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Applying the system viability framework for cross-scalar governance of nested social-ecological systems in the Guiana Shield, South America


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Linking and analyzing governance of natural resources at different scales requires the development of a conceptual framework for analyzing social-ecological systems that can be easily applied by a range of stakeholders whose interests lie at different scales, but where the results of the analysis can be compared in a straightforward way. We outline the system viability framework, which allows participants to characterize a range of strategies in response to environment challenges for maintaining the long-term survival of their particular system of interest. Working in the Guiana Shield, South America, and with a range of local, regional, and international stakeholders, our aim was to use system viability to (1) investigate synergies and conflicts between distinct scales of governance, (2) identify scale-related challenges, and (3) test the framework as a conceptual tool for supporting cross-scalar analysis for environmental governance. At the international and national levels, a number of civil society organizations explored system viability indicators that would measure the successful implementation of governance mechanisms relevant to sustainable development and natural resource management. At the local level, we used participatory video and photography within two indigenous territories to enable local participants to identify indicators of viability within community governance systems. A grounded theory approach was then used to identify common themes across the different scales of analysis. Five key themes emerged: land rights, leadership, partnerships, lifestyle, and identity. We found that although most categories of interest were theoretically aligned across scales, all perceived systems of interest were struggling to face up to various cross-scalar challenges undermining different system viability responses. In conclusion, we highlight how the system viability framework can be used with a disparate variety of stakeholders as a practical, participative and "big-picture" approach for facilitating the integrated governance of nested local and regional social-ecological systems.
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Berardi, A., J. Mistry, C. Tschirhart, E. Bignante, O. Davis, L. Haynes, R. Benjamin, G. Albert, R. Xavier, D. Jafferally, and G. De
Ville. 2015. Applying the system viability framework for cross-scalar governance of nested social-ecological systems in the Guiana
Shield, South America. Ecology and Society 20(3):42.
Applying the system viability framework for cross-scalar governance of
nested social-ecological systems in the Guiana Shield, South America
Andrea Berardi 1, Jayalaxshmi Mistry 2, Céline Tschirhart 2, Elisa Bignante 3, Odacy Davis 4, Lakeram Haynes 5, Ryan Benjamin 5,
Grace Albert 5, Rebecca Xavier 5, Deirdre Jafferally 4 and Géraud de Ville 1
ABSTRACT. Linking and analyzing governance of natural resources at different scales requires the development of a conceptual
framework for analyzing social-ecological systems that can be easily applied by a range of stakeholders whose interests lie at different
scales, but where the results of the analysis can be compared in a straightforward way. We outline the system viability framework, which
allows participants to characterize a range of strategies in response to environment challenges for maintaining the long-term survival
of their particular system of interest. Working in the Guiana Shield, South America, and with a range of local, regional, and international
stakeholders, our aim was to use system viability to (1) investigate synergies and conflicts between distinct scales of governance, (2)
identify scale-related challenges, and (3) test the framework as a conceptual tool for supporting cross-scalar analysis for environmental
At the international and national levels, a number of civil society organizations explored system viability indicators that would measure
the successful implementation of governance mechanisms relevant to sustainable development and natural resource management. At
the local level, we used participatory video and photography within two indigenous territories to enable local participants to identify
indicators of viability within community governance systems. A grounded theory approach was then used to identify common themes
across the different scales of analysis.
Five key themes emerged: land rights, leadership, partnerships, lifestyle, and identity. We found that although most categories of interest
were theoretically aligned across scales, all perceived systems of interest were struggling to face up to various cross-scalar challenges
undermining different system viability responses. In conclusion, we highlight how the system viability framework can be used with a
disparate variety of stakeholders as a practical, participative and “big-picture” approach for facilitating the integrated governance of
nested local and regional social-ecological systems.
Key Words: Brazil; environmental governance; Guiana Shield; Guyana; natural resource management; participatory video; sustainability
indicators; system viability
The world is experiencing a shift in environmental governance
away from monocentric state control toward multicentric levels
of decision making, encompassing international, national, and
local agreements and organizations, and including the full
spectrum of first, second, and third sector organizations (Termeer
at al. 2010). Significant emphasis has been placed, both by
practitioners and governance theorists, on institutional
arrangements, such as the promotion of cross-scalar institutions
tasked with integrating and mediating between the interests of
stakeholders at different scales (Ison et al. 2015). Processes
proposed for facilitating cross-scalar integration range from the
highly structured and top-down, where prescriptive frameworks
require stakeholders to provide information within pre-
established categories established by experts, to the highly
participatory and bottom-up, where stakeholders are facilitated
through a participatory process of model development. Reed et
al. (2006), for example, present a range of bottom-up and top-
down approaches used to identify sustainability indicators. Both
extremes of bottom-up and top-down approaches have their
problems: pre-established expert-led structure may stifle the
expression of a variety of diverse perspectives, while participatory
approaches may require significant time and effort for
stakeholders to arrive at a shared understanding, and still not
deliver the “scientific” results required by decision-making
institutions. We present the system viability approach, an
adaptation of orientor theory (Bossel 2001), as a middle ground
between bottom-up and top-down approaches in an attempt to
find a balance between providing structure and allowing
stakeholders to represent their particular interests.
We apply the system viability approach to a cross-scalar analysis
of environmental governance in the Guiana Shield region of
South America. In our case study, we focus on ongoing attempts
to enhance the survival prospects of this region; a vast area of 2.5
million square kilometres encompassing the watersheds of the
Amazon, Orinoco, and Essequibo rivers, and a series of smaller
rivers draining directly into the Caribbean and the Atlantic
Ocean. The Guiana Shield extends into six different countries
(Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French
Guiana) and is the world’s largest contiguous block of tropical
rain forest, characterized by the highest percent of forest cover
and lowest rate of deforestation on the planet, and containing
10-15% of the world’s fresh water reserves. The region is one of
the world’s most significant reservoirs of biodiversity, and is home
to many hundreds of distinct indigenous cultures.
1The Open University, 2Royal Holloway University of London, 3Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Torino, 4Iwokrama
International Centre, 5North Rupununi District Development Board
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
The aim of our analysis was to develop and test the system
viability approach. Stakeholders within the Guiana Shield region,
operating at a range of scales, used the system viability approach
to surface their perspectives on what they believed were significant
indicators for the protection of the Guiana Shield’s ecological and
cultural diversity. This enabled us to integrate their varied
perspectives by comparing their selected System Viability
indicators, so as to identify cross-scalar environmental
governance challenges, which we then used to inform specific
policy-making initiatives in the region. In this paper we present
the theoretical underpinnings of the system viability approach for
cross-scalar environmental governance, the process of
stakeholder engagement, an overview of the resulting indicators,
our cross-scalar analysis, and a critical appraisal of the system
viability approach and stakeholder engagement process.
There is growing consensus that governing environmental
challenges is about engaging with a variety of stakeholder
perspectives that operate at a range of scales (Cash et al. 2006).
Many environmental issues, such as climate change, loss of
biodiversity, and water management, are multifaceted where
changes and/or interventions proposed by one stakeholder at one
scale can significantly impact on other scales and other
stakeholders. This implies that effective management and
governance of environmental challenges requires an understanding
of the multiple, networked, and dynamic interrelationships
between stakeholders operating at different scales (Pierre and
Peters 2000). However, to date, many policies and actions have
supported management solutions/policy interventions that have
mostly come from higher scale institutions, e.g., national
governments and nongovernmental organizations, which are not
always compatible with the realities and perspectives of smaller
scale stakeholders, e.g., isolated rural communities and their local
environments (Warburton 2009).
Linking and analyzing environmental governance at different
scales requires the development of integrative conceptual models
with which a range of stakeholders, at varying levels of capacity,
can engage. However, few conceptual models currently used in
environmental policy and practice provide a fully integrative
approach that looks at the potential synergies and conflicts across
social, economic, technological, and ecological domains at
different scales of organization (see Wunder et al. 2008, Carpenter
et al. 2009). Crucially, these models have rarely been articulated
by the most marginalized groups of society (Peskett et al. 2008).
This is vital not only for making the connections among
technological, economic, ecological, and social structures and
processes and aspects of monetary and nonmonetary measures
of human and ecological well-being, but also for quantifying
trade-offs and developing appropriate management actions and
policy interventions in increasingly dynamic and unpredictable
scenarios (Cowling et al. 2008). The integrative model building
process therefore needs to involve all stakeholders, but
particularly the most marginalized sectors of society (Blom et al.
