Transformation towards Ecosystem Stewardship

I’ve just returned from a wonderful workshop in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  With amazing scholars and collaborators, Georgina Cundill of South Africa and Ro Hill of Australia, we facilitated a meeting for the International Social Science Council-funded group “Collaborative Tansformations Toward Ecosystem Stewardship”.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll write a bit about each of these pieces – what do we mean by collaboration, by social transformation, and by ecosystem stewardship.  Here, I’ll simply provide a brief overview of the project.

What we are trying to do is bring together a number of examples of how people work together and collaborate in attempting to resolve environmental dilemmas that they face.  We want to see if conditions that facilitate and enable collaboration to flourish in different contexts around the world are the same or not.  We have numerous case studies in diverse social-ecological systems – from the forests of Kerala, India to the forests of Puerto Rico, from the Arctic of Alaska to the deserts of Arizona, from Easter Island to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and from Aboriginal land in Australia to the land of the San in the Kalahari, among others.

The meeting was a huge success in crafting the broader research project as well as starting on an overview paper that highlights the social transformations needed to shift societal focus toward ecosystem stewardship and a more holistic approach to the natural world than a purely use-oriented perspective.  In each of our cases, researchers are directly engaged with practitioners – NGOs, indigenous groups, government agencies, and resource users/managers.  The work is action-oriented and use-inspired.  We hope that by working together, the research can answer the questions that practioners are asking, while the practitioners can experiment with the theories and ideas coming out of the research.

Broadly speaking our goal is to understand the role of collaboration in transforming towards just and safe pathways and how to support these collaborations.  To do this, we need a better understanding of the process of transformation.  What we mean by just and safe pathways, refers to the “doughnut” of Raworth (see

Raworth doughnut


The goal is to stay within the planetary boundaries (see the latest on Planetary Boundaries in Science at: while still achieving a modicum of social development (see the manuscript by Leach, Raworth, and Rockstrom on Navigating Pathways in the Safe and Just Space for Humanity).

These are the broad goals that we are working toward in this project both locally and globally.  I’ll keep you posted as we move forward.

Let me close with a photo from outside our research site:

PE Beach

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