Posts Tagged ‘social-ecological systems’

Mini Discussion on Sustainability in Africa

Over the holidays, I had a chance to give a talk to the Mastercard-sponsored Scholars group of ASU students from sub-Saharan Africa.  This helped to launch a class on sustainability in Africa.  It got me thinking about what to cover, given a broad range of topics.  If we agree that sustainability isn’t an “environmental” problem, but a more broadly defined societal problem, then we have a host of issues to choose from – disease, natural resource management, human rights, and so on.

Given my personal predilections, I tend to see poor governance as the common thread through all of these.  My own work and experience in Africa is clearly limited, and the undergrads that I spoke with came from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya.  I’ve only been to a few of these countries and have only spent more than a couple weeks in Moz, so I can hardly claim to be an expert.  But as we started talking about sustainability and the need to foster more resilient social-ecological relations, as a group we found that we had a lot to share, to teach, and to discover.  My own work is about collaboration across some kind of boundary (international, public-private, between individuals or tribes, between states or municipalities) for the collective governance of natural resources.  My African work focused on transboundary protected areas.  In the discussion with the Mastercard Scholars, we kept returning to the same questions:

  • Where can we or should we collaborate?
  • When does it make more sense for groups to “go it alone”?
  • How can we overcome the transaction costs of collaboration to reap collective benefits?
  • How can we make collaborations work better?

There are no silver bullets in response to these questions.  My hope is that my ongoing research can help to guide policymakers and practitioners in their quest for a more sustainable future.

Cross-scale Governance of Environmental Dilemmas – Part 1

I have been fortunate enough to be active in three separate endeavors to better understand the governance of natural resources across multiple scales and their interactions.  The project furthest along is the SES-MAD group (Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database).  This project started as an idea with Michael Cox (the lead and database developer) to write a paper that would scale up the main principles of common-pool resource management.  It would take concepts developed in the study of small-scale projects and see if the same variables necessary for sustainability at the local level were still appropriate at larger spatial scales.  So much for a paper.  The project team now has 14 members and has been working over the past 18 months to develop a database, train team members, and begin the coding of cases across a number of resource areas (protected areas, fisheries, forests, international rivers, and pollution).  The training, reliability checks, and database building efforts are complete, and we are actively researching cases to populate our study.

We have recently submitted a grant proposal and are working on a special feature for publication in the August issue of International Journal of the Commons.  We plan to add members to our research team in the coming year.  Please let me know if you’re interested.  We plan to work on this project for the foreseeable future.  

Over the next couple months, I’ll share some of the key findings already emerging from the early stages of the project.  I’ll also share some of the interesting findings on a few of the cases that I’ve been working on personally – notably the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.  Stay tuned…