2010). Marginalized communities, such as indigenous peoples,
are usually the ones that have the most direct contact with the
environment, yet have the most to lose from environmental
degradation (e.g., Martin et al. 2013) while at the same time are
least able to engage with decision-making processes occurring at
national and international levels (Taylor 2006, Nakashima et al.
2012). Nevertheless, we need to recognize that there is no one
reliable source of knowledge; there is a politics of scale on which
actors with different knowledge claims will try to leave their mark
on how issues are analyzed and addressed (Buizer et al. 2011).
With this in mind, and a focus on the Guiana Shield region of
South America, we describe how stakeholders across a range of
scales engaged with a system viability framework to elicit a range
of strategies that these stakeholders felt were important for the
survival of nested social-ecological systems in the region. Our
aims were to (1) explore synergies and conflicts between scales of
understanding in environmental governance, (2) illustrate some
of the scale-related challenges, and (3) test system viability as a
tool for cross-scalar integration of stakeholder perspectives in
environmental governance. This final aim was particularly
important because a key outcome of the research was to
investigate the feasibility of the approach for integration into
major decision-making frameworks for determining the social-
ecological future of the Guiana Shield region.
Central to our approach is the concept of system viability, a
simplification and adaptation of orientor theory (Bossel 1999).
Systems can be defined as components that interact together to
achieve a particular purpose. Systems do not operate in a vacuum,
but need to respond to the challenges and opportunities available
within their environment. Thus, system viability is about the
processes and structures a system develops to guarantee its
survival in the long term in response to environmental
opportunities and challenges. However, we also acknowledge that
systems do not exist “out there”—they are mental constructs that
we develop to help us engage with the overwhelming complexity
of the real world. It is therefore essential to understand how
different stakeholder groups identify and perceive their system of
Orientor theory is part of a broad family of frameworks within
the “systems thinking” tradition, aimed at supporting the
management of complex situations (Bossel 2007). Since the
emergence of the theoretical foundations to systems thinking in
the 1940s to the 1960s (Ashby 1956, Bertalanfy 1956, Churchman
1968), various frameworks and approaches have been proposed
to support decision making within complex interconnected
situations, where those involved have contrasting understandings,
motivations, and interests, and where conflicts inevitably arise.
The tools within the systems tradition include system dynamics
and the viable systems model, which have been developed to
primarily deal with feedback, interrelationships, and
interdependence (Forrester 1961, Beer 1985). Other approaches
include soft systems methodology and strategic options
development and analysis with cognitive mapping (primarily
dealing with appreciating and mediating between multiple
perspectives) and critical systems heuristics (primarily dealing
with ethics and politics; Checkland 1981, Eden and Ackermann
1988, Ulrich 1987). All of these approaches have been applied to
the problem of environmental governance, from Meadows et al.
’s (1972) use of system dynamics to model global resource limits,
to Bunch (2003) facilitating a range of stakeholders in using soft
systems methodology in an effort to rehabilitate the Cooum River
and environs in Chennai, India. Although all of these approaches
have useful and distinctive roles to play in environmental
management and governance, our objective was to identify and
test a relatively straightforward systems framework for comparing
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
Fig. 1. System viability framework.
and mediating stakeholder views that operate at different levels
of environmental governance. We say “straightforward” because
all of the above approaches suffer from requiring high levels of
professional expertise to operationalize. For example, we did not
want to make use of inaccessible “black box” mathematical
modeling, as in system dynamics, or to follow a complex and time-
consuming series of facilitated exercises that involved gathering
all stakeholders in one place, as in soft systems methodology. In
keeping with the systems tradition, we were still looking for an
approach that surfaced distinct stakeholder perspectives in a big
picture exploration of the ecological and cultural situation in the
Guiana Shield, but which would allow individual stakeholders
relative autonomy in the modeling process while producing results
that could be readily integrated into a cross-scalar analysis.
For a systemic cross-scalar analysis to take place, we needed to
apply a systems framework that allowed a comparison between
system properties at different scales. Systems theorists such as
Eugene Odum and Hartmut Bossel have directed their efforts
toward identifying and describing certain system features that are
regularly changed by self-organizing development (Odum 1969,
Bossel 1998). These theorists have identified a range of system
attributes that can be grouped as collective properties that are
expected to be regularly optimized during the development of any
system (Bossel 1998). In other words, there are distinct
environmental conditions that any system has to develop adaptive
responses toward, and Bossel (1992) has characterized six distinct
“orientors” that any system has to accommodate to maximize its
chances of survival. Bossel (2001) has demonstrated that this
structured approach, based on systems theory and empirical
evidence, can allow sustainability practitioners to obtain a
comprehensive set of indicators that cover all important aspects
of system viability and performance, and can therefore guide
decision making in environmental governance across different
scales of analysis.
When we adapted Bossel’s orientor theory in our investigation,
we focused on the need to facilitate stakeholders’ expression of
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
what they believe is necessary for their system of interest to react
to challenges from the system’s environment to maintain its health
and viability. To support stakeholder explorations of their systems
of interest, we simplified and adapted orientor theory (Bossel
1992, 1999) to six fundamental responses to distinct
environmental conditions (Fig. 1). These “orientors,” or survival
strategies, have been reinterpreted by Mistry et al. (2010):
. Existence: the ability to secure resources for basic survival
in the normal environmental state;
. Coexistence: the ability to coexist with other interdependent
. Ideal Performance: the ability to make the best use of
limiting resources in an environment of resource scarcity;
. Flexibility: the ability to have a range of options in an
environment where there is high variety;
. Resistance: the ability to cope with temporary variability in
the environment;
. Adaptability: the ability to change practices to deal with
inevitable change in the environment.
In many cases, there are tensions between system strategies. Any
strategy in response to an environmental challenge that threatens
a perceived system’s survival implies that a system needs to
dedicate resources to face and/or adapt to the challenge. Most
systems are perceived as not having an unlimited resource supply,
and therefore trade-offs need to be made between investing in
different system responses:
. A system’s need to secure resources for basic survival can
often conflict with its ability to share these resources with
interdependent systems;
. A system’s ability to make best use of limiting resources by
investing in optimizing certain functions can conflict with
its ability to maintain a wide range of functions so as to give
maximum flexibility in an environment with high variety;
. Finally, a system’s ability to resist change by investing in
existing functions and structures can conflict with a system’s
ability to adapt to novelty within its environment by
investing in new functions and structures.
An ideal system would be able to accurately measure current
environmental challenges and predict their future state, allocating
the right balance of resources to the six different responses.
However, it is often the case that a system either has no predictive
ability or the system’s future environment is unpredictable. In
these situations, the best pragmatic strategy is to appropriately
distribute effort to all six responses.
Orientor theory has been used to analyze the viability of family
units, businesses, regional plans, agricultural systems, ecosystems,
and nations (Müller and Leupelt 1998, Bossel 1999, 2001, 2007,
Mistry et al. 2010). However, in our adaptation of this approach,
simplified to a more accessible system viability framework, we
propose that systems are social constructs determined by people’s
values and experiences. Thus, the strength of how we apply the
system viability approach is that it enables distinct stakeholder
groups to surface their values and agency by allowing them to
express what they perceive to be the strategies required for their
system of interest to survive in the long term. Distinct stakeholder
groups are supported in characterizing their systems of interest
and these are in turn scrutinized to examine how these perceived
systems across scales interact to create emergent counter-
productive or synergistic situations that undermine or sustain the
viability of these perceived systems. As the implication of the
survival strategies of distinct systems of interest are manifested,
the possibility for negotiating a possible way forward to
potentially conflicting interests presents itself through a focus on
synergistic strategies.
One would be justified in thinking that the system viability
approach is a highly abstract conceptual framework. Indeed, this
is its key advantage. Without providing predefined categories for
characterizing a stakeholder’s system of interest, each stakeholder
is allowed to freely explore and propose a range of specific
strategies for survival. The key is that these specific strategies are
able to represent the full range of system responses.
