1.2 Expanding the System: Multiple Scales

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Managing resilience requires managing systems at multiple scales in space, time, and social organization.

Example: Scales of Structures, Scales of Processes: The Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaA more complete understanding of any social-ecological system can be gained by knowing something about what is happening in systems at smaller scales and larger scales and how this hierarchy of systems interacts across space, time, and social organization.

Key Messages

• Complex social-ecological systems operate across a range of scales. Even if the primary interest is managing a particular focal system, one must understand the ways in which larger systems influence the focal system. One must also understand how the dynamics of the focal system are influenced by the smaller systems it comprises.

• In some systems, larger things, such as reefs, tend to change more slowly or less frequently. Smaller things, such as individual corals, tend to change more rapidly or more frequently (relative to change at the reef level). In ecological systems there is a relationship between spatial and temporal scales. In general, large = slow and small = fast.

• Scale relationships are not as clearly defined for other systems. Social organizations at smaller scales, such as households, may actually change their characteristics less frequently than social organizations at larger scales, such as forms of government. Physical systems such as typhoons can cover broad areas, yet occur at relatively short time scales.

• Insight into the dynamics and structures of coupled systems can be gained by examining different ranges of scales around a focal scale. Processes at larger scales, such as global warming, flood/drought cycles, or governmental change and processes at smaller scales, such as nutrient cycling, or individual fisher’s behavior should be evaluated. It is the cross-scale interactions that can dramatically influence the system being studied.


Resilience Assessment

In the following assessment you will identify the critical scales above and below your focal scale. The resilience and sustainability of systems depends on how these different scales interact with each other — what are sometimes called cross-scale interactions (see section 3.2).

Describe the key features of organizational scales above and below your focal scale that are critical for understanding the social context of your issue or challenge. What are the higher and lower level policy structures or groups (both governmental and non-governmental)? What are the organizations, above and below your focal scale, that deal with cultural issues or social values and what are the major interactions they have with your focal system? Enter a brief summary in the table (1.2.1) below.

Describe the key features of scales above and below your focal scale that are critical for understanding the economic context of your issue or challenge. These may be different than those described above (for instance, you may decide that the global scale is relevant for economic impacts in your system, while the largest critical social scale is the nation). Why are these appropriate critical scales? In other words, what are the major influences on or interactions they have with your focal scale? Note also that economic features may relate to cash economies and/or subsistence economies.

Describe the one or two scales above and below your focal scale that are critical for understanding the ecological context of your issue or challenge. Again, these may be different than those described above. Why are these appropriate critical scales? In other words, what are the major influences on or interactions they have with your focal scale? Keep in mind that a resilience assessment may be part of a process to change current management practices and as such one should be careful not to pick ecological scales that only bolster current practices.

What critical data or information (in the ecological or social realm) are you missing for the other scales you have described? List how you would go about filling these information gaps as action items.


Table 1.2.1 Multiple scale characteristics linked to the focal system

(Note: You many not find it necessary to fill in all cells; this will depend on how many scales and domains you are choosing to analyze.)

DOMAIN
SCALE
DESCRIBE SCALE

DESCRIBE PROCESSES THAT INFLUENCE
FOCAL SCALE

SOCIAL
Larger
Large
Focal
Small
Smaller
   
ECONOMIC
Larger
Large
Focal
Small
Smaller
   
ECOLOGICAL
Larger
Large
Focal
Small
Smaller
   



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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