Archive for June, 2020

New Publication on Variables in Social-Ecological Systems

First, a word of warning.  This post will not be referring or commenting on COVID, BLM, the economic crisis, Donald Trump, climate change or any of the other enormous challenges confronting both the USA and the globe at present.  It’s just an update on a research publication.

The publication is entitled “From concepts to comparisons: a resource for diagnosis and measurement in social-ecological systems”, and the full reference and link to the DOI can be found at the end of this post.

Building on years of work on a meta-analysis of social-ecological systems (through the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database known as SESMAD), this paper elucidates on the findings of this research and looks at the importance of consistency in assessing and analyzing pertinent variables in social-ecological systems.

As an example of how important this is, an example that I often use with my students is about policing.  Damn…I’m getting into one of the topics above.  If the variable of concern is how do we assess good policing, what should we measure?  Crime rates?  Well, those are influenced by many things, including level of economic growth, but the police don’t control that.  What about arrest rates?  Does a high arrest rate mean that the police are doing a good job (getting all the bad guys) or a bad job (harassing many people for trivial reasons)?  We can envision all types of ways that we can influence these numbers without any real measure of the effectiveness of the police force.  I thought about this every time I drove through some of the small towns near where I grew up.  If it was the end of the month, the town cop would be out to catch people speeding to make sure he met his monthly quota.  I’m not sure that has anything to do with good policing.  What about response rates and times?  What about levels of trust in their communities and neighborhoods?  And the list goes on and on.  I’m not a criminal justice scholar, so I don’t want to comment more than this.  Rather, we can all think through this example as to the importance of being very clear about what and how we are measuring concepts that we find important in our research.

Our paper and the research program, more broadly, identifies key variables for understanding social-ecological systems by drawing on several of the core theories in the field and identifying how variables are connected in these theories.  This paper then sets out to provide clear, repeatable mechanisms for measuring and comparing these variables across cases.  Enjoy!


Cox, Michael, Natalie Ban, Graham Epstein, Louisa Evans, Forrest Fleischman, Mateja Nenadovic, Gustavo García-López, Frank van Laerhoven, Chanda Meek, Irene Perez Ibarra, Michael Schoon, and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas. 2020. “From concepts to comparisons: a resource for diagnosis and measurement in social-ecological systems”, Environmental Science and Policy 107: 211-216. DOI:

Webinar on Collaboration and Transformative Conservation

Hi All!

I wanted to share the recording of a webinar by Bimo Nkhata on transformative conservation and the commons in Zambia.  A link to the recording is available here.

Title:  Transformative Conservation as an Emerging Imperative for the Local Commons in Africa:  Insights from the Kafue River Floodplain, Zambia

Abstract:  This presentation will share insights into how the concept of transformative conservation can be applied to explore the role of transformative change in efforts to sustain the local commons in Africa. Using a case study of the Kafue River Floodplain in Zambia, the presentation will illustrate why efforts to build climate resilient local commons such as floodplains require long-term transformative conservation interventions. The presentation will argue that a transformative conservation approach, which is generative of change, is needed to deal with the many maladaptation challenges experienced by such local commons. It will show how climate change has adversely affected the Kafue River Floodplain and the ecosystem services it provides. Climate change has made weather patterns more variable, extreme, and unpredictable, and weather patterns have in turn shifted to more intense and frequent events with dire consequences for the local commons. Droughts in particular have become a major feature of the climate, socio-economics and politics of the local commons. These complex emergent issues related to climate change, floodplain management and the conservation of the local commons raise significant questions about the analytic linkages between adaptation and transformation. Can African local commons adapt to climate change with business as usual? Does climate resilience require more fundamental change and the subsequent emergence of a new state of the local commons? These and other provocative questions will be used to make a case for why the future prospects of the local commons in Africa will be defined by the capacity to transform rather than to adapt to these emergent conditions. Such capacity will require deliberate attention to governance processes that constrain and/or promote collective action among the users of the local commons.

Bio:  Bimo Nkhata provides strategic leadership of the IIE Water Research Centre located at the IIE MSA campus (formerly Monash University South Africa) of the Independent Institute of Education in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Centre conducts applied research into water and other environmental related issues including climate change, forestry, wildlife, agriculture and energy. Nkhata is an internationally recognized researcher in the fields of water and environmental science. Over the years, he has worked closely as a researcher on several international initiatives with various research and academic institutions. He has published widely on common pool resources management, policy and governance. He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of the Commons. Nkhata is a member of the Commission on Ecosystem Management of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) that provides global expert guidance on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. He is a founding member of a new global academic initiative -“Transforming Tomorrow: From Climate Emergency to Prosperity” – led by the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London. He is also the head of the secretariat of and a researcher in the INSAKA Research Consortium involving six (6) international universities across two continents. He has devoted much of his working life researching into the resilience of African ecosystems and their relationships with society. He has studied, lived and worked in Kenya, South Africa, USA and Zambia over extended periods dealing with various environmental issues of concern to Africa.

This is the latest webinar on methodological approaches to studying collaborative governance and management of social-ecological systems as part of the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group on collaborative governance.