Understandably, abstract explanations can be very difficult to
engage with, but readily accessible examples can be derived from
everyday life:
. Do I take all the resources myself (food, money, consumer
goods) or do I share these with others (existence versus
. Do I become really good at one thing or do I learn to do all
sorts of things, but not so well (ideal performance versus
. In the face of difficulties, do I insist on doing what I have
always done or do I change what I'm doing (resistance versus
To note that although the above example is presented through a
range of dualisms there are also system survival strategies that
are synergistic. For example, learning to speak a foreign language,
which could be considered an adaptive response to an increasingly
multicultural environment, may also enhance your ability to teach
your native language to others, which could be considered a
resistance response by strengthening one’s own culture.
Fundamentally, the system viability approach moves away from
the typically unidirectional normative judgement that suggests
that one strategy for survival is clearly wrong and another is clearly
right, e.g., from undeveloped to developed as implied in the term
“sustainable development.” Instead, it allows stakeholders to
appreciate that every system has its tensions, and often the
challenge is to find the appropriate balance between strategies, or
preferably, survival strategies that act synergistically.
The system viability approach acknowledges that systems can be
perceived as having to cope with a wide variety of environmental
conditions. System viability is not only about coping with change.
The term “resilience,” although attractive to many, continues to
present difficulties in precisely articulating how its characteristics
can be measured in practice (Carpenter et al. 2001, Gallopín 2006,
Berardi et al. 2013a). Although some aspects within a system's
environment can be perceived as undergoing permanent change
(requiring a focus on an adaptive response), some other aspects
may very well be perceived to be stable (requiring an existence
response), or undergoing temporary change (requiring a
resistance response), becoming scarcer (requiring an ideal
performance response), diversifying (requiring a flexibility
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
response), or introducing competitive and/or cooperative
opportunities (requiring a coexistence response).
The six system viability strategies thus provide a wide range of
categories to allow users to identify indicators for evaluating the
long-term survival of systems, whether social, ecological, or a
combination of both. They also allow users to identify trade-offs
and synergies between system viability strategies, something that
is significantly more difficult to operationalize when adopting a
resilience model. In a wide-ranging review of sustainability
indices, Reed et al. (2006) single out orientor theory, from which
our simplified system viability approach has been derived, as one
of the most holistic and comprehensive to date.
This research focuses on the Guiana Shield region of South
America, which extends from Colombia in the west to Brazil in
the east (Fig. 2), covering an area of 2.5 million square kilometres,
Fig. 2. Map of the Guiana Shield, South America (kindly
drawn by Sarvision 2010).
and including parts of the watersheds of the Orinoco and Amazon
rivers (Hammond 2005). With its valuable fresh water reserves,
low deforestation rates, and rich biodiversity, it has been the focus
of considerable conservation efforts, payment for ecosystem
services (PES) schemes, and climate change mitigation and
adaptation financing (Mistry et al. 2009, Berardi et al. 2013b).
Brazil, for example, has formally protected vast areas of the
Amazon region, either as biodiversity conservation areas or
indigenous territories. However, Brazil is also the world’s fourth
largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with a significant
contribution from deforestation in the Amazon basin (Matthews
et al. 2014). After years of decreasing deforestation rates, recent
data show that deforestation is sharply on the increase (BBC
2013). Brazil has also made significant discoveries of offshore
fossil fuel deposits that could make it one of the largest oil
producers in the world. This ambiguous position on the world
stage, on one side as a nation that strives to conserve and protect
natural ecosystems and indigenous cultures, and on the other, as
an increasingly significant global emitter of greenhouse gases,
means that its international and national policies are often
working against each other (Bond et al. 2009).
At the other extreme within the Guiana Shield region, we have
Guyana, which has only recently passed legislation to protect
natural landscapes and traditional indigenous territories, while
on the other hand, is actively seeking to be seen as one of the
leading countries that integrate sustainable ecological
management as part of its development strategy (Chene 2010).
Two particular policies championed by the Government of
Guyana are the adoption of the Low Carbon Development
Strategy and the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Reduction of Emissions through
Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) framework, both
reorienting the economy from a resource extraction development
paradigm to a supplier of environmental services (Chung Tiam
Fook 2013, Mistry 2014).
In both Brazil and Guyana, we know little about the extent to
which international and regional policies, implemented at the
national level, are compatible with current lived realities of
indigenous communities inhabiting the very places where the
policies may be implemented. One particular area of concern, for
example, is that Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy
also includes investment into major infrastructural projects for
transportation, large dams like the controversial Amalia Falls
Dam, high-end industrial agriculture, and “sustainably” managed
logging and mining activities that will undoubtedly have a major
impact on traditional indigenous livelihoods and associated
natural ecosystems (Griffiths and Anselmo 2010). This is
particularly significant considering that indigenous communities
occupy significant tracts of territory and are therefore most likely
to play a key role as stewards for monitoring forests in various
schemes for PES and climate change mitigation (Danielsen et al.
Within this context, Project COBRA, funded by the European
Commission, aimed to integrate community owned solutions to
social-ecological challenges within policies, through accessible
information and communication technologies in the Guiana
Shield (see The project involved
partners across Europe and South America including indigenous
community groups, civil society organizations (CSOs), and
research institutions. The first phase of the project involved using
the system viability framework to support stakeholders in
identifying systems of interest, and developing indicators of
system viability according to the six response strategies. In other
words, knowledge at the scale at which actors frame and present
their knowledge and worldviews was collected (Ahlborg and
Nightingale 2012). Part of the research included the perceived
status of social-ecological systems at regional and local level.
At the local level, we worked within four case study indigenous
territories: three in the North Rupununi, Guyana, and one in
Tumucumaque, Brazil. As well as drawings, we used participatory
photography (PP; Bignante 2010) and participatory video (PV;
White 2003, Lunch and Lunch 2006, Mistry and Berardi 2012)
as research tools to stimulate people’s interest in the research and
to enable participants to identify systems of interest on their own
terms using a communication mode that is familiar to them (visual
compared to textual). Local indigenous researchers facilitated the
process of discussing, capturing, and editing (into films and
photostories) community viability indicators according to the six
system viability strategies, indicator thresholds, and data in
collaboration with wider community members. The aim of
facilitating the establishment of indicators and thresholds was to
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
allow community participants to assess the effectiveness of
specific strategies of community viability by comparing these to
actual observations within the communities. For a comprehensive
outline and critique of the use of participatory video and
photostories within our research, see Mistry and Berardi (2012),
Mistry et al. (2014a, b), and Mistry et al. (2015). Once the video
and photographic materials were submitted to the project, they
were analyzed by project researchers through a process of coding
individual segments/photos based on visual and audio content,
using the NVivo qualitative software. The results were then
presented to the indigenous researchers through in-depth
discussions, and the representations of indicators and their
relationships were adapted and refined where necessary. Final
indicators and the associated data exploring the perceived
viability of each community were then presented back to the wider
communities for final agreement and comments. The whole
process of indicator development took place over 18 months.
At the international and regional scales of analysis, various civil
society organizations (CSO) and research institutes undertook a
comprehensive desk-based review of established policy
frameworks relevant to sustainable development and natural
resource management in the Guiana Shield region, i.e., these were
identified as key systems of interest. This then resulted in the
development of viability indicators for two distinct systems of
interest at two distinct scales: the international policy
environment; and the detailed national/sub regional contexts
within two Guiana Shield countries (Brazil and Guyana). For the
purposes of this paper, we will focus on comparing the results
from the community and national/subregional contexts.
For the national/subregional levels, a range of published and
unpublished academic and grey literature was used to compile the
system viability indicators for sustaining the viability of the
Guyanese North Rupununi and Brazilian Tumucumaque region
social-ecological systems. These investigations were carried out
by a Guyanese conservation CSO and a consultant working for
a Brazilian CSO respectively, reflecting the approach suggested
by Keohane et al. (1993:7) where there is a “focus on observable
political effects of institutions rather than directly on
environmental impact.” The majority of indicators identified by
these CSOs focused on institutional and human capacity within
Brazil and Guyana. This was considered an appropriate strategy
because national strategies rarely have a direct connection with
the environmental and social impact on the ground, but rather,
depend on sovereign states initiating regional and local initiatives.
These in turn create and reinforce institutions that mobilize
human capacity to result in a positive social and environmental
impact on the ground.
To further support critical scrutiny of indicator selection, we
applied a qualitative scoring system to each indicator, following
other indicator studies including Mistry et al. (2010), Béné et al.
