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A Portfolio Approach to Analyzing Complex Human-Environment Interactions: Institutions and Land Change

Oran R. Young, University of California at Santa Barbara, Bren School
Eric F. Lambin, University of Louvain
Frank Alcock, New College of Florida
Helmut Haberl, Institute of Social Ecology
Sylvia I. Karlsson, Finland Futures Research Centre
William J. McConnell, LUCC Focus 1 Office
Tun Myint, CIPEC
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabrück
Colin Polsky, Clark University
P. S. Ramakrishnan, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Heike Schroeder, University of California at Santa Barbara
Marie Scouvart, University of Louvain
Peter H Verburg, Wageningen University


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The challenge confronting those seeking to understand the institutional dimensions of global environmental change and patterns of land-use and land-cover change is to find effective methods for analyzing the dynamics of socio-ecological systems. Such systems exhibit a number of characteristics that pose problems for the most commonly used statistical techniques and may require additional and innovative analytic tools. This article explores options available to researchers working in this field and recommends a strategy for achieving scientific progress. Statistical procedures developed in other fields of study are often helpful in addressing challenges arising in research into global change. Accordingly, we start with an assessment of some of the enhanced statistical techniques that are available for the study of socio-ecological systems. By themselves, however, even the most advanced statistical models cannot solve all the problems that arise in efforts to explain institutional effectiveness and patterns of land-use and land-cover change. We therefore proceed to an exploration of additional analytic techniques, including configurational comparisons and meta-analyses; case studies, counterfactuals, and narratives; and systems analysis and simulations. Our goal is to create a portfolio of complementary methods or, in other words, a tool kit for understanding complex human-environment interactions. When the results obtained through the use of two or more techniques converge, confidence in the robustness of key findings rises. Contradictory results, on the other hand, signal a need for additional analysis.

Key words

land change; institutions; methodology; analysis; socio-ecological systems; statistical techniques;

Copyright © 2006 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087