. A more comprehensive overview is on the calendar. However, to somewhat broaden the horizon in this blog post, I picked up the following interesting high-profile workshop on “Resilience Research & Networks” organized by Dr. Harald Katzmair that will be held in Vienna on May 26th this year. As yet another example of an event that brings network analysis, resilience and social-ecological studies together, he writes in the announcement:

Resilience research is an ascendant paradigm aiming to explore the structural features of adaptive and robust ecosystems, societies, enterprises, and economies.  Network theory provides a robust language to better describe and understand those features. The workshop will bring together the fields of resilience research & network theory and will demonstrate their value for adaptive management and strategy development in politics, economy, environment, and society.

The talks of the speakers are focused around three guiding questions:

What is the evidence of resilience within a specific system?

What are the threats for resiliency in a specific system?

What role do networks play in the design of decision making structures?

I conclude my trend spotting with this seemingly very interesting workshop.

*Both the book and special issue serves as a very good introduction to network analysis in social-ecological studies, alongside other reading lists.

Resilience Thinking in Practice

On the final afternoon of the Resilience 2011 conference last month in Tempe, Arizona, a panel session on resilience assessment packed out the room.This wasn’t surprising given that a recurring theme throughout the conference and in my own discussions with other attendees revolved around the practical applications of resilience thinking.

How do we take the growing number of insights from resilience research such as a better understanding of threshold indicators and dynamics, the roles of leaders and entrepreneurs in shaping transformation processes, and how social networks influence natural resource governance, and apply them to cases in a systematic way so that lessons learned can be more easily shared among researchers and practitioners?

One way is to use a common framework or approach to assessing resilience in a variety of systems over time. The revised “Resilience Assessment: Workbook for Practitioners” takes us one step closer by providing a framework and laying out the key concepts, questions, and activities involved in conducting an assessment. It is not the only approach, and there are numerous potential variations, particularly ones tailored for specific types of systems (e.g., coral reefs, dryland systems, and in a development context, to name a few), but it can facilitate the knowledge sharing that is necessary to test and apply resilience thinking in practice. And importantly, add to broader understanding around how, when and whether or not to intervene in the management of social-ecological systems to make them more resilient.

During the panel session Paul Ryan, from Interface NRM, drew from the dozens of resilience assessment projects he has been involved with in South-eastern Australia and described how he and Brian Walker, from CSIRO, have applied resilience concepts in planning processes with Catchment Management Authorities. Some of the challenges he identified reinforce the role of resilience assessment as part of a long-term process of guiding change that requires a level of commitment and on-going engagement from those involved.

Lisen Schultz, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and Ryan Plummer, from Brock University in Canada, presented an approach for identifying and engaging key actors using social-ecological inventories based on their work in Biosphere Reserves in Sweden and Canada. They are currently developing an SES inventory module for the resilience assessment workbook that will add to a growing set of tools and resources on the RA website.

Megan Meacham, a graduate of the Ecosystems, Resilience, and Governance Masters program at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, presented the resilience assessment resources she helped to develop on the RA website including an annotated bibliography, examples of key concepts, and a project database.

Finally, Xavier Basurto from Duke University shared a fascinating case study of the Seri pen shell fishery in Mexico through the lens of what he referred to as a ‘retro-fit approach to resilience assessment’. The fully integrated social and ecological characteristics of the system are key to understanding how this fishery has avoided over-exploitation while others nearby have not.

Resilience 2011: notes on regime shifts and coupled social-ecological systems

The Resilience 2011 conference was a unique opportunity to meet people and new ways of thinking about resilience. This post is dedicated to the sessions I enjoyed the most, and my research interests biased me towards sessions on regime shifts and coupled social-ecological system analysis.