(2011), and Davis et al. (2013). The status of each indicator was
evaluated and given a score of 1-3: 1-inadequate, 2-acceptable,
and 3-good. This was done using both primary data, through
records and information from Project COBRA activities (e.g., at
the community level, meetings were organized with community
members to establish indicator thresholds and evaluate the
indicator status), and secondary data from government, NGO,
and international agency reports. This was collated by the paper
authors and further clarified with literature reviews and
communication with Project COBRA participants. Once
indicators were scored, an average value was calculated for each
system property at each scale, and these final average values are
illustrated in Figure 3. Full details of the methods and analysis
at each level are given in Berardi et al. (2012, 2013a, b) and
participatory videos and photostories can be accessed at the
Project COBRA web site.
Fig. 3. Star diagram showing average values for each system
property at each scale of analysis.
All the indicators identified by the participants are considered
to say something directly or indirectly about how indigenous
communities and the ecosystems of the Guiana Shield are
affected by, and react to, the various challenges in the region,
and how national and international policies are having an
impact. We present indicators identified by the communities in
the North Rupununi and Tumucumaque region, and explore the
indicators identified by national CSOs for the wider region
surrounding these communities.
Indicators of system viability at community level
The videos produced by communities of the North Rupununi
strongly emphasized that their existence strategy for coping with
routine environmental challenges relied on access to land, which
was closely linked to having a land title. The videos showed that
land encloses all the elements they require to meet their basic
needs during stable environmental conditions. Visual
representations of existence indicators typically included the
. Forests, used for hunting, gathering fruits, and medicinal
plants, extracting wood for domestic use (firewood,
construction wood for homes and canoes);
. Farmland to grow their staples. More specifically,
cultivating cassava (Manihot esculenta) is of high
importance because it is a major component of their diets.
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
Many cassava by-products are essential in everyday life, like
cassava bread, cassava farine, cassava drinks.
. Rivers were shown as essential for fishing, domestic use, and
To be able to resist temporary change, two main indicator themes
emerged within the videos: maintaining and passing on
traditional practices and culture, and protection of the natural
environment. To keep their identity, communities of the North
Rupununi captured imagery of practices for transmitting
traditional skills and culture to youth. This involved simple daily
tasks like processing cassava, but also building traditional
weapons like bows and arrows, knowing how to weave cotton,
speaking the native indigenous language, and knowing dances,
songs, and stories. To achieve the protection of the natural
environment, communities identified the presence of
conservation areas, community rules for sustainable use of
resources, and establishing and applying strong protective laws at
national and local scales. During community discussions for
selecting resistance indicators, many people felt that maintaining
traditional practices also ensured that the environment is used in
a sustainable way during times when environmental conditions
temporarily vary from the norm.
Videos focusing on flexibility strategies for coping with a diverse
environment showed that flexibility was achieved through
adopting a variety of farming techniques, but also by maximizing
options in terms of access to healthcare, food, and income. To
make sure communities were flexible in terms of food security,
community contributors to the videos mentioned adopting a
variety of farming techniques: a mixture of low-lying grounds to
support crops during periods of drought and farms on higher
grounds for cultivation where soils were more productive during
excessive flooding; planting new varieties of cassava that are more
resistant and productive; and cultivating a wide variety of crops
to avoid being dependant on one staple. Moreover, having a paid
job was seen as enabling individuals within the communities to
buy food from shops, which greatly expanded their flexibility in
terms of food security, but also in many other domains. In terms
of coping with the diverse challenges of a great variety of diseases
and other health issues, the three communities highlighted
maintaining the choice of access to three types of health services:
local traditional practitioners, community health posts and health
workers, medical centers and hospitals in towns and cities.
Adaptability indicators for confronting new and emerging
challenges were associated with everything that was not deemed
to be traditional, such as new mediums of transport, e.g., bicycles,
motorcycles, cars, lorries, new mediums of communication (e.g.
radio, television, computers, internet), new material for homes (e.
g. tin roofs), new food types, e.g., canned meat, new music, e.g.,
Brazilian popular music, new water collection and distribution
facilities, e.g., plastic containers and piping, and new forms of
energy generation, e.g., solar panels. It is interesting to note how
indigenous communities perceived their responses to adapting to
a changing world by incorporating nonindigenous goods and
tools. By knowing about and using these tools, the North
Rupununi communities mention within the videos that they can
keep up to speed and interact with the rapid changes brought
about by the increasing connection to the outside world, perceived
to be the major source of permanent change within communities.
Because coexistence is about coping with other systems in the
community’s environment, the videos exploring coexistence
focused on institutions and groups of people familiar to the
communities, such as the North Rupununi District Development
Board (NRDDB), the Iwokrama International Centre for
Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC), the Guyanese
Government, and neighboring communities. Indicators of the
level of interaction with these different partners were identified
as the number of meetings, but also the amount of funding
emerging out of these partnerships, the number of development
projects, the establishment of management plans, law
enforcement capacity to regulate resource use by noncommunity
members, and the provision of services such as schools and health
The efficient use of titled land was the main theme identified
within the ideal performance strategy videos. Although land was
not necessarily felt as a scarce resource per se, the fact that it was
perceived to be geographically limited through restricted land
titling, meant that, for the communities, they were increasingly
forced to make the most of their limited resources. Thus, the
presence of community management plans and projects for the
sustainable use of resources were chosen as important indicators
for measuring efficient use of surrounding land. However, to be
efficient, some communities also acknowledged the importance
of having a good leader, having training, having a dynamic and
cohesive community with a balanced age structure. Keeping youth
in the communities, a healthy and able workforce, was underlined
as an important indicator of ideal performance in the North
Rupununi communities.
The costs and logistics of engagement with the highly isolated
indigenous Tumucumaque communities meant that exploration
of system viability indicators was not as in-depth as those
emerging from the North Rupununi communities. However, it is
worth including here because it is important to compare results
between geographically, historically, and culturally distinct
communities. In Tumucumaque, indicators exploring existence
strategies of the Tiriyó and Kaxuyana communities focused on a
blend of physical and social elements. Forests and clean rivers
played an essential role to meet basic needs during normal
environmental conditions. The videos produced within these
communities showed that these provide fish, fruits, deer, and
turtle. Clean rivers were also shown to be important for domestic
use (drinking water or to prepare food), as well as recreation, i.e.,
to maintain a community’s social life. However, in terms of food,
a theme that repeatedly came up when exploring the existence
strategy was the important staple of cassava. Again, the videos
not only showed key cassava by-products, like cassava farine or
cassava bread, but also a drink called sakura, which is consumed
daily and plays a major role in the community’s social life, being
at the center of all celebrations. Finally, the existence strategy of
the community was felt to rely greatly on good leadership, and
fights were presented within the videos as an indicator of the
quality of the leadership: “with bad leadership quarrels arise.” It
is useful to note here that the North Rupununi communities had
proposed the quality of leadership under the ideal performance
strategy instead, rather than the more fundamental existence
strategy. This may suggest different levels of conflict among
communities, in that Tumucumaque communities may feel that
good leadership was needed to deal with internal conflicts that
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
were seen as a challenge characteristic of the normal, day-to-day
social environment, whereas the North Rupununi communities
required good leadership mostly to deal with the efficient use of
Videos exploring resistance indicators within the Tumucumaque
communities showed that Tiriyó and Kaxuyana resist change by
keeping united and through solidary. Thus, they resist by bringing
people together for celebrations, by communicating in their own
language, by carrying out daily tasks in a group, such as fishing
and hunting, working in the fields, or building homes. Again,
leadership is shown as an important indicator for dealing with
environmental challenges that emerge occasionally.
Flexibility was highlighted in three main areas: food, health, and
transport. The introduction of non-native food in the indigenous
territory, and its commercialization in small shops or by certain
people, mainly identified as “whites,” gave more choice when food
could not be extracted from the surrounding natural environment.
Access to a diversity of health services was suggested by the
communities as expanding the possibilities of getting medical
treatment. Facing a health problem, the videos show how
communities in Tumucumaque have the choice between
traditional medicine (plants and traditional practitioners),
community health posts, and being sent to the Casa de Saúde
Indígena (Indigenous Health Home) in the state capital, Macapá.
Finally, the introduction of new modes of transport within
Tumucumaque, i.e., bicycles, motorcycles, cars, tractors, boat
engines, also expands mobility for cultivating, hunting, or fishing
because it enables people to go further and quicker if necessary.
