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SES Framework: Initial Changes and Continuing Challenges

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Type: Working Paper
Author: McGinnis, Michael D.; Ostrom, Elinor
Date: 2012
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/9251
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Subject(s): social-ecological systems
institutional analysis--IAD framework
framework analysis
governance and politics
Abstract: "The Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework investigated in this special issue enables researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds working on different resource sectors in disparate geographic areas, biophysical conditions, and temporal domains to share a common vocabulary for the construction and testing of alternative theories and models that determine which influences on processes and outcomes are especially critical in specific empirical settings. After justifying the need for such a general framework, this article summarizes changes that have already been made to this framework and discusses a few remaining ambiguities in its formulation. We expect that the SES framework will continue to change as more researchers apply it to additional contexts, but the main purpose of this article is to delineate the version that served as the basis for the theoretical innovations and empirical analyses detailed in other contributions to this special issue. The SES framework was originally designed for application to a relatively well-defined domain of common-pool resource management situations in which resource users extract resource units from a resource system, and provide for the maintenance of that system, according to rules and procedures determined within an overarching governance system, and in the context of related ecological systems and broader social-political-economic settings. Processes of resource extraction and infrastructure maintenance were identified as among the most important forms of interactions and outcomes (or action situations) located in the very center of this framework. Since social-ecological systems also generate public goods and ecosystem services, we introduce incremental revisions to the SES framework in order to generalize its applications to complex multiresource systems. We replace the restrictive term 'user' with a more generic category of 'actor' and incorporate complex patterns of interaction among multiple actors and resource systems in the context of overlapping governance systems. We also develop the impact of evaluative criteria and other sources of dynamic change within this framework. Then we discuss potential directions for later development to incorporate complex technical systems, multiple layers of governance institutions, and diverse forms of learning and adaptation. Each of these suggested modifications is developed in more detail in other contributions to this issue. As a whole, these articles demonstrate that the SES framework as currently constituted has already inspired high-quality research, and that it has the potential to further facilitate communication among scholars from a broad array of disciplines working on diverse resources in many different parts of the world."

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