As PhD student working with regime shifts, it was not surprisingly that the panel on research frontiers for anticipating regime shifts was on my top list. Marten Scheffer from Wageningen University introduced the theoretical basis of critical transitions on social-ecological systems. His talk was complemented by his PhD student Vasilis Dakos on early warnings. Their methods are based on the statistical properties of systems when approaching a bifurcation point. These are gradual increase in spatial and temporal auto-correlation, as well as variability. A perfect counterpoint to these theoretical approaches was offered by Peter Davies from University of Tasmania; who presented the case study of a river catchment in Tasmania. Davies and colleagues introduced Bayesian networks as a method to estimate regime shifts, their likelihood and possible thresholds. Victor Galaz from Stockholm Resilience Centre presented an updated version of his work with web crawlers, exploring how well informed Internet search can give early warnings on, for example, disease outbreaks. Galaz point out the role of local knowledge as fundamental component of the filtering mechanism for early warning systems.  Questions from the audience and organizers were focused on the intersections from theory and practical applications of early warnings.

While Dakos’ technique does not need deep understanding of the system under study, his time series analysis approach does require long time series. On the other hand, Bayesian networks require a deep understanding of the system and their feedbacks in order to make well-informed assumptions to design models. An alternative approach was proposed by Steve Lade from Max Planck Institute in a parallel session, who used generalized models to identify the model’s Jacobian. Although his approach does need a basic knowledge of the system, it is able to identify critical transitions with limited time series, typical of social-ecological datasets in developing countries.

Most of the work on regime shifts is based on state variables that reflect either ecological processes or social dynamics, but rarely both. Thus, I was also interesting in advances on operationalizing the concept of critical transitions to social-ecological systems in a broader sense. I looked for modeling examples where it is easier to track how researchers couple social and ecological dynamics. Here are some notes on the modeling sessions.

J.M. Anderies and M.A. Janssen from Arizona State University (ASU) presented their work on the impact of uncertainty on collective action. They used a multi-agent model based in irrigation experiments (games in the lab). Their work caught my attention because first they capture the role of asymmetries in common pool resources, which is often overlooked. In the case of irrigation systems, it is given by the relative positions of “head-enders” and “tail-enders” with different access to the resource.  Secondly, they used their model to explore how uncertainty both in water variability and shocks to infrastructure affects the evolution of cooperation.

Ram Bastakoti and colleagues (ASU) complemented the previous talk by bringing Anderies and Janssen insights to the field, particularly to cases in Thailand, Nepal and Pakistan. Batstakoti is studying the robustness of irrigation systems to different source of disturbances including policy changes, market pressure and the biophysical variability associated with resource dynamics. In the following talk, Rimjhim Aggarwal (ASU) presented the case of India, a highly populated country facing a food security challenge in the forthcoming decades; where groundwater levels are falling faster than expected. Aggarwal research explores the tradeoffs among development trajectories. His focus on technological lock-ins and debt traps as socially reinforced mechanism towards undesirable regimes makes his study case a potential regime shift example.

My colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University also presented interesting work on modeling social-ecological dynamics. Emilie Lindqvist uses a theoretical agent model to explore the role of learning and memory in natural resource management. Her main results point out that long-term learning and memory is essential for coping with abrupt decline or cyclic resource dynamics. On the other hand, Jon Norberg and Marty Anderies presented a theoretical agent model where social capital dynamics are coupled with a typical fishery model. Although their work is still prelimary, it was the only talk that I saw which actually coupled social and ecological dynamics.

Resilience 2011 gave me the opportunity to rethink and learn a lot about regime shifts. Although my main question: how to study regime shifts in coupled social-ecological system remains unsolved, the discussions in the panel sessions gave me some possible ways of tackling it.

The research agenda on regime shifts is strongly developing towards early warnings. Three competing methods arise:

  1. look for signals in spatial and temporal data by examining the statistical properties of a system approaching a threshold: increase in variance and autocorrelation
  2. acquire a deep knowledge of feedback dynamics and apply Bayesian networks to understand and predict potential interacting thresholds
  3. use shallow knowledge of the system to estimate their Jacobian using short time series.

Social and ecological dynamics are hard to couple. It is not only because there are usually studied in different disciplines with different methods. My guess is that the rates of change of their main variables occur at very different rates. As consequence social scientists assume nature dynamics to be constant or as drivers, while natural scientists assume the “social stuff” to be constant as well.