Just as in the North Rupununi, the communities in Tumucumaque
perceived permanent change within their environment as all the
new non-native equipment and institutions that the local
community was increasingly being exposed to. Tumucumaque
indicators of adaptability were the ability to use a high frequency
radio, computers, or TV; new mediums of transport; all kinds of
objects like cooking pots, brush cutters, motorized cassava‐
grating machines, generators, and firearms. The ability to source
gasoline and diesel are shown as one key indicator of adaptability
within an isolated region, without which most of the new
technologies would not function. Finally, to adapt to a changing
world, to communicate with it, to understand it, church,
government schools, and health posts were seen as playing
important roles as mediators.
Tumucumaque communities used very similar indicators for
characterizing their ideal performance strategies as the ones
proposed for adaptability. All the new non‐native equipment the
local community has adapted to, was also seen as enabling them
to carry out traditional tasks much quicker or further away. The
non‐native equipment enabled the community to be more efficient
at many fundamental livelihood tasks that required the processing
of and/or access to scarce resources. So, for example, access to a
hunting gun would allow community members to continue
securing wild game at a time when wild game was seen to have
become increasingly scarce.
Interaction between different Tumucumaque communities was
identified as a crucial indicator of coexistence with other system.
Relations with stakeholders like the Franciscan fathers within
Tumucumaque territory, or the nearby Brazilian military base
was also mentioned in the videos. Imagery of a plane on a runway
is seen as embodying the relations with stakeholders outside of
the Tumucumaque territory.
Indicators of system viability at the regional level
The existence of the North Rupununi social-ecological system
within normal environmental conditions was seen by the
Guyanese CSO as being significantly jeopardized by the limited
number of skilled people in the region. The inadequate provision
and standards of education and skills training in Guyana meant
that there was limited potential for the sustainable
implementation of national and international conservation and
development programs.
Exploration of regional resistance strategies for coping with
temporary change was identified by the Guyanese CSO as having
the greatest challenges out of all the viability categories. Selected
indicators and associated data showed that community
participation was weakened by the limited decision‐making
controls conferred by the national government. Land tenure for
North Rupununi communities is currently limited to the
immediate vicinities of community settlements, rather than over
traditional land-use areas, and the serious socioeconomic
situation restricts community support for activities that are not
directly related to fulfilling their immediate survival and therefore
restricting their abilities to cope with short-term stress. This
position was seen as reducing the confidence of communities to
internally support natural resource management initiatives for
smoothing out challenges emerging from temporary environmental
The flexibility of the North Rupununi social‐ecological system
for coping with a diversity of challenges within the environment
was perceived by the Guyanese CSO as being limited by the overall
health status and susceptibility to disease of the population. For
example, malaria is endemic to the North Rupununi and is a major
disease regularly affecting communities. In addition, showing
initiative and the ability to think critically are necessary skills for
maximizing flexibility to achieve established goals. Flexibility is
also restricted by inadequate governance that would allow the
emergence of a diversity of responses beyond the routine.
Adaptability to permanently changing environmental characteristics
within the North Rupununi social‐ecological system was seen by
the Guyanese CSO as being highly dependent on individuals
passing through several stages of training, from primary all the
way to higher education. One particular initiative in the region,
the Bina Hill Institute, is seen as beginning to have an impact on
postsecondary school capacity building, but its effectiveness is
perceived to be limited by lack of funds and teaching capacity.
Although ideal performance for coping with scarce resources
within the environment was deemed as the least important of all
the viability categories, it scored the highest within the Guyanese
CSO analysis. This was because the two indicators of ideal
performance, level of participation within sustainability
initiatives and contribution to the development of new initiatives,
scored highly, principally thanks to several incredibly motivated
and determined individuals identified within the region.
In the identification of coexistence indicators, the communities
of the North Rupununi were seen by the Guyanese CSO as
probably the most advanced of Guyanese inland communities
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
with regard to engaging in collaborative partnerships with
national and international NGOs. In any one year, there are a
number of initiatives being rolled out in the region in support of
development, conservation, and/or health. The role of Iwokrama
International Centre was seen as being especially instrumental in
facilitating these partnerships. However, the global economic
recession was seen as having placed significant pressures on
national and international funding, although the North
Rupununi communities were deemed to be well‐placed for
capturing any international interest in Guyana.
The Brazilian CSO carrying out the system viability analysis for
the Tumucumaque region focused less on the current social,
economic, and political conditions of the region, compared to
the Guyanese CSO analysis, and instead employed a longitudinal
perspective. The existence strategy for the Tumucumaque region
focused on the historical account of how the indigenous
communities ended up settling in the Tumucumaque region. In
essence, the Tumucumaque region was seen as having enabled the
existence of its unique social‐ecological system because it acts as
a refuge, an inaccessible and isolated territory away from the coast
and navigable rivers that were rapidly colonized by European
settlers. Thus, the indigenous communities were, and continue to
be, able to exist in this region as a result of the protection bestowed
upon it by the inaccessible territory. Ease of access to the region
by nonindigenous people measured in terms of cost and/or time,
therefore represented an indicator that originally enabled, and
may still allow, the continuing existence of the indigenous
community. In addition, the Tumucumaque region is perceived
by the Brazilian CSO to still be in an extremely pristine state and
has a low population density that allows communities to rely on
traditional livelihood practices. Access to various natural
resources for food, shelter, and other essential uses was also
proposed as an indicator of existence. Increasing contact with
nonindigenous communities was seen as having added to the
health problems already experienced within the unforgiving
rainforest environment. The presence and quality of health/
medical services was therefore proposed as another indicator
strengthening the existence strategy of the indigenous
communities within the Tumucumaque region. In recent years,
the natural protection bestowed by the region’s isolation and
inaccessibility has been reduced as a result of increasing legal and
illegal development encroaching on the region. Representation of
indigenous peoples within an external platform is also seen as a
mechanism through which communities can strengthen their
existence strategy. Hence, the percentage of territory under
official protection and the establishment of indigenous
associations were therefore proposed as additional indicators for
the existence strategy. Finally, NGO initiatives, such as cultural
mapping and ranger courses, were seen as building capacity within
the community for facing up to every day, routine challenges. The
number of NGO led initiatives was therefore proposed as a final
indicator for supporting the community existence strategy.
The ideal performance indicators selected by the Brazilian CSO
mainly revolved around the theme of resource use efficiency.
Indigenous communities were depicted as being increasingly
challenged in trying to sustain a traditional livelihood near the
relatively high density assistance centers established by
missionaries and government institutions. Because a Western
lifestyle, with associated consumption patterns, was seen as being
difficult to achieve in such an isolated region, communities were
portrayed as being still heavily reliant on traditional practices.
However, a sedentary, semiurban lifestyle was seen as causing
many problems in that local resources such as fish, game, and
fertile soils were depicted as rapidly becoming exhausted. The
significant reduction in mortality rates (back in 1997 only 3% of
the indigenous population of Tumucumaque was above 60 years
of age) has resulted in an average 4% yearly growth rate of the
population. There were concerns expressed by the Brazilian CSO
that a high population density could not be sustained within a
region that is highly isolated from the rest of the world. The
indicator proposed for ideal performance was therefore based on
achieving a low and sustainable population density. Another
indicator associated with ideal performance was the availability
of natural resources and their accessibility to the population.
The Brazilian CSO’s interpretation of Tumucumaque region’s
flexibility strategies for coping with diversity within the
environment is an account of the incredible flexibility inherent
within a traditional indigenous community. Communities are
described as having strong kinship ties through a tradition of
intermarriages—the memory of these ties lasts through
generations and allows families to maintain a network of support
over time and space. This is especially important because
traditional settlements have a very low “shelf-life”; traditional
villages have an average life span of about 5 to 10 years, moving
on when local resources start to run low. An indicator of flexibility
was therefore proposed as being the strength of family ties. The
great diversity of natural resource use is also highlighted as a
source of flexibility. Food provision can be sourced through
traditional rotational agriculture, fishing, hunting, and gathering
of nontimber forest products such as honey. However, where
traditional natural resources are in scarce supply as a result of
high density, sedentary living around assistance centers, there has
been an attempt to introduce more modern livelihood practices,
including more intensive agriculture and animal rearing (with
mixed success). The number of resources, both traditional and
modern, commonly used is therefore proposed by the Brazilian
CSO as an indicator of flexibility. Strength of cultural and
traditional practices as well as ties to the forest within the younger
generations are described as other potential flexibility indicators.
