1.1 Bounding the System: Describing the Present

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Managing resilience requires integrating ecological, social, and economic understanding.

Read the Example: Bounding and identifying issues in the Grand CanyonOne of the early insights of resilience research was the need to examine coupled social-ecological systems, emphasizing that people are part of nature. Understanding the component pieces of a system doesn’t ensure understanding the behavior of the system as a whole. Mastering a more holistic understanding of the system also means respecting the knowledge that those with different training and perspectives bring to the table. Read the Details: Bounding the System - Level 2

Key Messages

• To begin an assessment, it is useful to determine bounds to the system of focus (focal system).

• Identifying relevant boundaries of a system can be related to a specific key issue; then a geographic scope and time horizon of that particular issue can be approximately determined.

• There is no perfect way to set the boundaries of a system. Initial assessments may need to be changed as understanding of the system deepens.

• Any system is influenced both by things that lie outside of its boundaries, as well as by what lies within the boundaries. A full resilience assessment must consider the cross-scale interactions of system components across boundaries. In this section, we will primarily consider the focal system and its sub-components.

• Once the system boundaries are determined, consider only the critical components. It is useful to reassess what is and isn’t critical as understanding of the system and issue(s) advances.

• It is necessary to consider ecological, social, and economic features of the system in the resilience assessment.

• Achieving an integrated understanding of ecological, economic, and social features of the system means including a diversity of perspectives, from those formally trained in particular disciplines to those with informal but insightful understanding of the system.

Resilience Assessment

1. What are the main issues that need to be addressed? There may be one central issue, or there may be a set of issues. In considering the main issue(s) to be addressed, identify valued attributes relating to the issue(s). For example, in the Grand Canyon one issue is the declining populations of the humpback chub and kanab amber snail, making the snail and fish or more generally, native biodiversity, a valued attribute of the system.

2. Issues can be addressed one by one or all together. For each issue, what is a reasonable geographic boundary for your system? You may wish to obtain a map (or sketch a map—accuracy is not critical here) and draw a boundary around this system. This boundary defines the extent of what is called the focal system. It is important to note that existing political or even ecological boundaries may differ in relation to resilience regarding the key issues at hand and therefore may not necessarily be the most appropriate ones for resilience management.

3. Identify important social components of the system (population centers, political units, cultural areas, and areas under the management of different agencies), institutions (land conservation, water management, etc.), ecological components (lakes, forests, rivers, grassland, others), and economic components (croplands, grazing lands, tourism destinations, others) and either draw them on your map, or list in a table.

4. Given the central issue or challenge, what is an appropriate time span over which to examine this system? Consider how far analysis should extend into the past, and into the future. For example, the time span may reflect a planning cycle or be determined by a natural cycle, etc. You may wish to return to your initial thoughts here after completing a historical timeline in section 1.2.

Referring to a list of social, ecological, and economic components of the system, the following set of questions is designed to help further define these various components.

The natural resources

5. What are the main natural resource uses in the focal system (those that are important and need to be included in the assessment)? Consider economic, subsistence, recreational, cultural, and conservation uses in formulating your answer. Consider also the perspectives of others not present (including future generations)—are there uses they would have added to the list?

6. Are there critical non-marketed ecosystem goods and services (i.e., the benefits that society derives from ecosystems) that are derived from the region? These types of services benefit people and might include provision of clean water, carbon sequestration, maintenance of unique species, etc. (See Appendix X for a listing of ecosystem services you may wish to consider.)

The People

7. Who are the key stakeholder groups in the region (particularly with respect to policy, management and use of natural resources)? Consider including future generations in your analysis. How might their values and goals for managing natural resources be considered?

8. Are there major conflicts between stakeholders, particularly with regard to the central issue you have identified above? Are there important points of agreement? Briefly outline these conflicts and agreements.

9. What is the economic status of each group? Are people generally wealthy or poor? To what extent are their options constrained by lack of financial resources?

10. Can you identify individuals or organizations that have key leadership roles with respect to the issue of interest to your group?

11. Is learning and innovation a strong or weak feature of the community? What are the sources of learning and innovation? Take into consideration different forms of knowledge (e.g. traditional knowledge).


12. What are the property rights in your focal system? Are there mainly public lands (waters), private lands (waters), common property lands (waters) or a mixture of all three? What are the access rights on these lands (water bodies)? Do the different kinds of tenure conflict with or complement each other?

13. What organizations control or manage the critical resources in your focal system? What are the relationships between these organizations (pecking order, etc.)?

14. Are there other, informal institutions that are important with respect to resource use? For instance, homeowner’s associations, fishing clubs, bird-watching groups, local norms or taboos etc. may all exert some influence over resource management decisions.

15. Where does the real power lie? Who has the power to influence your issue?

16. Are there key policies, laws or regulations governing resource use that enhance or constrain flexibility to manage resources and issues that arise? Keep in mind the key issue(s) of the focal system on which you are focused.

17. What information were you missing for the analysis above? Devise a plan for obtaining the information. Are there key individuals/groups who should participate in the assessment? List any Action items.

1.1 Bounding the System: Describing the Present

1.2 Expanding the System: Multiple Scales

1.3 Linking the Past to Present – Historical Timeline

1.4 Resilience to What? – Disturbances

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