Modelers have started breaking the ice by introducing noise to the external variables (e.g. rainfall variability, political instability, market pressure); or by looking at how memory or social capital at individual level scale up to resource dynamics. However, their main insights remain confined to study cases making difficult to generalize or study the coupling of society with global change trends.

Revisiting Ostrom’s Design principles for community-based Natural Resource Management

In her talk at Resilience 2011, Elinor Ostrom recommended a recent paper by her colleagues that reviews 91 studies that empirically evaluated her design principles for for resilient institutions for the management of common pool resources.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás. 2010. A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management. Ecology and Society 15(4): 38. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art38/

The authors found that her principals were well supported. They provide a reformulation of the design principals, by dividing each of the components 1,2, and 4 into two parts and keeping the remaining principals as they are.  Their revised principles are below:

Principle Description
1A User boundaries: Clear boundaries between legitimate users and nonusers must be clearly defined.
1B Resource boundaries: Clear boundaries are present that define a resource system and separate it from the larger biophysical environment.
2A Congruence with local conditions: Appropriation and provision rules are congruent with local social and environmental conditions.
2B Appropriation and provision: The benefits obtained by users from a common-pool resource (CPR), as determined by appropriation rules, are proportional to the amount of inputs required in the form of labor, material, or money, as determined by provision rules.
3 Collective-choice arrangements: Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.
4A Monitoring users: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the appropriation and provision levels of the users.
4B Monitoring the resource: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the condition of the resource.
5 Graduated sanctions: Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and the context of the offense) by other appropriators, by officials accountable to the appropriators, or by both.
6 Conflict-resolution mechanisms: Appropriators and their officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators or between appropriators and officials.
7 Minimal recognition of rights to organize: The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.
8 Nested enterprises: Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

Michael Cox et al conclude:

a probabilistic, rather than deterministic, interpretation of the design principles is warranted. Likewise, we remain uncertain as to whether the principles may apply to systems at a variety of scales. Ultimately, however, the design principles are robust to empirical testing in our analysis of 91 studies. Thus, we conclude that they are a sound basis for future research conducted to further disentangle the interactive effects of relevant variables, both within and across multiple environmental and social scales.

Aside from our empirical analysis, we dealt with an important theoretical debate regarding the principles: Are they inherently part of a blueprint approach to CPR management or can they be combined with a more diagnostic approach? We think the latter is the case, and this points us in a specific direction for future research. Each of the aforementioned empirical complications could likely be addressed by approaching CPR management from a diagnostic perspective. This is a process that helps to sort out what is important in a CPR setting, when, and why. We hope to see and plan to participate in future work to develop this approach further.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás (2010). A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management Ecology and Society, 15 (4)

Universities for Sustainability Science: need for a new vision

At Resilience 2011, William Clark recommends the 2002 inaugural address of Michael Crow as President of Arizona State University (ASU) as a good example about how to think about what a university needs to be to embrace the challenge of sustainability scienceA New American University, the New Gold Standard

A. Introduction

B. Why the Existing Models are Not Appropriate for Arizona in the Twenty-first Century

  1. The Existing Models: The Gold Standard
  2. The Cultural Landscape of Arizona: A Frontier Heritage
  3. Sociological Determinants: Changing Demographics
  4. Economic Exigencies: Embracing Opportunity
  5. Environmental Limitations: Sustainability and the Future of Arizona

C. The New Gold Standard: Design Imperatives of a New American University

  1. ASU Must Embrace its Cultural, Socioeconomic, and Physical Setting
  2. ASU Must Become a Force, and Not Only a Place
  3. ASU as Entrepreneur
  4. Pasteur’s Principle
  5. A Focus on the Individual
  6. Intellectual Fusion
  7. Social Embeddedness
  8. Global Engagement

D. Conclusion: The New Gold Standard

Resilience 2011 on twitter

A number of people are providing their brief reflections on twitter about what is going on at Resilience 2011.

My colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Centre are represented by Albert Norström and Victor Galaz.

David Ing, people from the Transition town movement, and others are also twittering from the meeting.

[update: Juan Carlos Rocha from the SRC is also reporting from the conference]