Within the resistance strategy exploration for the Tumucumaque
region, a significant focus was given by the Brazilian CSO to
developments being put in place to avoid the impact of increasing
threats from mining, deforestation, mega infrastructure projects,
and encroaching nonindigenous settlement/natural resource use.
The analysis focused on the implementation of sustainable
development policies as a counter measure to historical policies
of opening up the Amazonian region to economic exploitation.
Indicators of resistance were therefore proposed as the number
of preservation and protection policies as a counterbalance to the
number of development policies.
The Brazilian CSO's exploration of adaptability strategies for the
region revolved instead around an extensive description of
initiatives aimed at helping to transform the indigenous worldview
to champion a modern conservation paradigm. Historically, the
relative isolation of indigenous communities meant that they
could continue with their traditional activities to meet their needs.
However, increasing contact with the nonindigenous world, and
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
the associated pressures for exploiting the region’s natural
resources, has meant that these indigenous communities have now
been encouraged by some stakeholders, including the Brazil CSO
that undertook the Tumucumaque regional system viability
analysis, to become sustainability champions. Thus, there are a
wide range of initiatives, from the training of indigenous rangers
to the production of cultural maps, that are aimed at building
capacity within the indigenous community to show the outside
world that they are capable managers of a pristine natural
environment. The idea of indigenous people as conservation
champions has been promoted by a number of Brazilian regional
CSOs and indigenous associations through a series of meetings
and conferences, and this has culminated in a new federal policy,
the National Policy on Land and Environmental Management
and Indigenous Lands (PNGATI). The success of the PNGATI
policy initiative was therefore seen as a key indicator of the
adaptability strategy for the region. Also, the numbers of
indigenous peoples trained in, and carrying out, environmental
management, health and education was identified as an associated
indicator for the regional adaptability strategy.
Within the frame of coexistence strategies, the Brazilian CSO
discussed a progression from a situation where indigenous people
were simply not considered as a system in coexistence with other
social systems, to a situation where there is now an attempt to
create a strong “indigenous system” identity that can compete
against the interests of other social-ecological systems within the
Amazonian, Brazilian, and international context, e.g., the
industrial agribusiness social-ecological system. An indicator for
the regional coexistence strategy was therefore proposed to be the
strength of indigenous identity and representation within
regional, national, and international deliberations. In more
practical terms, another indicator of coexistence proposed by the
Brazilian CSO was the number of indigenous peoples able to
bridge the divide between traditional lifestyles and outside
Emerging cross-scalar environmental governance themes
The indicator sets produced by the various stakeholders allowed
us to identify common themes across the different systems of
interest to explore synergies and/or conflicts. This was done by
grouping the indicators identified by participants into emergent
themes, an approach inspired by grounded theory (Charmaz
2006) where no a priori hypothesis was in place before the
grouping exercise took place. However, within our analysis, we
prioritized the indicators selected at community level to help
identify the overarching themes, and then explored for
compatibility of the indicators selected by the national CSOs. The
level of fit of the indicators from the higher scales of analysis
would allow us to identify the synergies and/or conflicts between
indigenous community and national CSO perspectives on nested
social-ecological system survival strategies.
Five themes, land rights, leadership, partnerships, lifestyle, and
identity, emerged from the cross-scalar analysis. It is widely
recognized that land tenure and rights are a prerequisite for
effective natural resource management. System viability strategies
that were heavily represented by a rich diversity of indicators
within the land rights theme included existence and resistance,
and our analysis shows that there are many synergies across the
different systems of interest. At the local community scale,
participants selected indicators that focused on securing access
to territory to maintain traditional land-use practices (subsistence
farming, fishing, hunting, building materials, and access to
medicinal plants) and the ability to exploit future income-
generating activities (such as timber harvesting and payments for
ecosystem services). At the higher scales of analysis, national CSO
participants selected indicators that emphasized the need for
indigenous land rights to maintain resource quality and access,
and for effective policy implementation. Thus, we were able to
identify synergies within the land rights theme between the
various systems of interest at the different scales of analysis:
supporting community viability by allocating land rights could
also sustain regional social-ecological systems. However,
although on paper we see consensus among stakeholders across
scales on the importance of indigenous land rights, in practice
most Guiana Shield countries are far from demonstrating
appropriate indigenous land rights implementation. Both
Guyana and Suriname are nonsignatories of the Convention on
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (Convention ILO no. 169). In
Suriname and Venezuela, few indigenous groups have land tenure.
Although the Guyanese government is committed to increasing
indigenous land rights through the Amerindian Act of 2006,
limited progress has been achieved to date; most indigenous
communities have been given land tenure around small zones
surrounding settlements, rather than the customary territories
that they have traditionally used to maintain their livelihoods. It
is also notable that Guyana’s 2006 Amerindian Act does not
overrule pre-2006 mining and forestry concessions, even if they
are located on titled indigenous land. This situation across the
Guiana Shield will only be exacerbated as pressures from mining,
logging, and carbon projects grow.
Closely linked to land rights are issues of governance that were
strongly represented by indicators from the resistance and ideal
performance strategies. Good leadership and solidarity were
identified as survival indicators by community participants,
particularly during times of variable pressures and resource
scarcity. During community engagement events, participants
identified community cohesion to be strong, but leadership and
respect for customary rules was repeatedly questioned, including
the extent to which leaders had autonomy and support in decision
making. At regional scales, stakeholders identified control of
corruption, and effective leadership, as key determinants of
regional social-ecological viability. However, at this scale all the
Guiana Shield countries (except French Guiana) have poor scores
across a range of governance indicators (World Bank 2014).
Guyana, in particular, has severe problems in the control of
corruption and regulatory quality in the formulation and
implementation of policies and regulations permitting and
promoting private sector development, such as in the resource
extraction industries.
Partnerships require involvement of multiple scales of
organization, so it should come as no surprise that there were
substantial indicator representations under the coexistence
system response by stakeholders at all scales of analysis. We
identified significant subthemes within the indicator selection,
including the generation of funding streams, and enabling
capacity-building opportunities through cooperation among
indigenous associations, national and international NGOs,
governmental institutions, and international bodies. At the local
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
scale, the Guyanese communities reported satisfactory
relationships with local/national partners on the themes of
natural resource management. For example, the North Rupununi
District Development Board (NRDDB), a local CSO that has
been acting as a bridge between communities and national /
international stakeholders, has led to job opportunities in the
region and capacity building in the areas of ecotourism, resource
management, research, and administration. However, for the
Tumucumaque communities, relationships with stakeholders
were deemed inadequate and they expressed severe
disappointment with the lack of sustained results from
partnerships. Indeed, capacity-building activities, in particular,
take considerable effort and time, and there was little evidence for
sustained and stable cooperation and funding at regional and
international scales to support collaborative initiatives at the local
Lifestyle was a highly significant theme emerging primarily at the
community level that was characterized by the adaptability
strategy response and comprised the requirements for built
infrastructure (roads, modern housing), technologies (transportation,
communication), health services (medicines and medical
equipment), livelihoods (paid employment, participation in
formal education), and access to modern consumer goods
(clothing, televisions, imported foods, entertainment). Technologies,
particularly information and communication technologies
(ICTs), were also key indicators identified by the national CSO
participants that we were also able to associate with the
adaptability response. ICTs can play a pivotal role in ecotourism
and other natural resource based enterprises, as well as a means
of exchanging information locally and with stakeholders at other
As well as lifestyle, identity also featured strongly as a key
component of community viability, especially the system viability
strategy of resistance characterized by those indicators that
focused on retaining indigenous traditional practices, e.g., food
preparation or celebrations, and language. This reflects current
tensions at the local level between maintaining traditions and
embracing modernity (Berardi et al. 2013a). We were able to
identify these tensions within the indicators selected by
stakeholders at higher scales of analysis. For example, the
Brazilian CSO working on the Tumucumaque regional analysis
suggested indigenous lifestyle changes as a threat to social-
ecological system viability. The Brazilian CSO strongly promoted
the idea of reshaping traditional indigenous lifestyles into a
narrative of ecological custodians, for example, through their
support for a new federal policy, the National Policy on Land and
Environmental Management and Indigenous Lands (PNGATI).
