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Studying the complexity of change: toward an analytical framework for understanding deliberate social-ecological transformations

Michele-Lee Moore, Department of Geography, University of Victoria
Ola Tjornbo, Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience, University of Waterloo
Elin Enfors, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Corrie Knapp, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Jennifer Hodbod, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University
Jacopo A. Baggio, Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Arizona State University
Albert Norström, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Duan Biggs, The Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, University of Queensland


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Faced with numerous seemingly intractable social and environmental challenges, many scholars and practitioners are increasingly interested in understanding how to actively engage and transform the existing systems holding such problems in place. Although a variety of analytical models have emerged in recent years, most emphasize either the social or ecological elements of such transformations rather than their coupled nature. To address this, first we have presented a definition of the core elements of a social-ecological system (SES) that could potentially be altered in a transformation. Second, we drew on insights about transformation from three branches of literature focused on radical change, i.e., social movements, socio-technical transitions, and social innovation, and gave consideration to the similarities and differences with the current studies by resilience scholars. Drawing on these findings, we have proposed a framework that outlines the process and phases of transformative change in an SES. Future research will be able to utilize the framework as a tool for analyzing the alteration of social-ecological feedbacks, identifying critical barriers and leverage points and assessing the outcome of social-ecological transformations.

Key words

resilience; social-ecological systems; social innovation; social movements; transformation; transition management

Copyright © 2014 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