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Facing the Adaptive Challenge: Practitioners' Insights from Negotiating Resource Crises

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Blann, Kristen; Light, Stephen S.; Musumeci, Jo Ann
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/141
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Social Organization
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
resource management--policy
social networks--research
adaptation
complexity
local participatory management
social capital
reciprocity
pluralism
Abstract: "Conventional approaches do not appear to be capable of responding to the speed, scale, and complexity which are characteristic of today's resource problems. Over the past decades, resource management has been moving away from a reductionist, control-oriented paradigm towards more integrative approaches, exemplified by public participation in decision making, ecosystem and adaptive management. This is particularly true in the case of common property resources, such as water quality, which are affected by the externalities of private ownership. Successful implementation of such integrative approaches has proven challenging, perhaps because it requires a considerable degree of skill in areas which have traditionally been less emphasized, such as facilitation. "The paper explores lessons learned and theoretical frameworks evolving out of emerging institutions for multiple stakeholder, ecosystem-based management in Minnesota from the perspective of practicing managers, or 'practitioners.' Conducive policy and funding contexts, in which state and federal natural resources have embraced watershed partnerships and public participation, combined with a strong tradition of grassroots political organizing within the state, have led to a proliferation of local experiments in the management of public resources such as water quality, recreational fishing, and biodiversity. The paper draws insights from case studies and interviews with practicing resource managers who have experienced some success in the implementation of such projects in a context of crisis. It explores implications for the emergence of new institutions for the management of common resources in modern pluralist democracies. "Practitioners were asked to describe the process and outcome of a complex resource issue in which they played a major role, exploring any significant 'surprises,' and to share any useful 'rules of thumb' which might be transferable to other contexts. In constructing a set of practice-oriented principles from the interviews, the paper explores the role of crisis in problem definition, scoping, and learning; definitions of crisis; the role of stakeholder involvement and informal networks in generating novelty; practices for protecting and nurturing social and natural capital; and strategies for dampening barriers to change and learning. To the furthest extent possible, we evaluate ecological outcomes. "Practitioners recognize that ecosystems are not 'managed,' but self-organized through democratic action and public dialogue. The contradictions that arise through attempts to optimize multiple conflicting criteria create conflicts within the individual and group which must be resolved through learning. With skilled facilitation, these platforms for dialogue can serve as a mechanism for the development of new adaptive strategies and the construction of new structures of beliefs around individual and group identity, humanity's relationship with nature and the environment, and rights and responsibilities. Practitioners emphasize tolerance and respect for pluralism, ecological concepts of interdependence, embeddedness, and systems thinking, experiential learning and citizen science as a critical complement to institutional, reductionist science. Facilitated public participation can lead to the transformation of practitioners own institutional bureaucracies. The establishment of reciprocity and accountability through informal, diverse networks builds local resilience and innovative capacity with which communities are better positioned to respond to both externally imposed and internally generated social, economic, and ecological challenges."

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