In essence, indigenous communities would be actively encouraged
to abandon their subsistence nonengagement approach with
modern society, and instead take on professional roles as park
rangers and environmental managers to protect, and be paid for,
the global ecosystem services that are provided within their
However, the long‐term viability of these higher scale social-
ecological systems, promoting indigenous peoples as
conservation champions, would require the preservation of
indigenous identity, because large territorial areas have been set
aside for indigenous communities primarily because of their
distinctive culture and land-use practices. However, data on local
level indicators proposed by community participants showed that
a majority of young people were less keen to speak their
indigenous language compared to their parents and did not always
want to participate in strenuous, labor‐intensive traditional
activities. Many communities showed signs of mass emigration
of youth to nonindigenous settlements and mining areas, while
at the same time, indigenous communities were increasingly
confronted by the physical presence of nonindigenous
individuals, e.g., illegal gold miners, government officials,
teachers, health workers, and conservation and development
practitioners, and virtual manifestations, e.g., DVDs of
Hollywood films, access to Internet pornography. Although the
rhetoric of community, national, and international conservation
CSOs emphasize the compatibility between traditional
indigenous lifestyles and national / international conservation
initiatives, our analysis shows that, on the ground, many
communities may potentially support a much more rapid
transition toward a Western lifestyle to the detriment of
conservation initiatives. It is therefore imperative that
conservation policies directly address the sustainable lifestyle
needs of communities, including infrastructure development, if
they are not to be undermined by the need by community
members, especially the youth, from seeking an alternative
Western lifestyle outside of the communities. It is clear that, once
networked into global socioeconomic systems, these communities
can no longer go back to an isolated, preglobalization lifestyle.
Thus, the challenge is to find ways in which communities can
constructively adapt to globalization without totally losing their
indigenous cultures and lifestyles, and degrading their natural
Cross-scalar challenges
As a result of the indicators selected by various participants, and
the values attributed to them by these participants, we were unable
to attribute a clean bill of health to any of the systems of interest
proposed by stakeholders at any scale (Fig. 3); all systems were
seen as struggling to face up to various cross-scalar challenges
undermining different system viability strategies. Cash et al.
(2006) identify three common features of these scale related
challenges: ignorance, mismatch, and plurality.
Ignorance comes about when, for example, national policies
adversely constrain local policies, local actions aggregate into
large-scale problems, and/or short-term solutions aggregate into
long-term problems. In our analysis, some indicators identified
by stakeholders at regional and international scales raise alarm
with regard to the level of potential investment for large-scale
infrastructure development within indigenous territories, as part
of mega infrastructure plans, including dam building,
transnational roads, and large-scale mining projects. Mineral
extraction, gold in particular, is being encouraged directly
through tax incentives across the Guiana Shield countries
(Berardi et al. 2013b) and indirectly through corruption and the
absence of control. This not only undermines the social-ecological
integrity of whole systems at more local scales (Hammond et al.
2007, Colchester and La Rose 2010), but is also in direct cross-
scalar conflict with land rights policies and conservation and
climate change mitigation strategies.
There are also issues of mismatch between human institutions
governing resources and the biogeophysical scale of the resource,
either in space or time (Cumming et al. 2006). For example, Berkes
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
(2006) shows how in the case of managing migratory tuna, both
the community and the national levels do not match the
geographical scale of the fish resource. An international
agreement may become necessary to solve the scale discrepancy,
but the more technical approaches to management at this level
can potentially isolate local fishing communities. This latter point
is another example of mismatch, where there are incongruities
between the scale of what is known about the world and the scale
at which decisions are made and action taken (Lebel 2006). In the
Guiana Shield, there are a number of these kinds of
incompatibilities between scales. For example, the forest and
savanna ecosystems of the North Rupununi turn into a large
wetland system during the rainy season, connecting water, species,
and people. Although these interconnections are well known by
academics and local people (Wetlands Partnership 2006, 2008),
the focus of national policies such as the Low Carbon
Development Strategy, and programs such as REDD+ are on
conserving forests while converting savannas to potential large-
scale agriculture, with little apparent thought for the implications
of land-use change for pollution dispersion and loss of soil carbon
across the whole system. Indeed, the Guyanese government is
incentivizing foreign agricultural investment to create rice mega
farms in the Rupununi (Stabroek News 2013). At the same time,
local indigenous knowledge is not seen as legitimate or credible
by national or international actors and little conservation
planning begins from the bottom-up. Our analysis indicates that,
although the communities in Tumucumaque and the North
Rupununi are relatively organized within indigenous associations,
disparities are further entrenched by a consistent lack of
indigenous voice and representation at regional, national, and
international scales of decision making, thereby creating weak
links between local and higher scale social-ecological systems.
In this paper we focused on outlining the selection of indicators
by different stakeholders operating at a range of levels of decision
making within the Guiana Shield region. We specifically tried to
avoid a pseudoobjective stance to indicator selection, allowing all
participants to focus on a free, unguided selection and description
of indicators within the six system viability strategies. As such,
system viability was clearly able to generate a rich and varied
exploration at all levels of analysis. It encouraged participants to
investigate areas outside their own immediate interests and
disciplines of expertise, while at the same time allowed the
identification of cross-scalar themes/challenges that could be fed
into environmental governance and policy making. However, it
is a conceptual model that required facilitators to provide
practical examples to overcome difficulties by stakeholders, at all
levels of analysis, in grasping the concepts and developing their
own indicators. We therefore did experience participants initially
adopting some of our example indicators as their own. However,
through a participatory, bottom-up and reflective process of
indicator discovery and critique, which involved many months of
validation with stakeholders, the resulting work represents a true
expression of what the participants themselves understood to
have an impact on the viability of their systems of interest. This
reiterates the approach of postdevelopment theorists (e.g.,
Escobar 1995) who have emphasized the need for decentralized
and localized methods in creating positive change.
The system viability approach emphasizes the significance of
appreciating a particular stakeholder’s perspective, even if the
measurement of a particular indicator is dependent on a
subjective judgement by one or more evaluators, based on their
personal experiences. Thus, our acceptance of qualitative and
subjective indicators determining the survival strategies of
various systems of interest has allowed the surfacing of distinct
perspectives, from national CSO participants to indigenous
communities. Our aim was to be explicit in representing the
perspective of a range of stakeholders, going beyond the typical
dominance of highly trained professional experts in determining
development and conservation strategies, and measures of their
success at various levels of analysis.
Our qualitative approach has also meant that many of the
indicators selected would be extremely difficult to measure
precisely in practice. For example, strength of indigenous identity
was deemed to be an important coexistence strategy for the
viability of the Tumucumaque social-ecological system, but
would be difficult to measure precisely and objectively as Weaver
(2001:240) illustrates:
There is little agreement on precisely what constitutes an
indigenous identity, how to measure it, and who truly has
it. Indeed, there is not even a consensus on appropriate
terms. Are we talking about Indians, American Indians,
Natives, Native Americans, indigenous people, or First
Nations people? Are we talking about Sioux or Lakota?
Navajo or Dine? Chippewa, Ojibway, or Anishnabe?
Once we get that sorted out, are we talking about race,
ethnicity, cultural identity, tribal identity, acculturation,
enculturation, bicultural identity, multicultural identity,
or some other form of identity?
This is a clear example of a qualitative and subjective indicator
that matters greatly to the indigenous communities, but for which
quantitative and objective measurements would be difficult to
compile. Not everything that matters can be measured
quantitatively and objectively, and it would be absurd to exclude
such an important indicator, because it lacked scientific
empiricism, from decision-making deliberations that would
impact on the long-term survival of a community within its local
The challenge of plurality is the failure to recognize heterogeneity
in the way indicators are perceived and valued by different actors
(Jones et al. 2011), and the (incorrect) assumption that there is a
single set of solutions that can be applied to the whole system and
all the subsystems contained within (Roe 1991). In our study, we
attempted to mitigate this by taking a big picture view of the
situation, developing different models of decision making that
have a particular focus on boundary judgements by different
stakeholders. We enabled indigenous communities themselves to
decide on which indicators are important for their own survival,
and then we moved up to the next level of stakeholder
participation: representatives from Brazilian and Guyanese CSOs
for the subregional analysis; and representatives from
international CSOs for the Guiana Shield region as a whole. The
outcomes, therefore, are more likely to enable more appropriate
contributions to decision making than those that match the
criteria and preferences of isolated scale- or level-bound group of
At a time when many stakeholders are firefighting from one
emergency to another, and/or jumping on the popular bandwagon
for whatever policy and/or disaster response has captured media
attention at that moment in time, integrating all the issues into a
Ecology and Society 20(3): 42
single framework, such as Figure 3, can help stakeholders to work
together to identify weaknesses and “joined-up” strategies for
tackling current and emerging challenges. We found that the
system viability approach can be used with a disparate variety of
stakeholders with different types of capacity and expertise, to
work together and learn about how their experiences,
understandings, and values can contribute toward deriving a wide
selection of indicators that can then be analyzed and compared
simultaneously to identify conflicts and/or synergies.
