Governance and the capacity to manage resilience in regional social-ecological systems
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The sustainability of regional development can be usefully explored through several different lenses. In situations in which uncertainties and change are key features of the ecological landscape and social organization, critical factors for sustainability are resilience, the capacity to cope and adapt, and the conservation of sources of innovation and renewal. However, interventions in social-ecological systems with the aim of altering resilience immediately confront issues of governance. Who decides what should be made resilient to what? For whom is resilience to be managed, and for what purpose? In this paper we draw on the insights from a diverse set of case studies from around the world in which members of the Resilience Alliance have observed or engaged with sustainability problems at regional scales. Our central question is: How do certain attributes of governance function in society to enhance the capacity to manage resilience? Three specific propositions were explored: (1) participation builds trust, and deliberation leads to the shared understanding needed to mobilize and self-organize; (2) polycentric and multilayered institutions improve the fit between knowledge, action, and social-ecological contexts in ways that allow societies to respond more adaptively at appropriate levels; and (3) accountable authorities that also pursue just distributions of benefits and involuntary risks enhance the adaptive capacity of vulnerable groups and society as a whole. Some support was found for parts of all three propositions. In exploring the sustainability of regional social-ecological systems, we are usually faced with a set of ecosystem goods and services that interact with a collection of users with different technologies, interests, and levels of power. In this situation in our roles as analysts, facilitators, change agents, or stakeholders, we not only need to ask: The resilience of what, to what? We must also ask: For whom?
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