The system viability approach also offers an immediate means of
testing the real world impact of policies formed at various levels,
while taking into account the multiple factors associated with the
implementation of those policies across scales. Indeed, a major
issue with international policies is that they focus on particular
themes, from biodiversity conservation to climate change
mitigation and adaptation, while struggling to demonstrate
joined-up thinking. For example, recent reviews of payments for
ecosystem services schemes indicate that there is a bias toward
biophysical and monetary value domains (Vihervaara et al. 2010,
Seppelt et al. 2011, Chan et al. 2012), prioritizing marketable
provisioning services, while obscuring the socio-cultural
importance given by stakeholders to regulating and cultural
services (Martín-López et al. 2014). The system viability approach
demonstrates that the local impact of the implementation of any
policy at the international or national level may be many‐faceted;
although it may encourage local capacity building for adaptation
to some of the new realities brought about by global changes, it
might threaten the very existence of communities by undermining
key survival responses. There is a real danger that these policies
might limit community viability if they are going to reduce access
to resources and infrastructure development, for example,
encouraging restrictive, punitive legislation or the designation of
traditional indigenous territories as protected areas excluding
indigenous traditional practices. The competition among various
priorities, and how these ultimately manifest themselves at the
local community level, therefore, becomes clearly evident in the
system viability approach.
In our case, we have been able to use the results of the cross-scalar
analysis to inform policy-making initiatives in the Guiana Shield
region. For example, the themes of land rights, leadership,
partnerships, lifestyle, and identity in support of community-
owned solutions were discussed and subsequently included in the
2015-2020 program of the Guiana Shield Facility (United
National Development Programme), a multidonor funding
facility for the region. Critically, rather than a separate stream of
work, the inclusion of the themes was integrated within larger
social-ecological challenges, such as gold mining, forest
management, and water quality monitoring. Thus, rather than
being purely an academic exercise, we were able to apply the
outcomes of the system viability approach directly to influencing
policy making.
Given that the forces shaping the Amazon Biome extend
far beyond a local context and know no political
boundaries, we can no longer work on pieces of the puzzle
in isolation from one another. Rather, we must address
the biome as a whole to secure the viability of the entire
system (Flores et al 2010:8).
The Guiana Shield region of the Amazon Biome is one of the few
large tracks of pristine rain forest in the world, and home to many
indigenous cultures still practicing sustainable, traditional
lifestyles. However, logging, mining, large infrastructure projects,
and other significant interventions are increasingly threatening
the survival of these integrated social-ecological systems.
Environmental governance initiatives at a range of scales are
emerging, but these are rarely joined-up and are often undermined
by other unsustainable initiatives put in place by the very same
decision makers. Our research demonstrates a framework for
critical, big picture systemic cross-scalar analyses of social-
ecological systems engaging a wide variety of stakeholders.
Through an appreciation and integration of a range of
perspectives, we were able to provide assessments of challenges,
and resulting solutions, that are more politically and ecologically
sustainable (Berkes 2006, Cash et al. 2006). The aim of our
analysis was to identify how to enhance the survival prospects of
the Guiana Shield as a whole, the viability of the entire system
through a participatory bottom-up process. We certainly need to
avoid the mistakes of some environmental governance initiatives
that have focused on specialized interest groups, such as, for
example, biodiversity conservation, which have sometimes
resulted in the promotion of protected areas resulting in the
exclusion of traditional land uses (Adams and Hutton 2007,
Brockington et al. 2008).
With the recent upsurge in environmental governance initiatives,
such as payments for ecosystem services and climate change
mitigation, we once again risk the dominance of decision making
by powerful groups, comprising G8 governments, multinational
corporations, and nongovernmental organizations. Stakeholders
at all scales need to ask the following: How can the voice of
multiple stakeholders at different levels of decision making be
integrated? Which policy interventions would have the most
positive effect on the whole system and its constituent subsystems,
including local communities and their environment? What aspects
of environmental governance initiatives are beneficial or
damaging to the integrity of local and regional social-ecological
systems? Where can maximum synergistic leverage be achieved?
If environmental governance schemes are to be successfully
implemented on the ground in ways that effectively protect
biological and cultural diversity, then integrative and participative
processes, such as the system viability approach, should be
encouraged at all levels of decision making.
Responses to this article can be read online at:
We would like to thank all the communities of the North Rupununi,
Guyana and Tumucumaque, Brazil, for their participation in this
research. A special thanks to Cloude de Souza for his System
Viability analysis of the Tumucumaque region. Thank you also to
the anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments. This
research has been funded by the Environment Programme,
Management of Natural Resources, DG Research and Innovation,
European Commission 7th Framework.
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... Jones et al., 2019;Pierce and McKay, 2008;Ungar et al., 2020). Visual and spatially explicit methods are used in different forms, including Geographical Information Systems (GIS) (Resendez de Lozano et al., 2014;Widener et al., 2016), Night-time light (NTL) remote sensing images (Qiang et al., 2020), spatial images captured via drones (Ungar et al., 2020), photovoice (Pierce and McKay, 2008), videos and photos (Berardi et al., 2015), and mapping (Flint, 2010;Ayaviri Matuk et al., 2019;Chelleri et al., 2016;Pietta and Tononi, 2021;Ungar et al., 2020). Examples of the latter are the combination of observation, interviews, document review, surveys, and secondary data analysis (Winkler et al., 2016) or the integration of indicator-based assessment with survey data, archival data, and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques (Ahmadvand and Karami, 2009). ...
... Similarly, when the frameworks are based on resilience theory, capitals are labelled as "social resilience attributes" (Chelleri et al., 2016), "dimensions of vulnerability and resilience" (Jha et al., 2021), "community resilience dimensions" (Magis, 2010), or pillars of "livelihood resilience" (Amadu et al., 2021). Other designations used to refer to community capitals are leverage points (Koskimäki, 2021), variables or components of social-ecological systems associated with k-p-w (knowledge-practice-worldviews) (Ayaviri Matuk et al., 2019), system viability indicators/orienteers (Berardi et al., 2015), drivers of change (Berrio-Giraldo et al., 2021) or drivers of vulnerability (Rogers et al., 2013), livelihood assets (Yuliati and Isaskar, 2018;Zhang and Fang, 2020;Edwards et al., 2019;Pandey et al., 2017), community livelihoods (Zacarias, 2018), integral ecology quadrants (Wheeler et al., 2018), adaptation priorities (Basel et al., 2020), visions of development (Clelland, 2021), or dynamic capabilities (Widener et al., 2016). In some frameworks capitals are referred to as ecosystem services (Davids et al., 2021), ecosystem outcomes (Davids et al., 2022) or ecosystem benefits (Kittinger et al., 2013). ...
... The importance of including a multiplicity of actors in environmental management is substantieted by the fact that the concept of systems is a mental construct and cannot be separated from epistemological considerations (Berardi et al., 2015). Caring about what people value in relation to the place they live in is also important to advance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Ungar et al., 2020) through collectively supported development strategies (Flint, 2010). ...
Sustainability has increasingly gained momentum as an underlying framework to orient decisions and actions in environmental management. However, while acting in view of sustainability goals is a noble intention, both the conceptualization and the implementation of sustainability remain a subject of debate. This is partly due to the widespread lack of consideration for its social dimension and the interactions this has with the environmental and economic dimensions. To this end, the Community Capitals Framework and other asset-based approaches are often used to deal with these problematic aspects of sustainability in environmental management. Through a systematic review of scientific peer-reviewed articles, this paper investigates the conceptual and practical application of such approaches. Results from our analysis show that different declinations of community capitals exist within environmental management. In all the forms they assume in the 42 frameworks identified, their employment seems effective in promoting the inclusion of social, economic and environmental dimensions when conducting sustainability assessments. However, we identified two main difficulties that challenge the application of asset-based approaches in practice. First, in most cases, capital assessment is not carried out in the planning phase of an environmental intervention in order to identify community resources; capitals are employed instead to measure the impact of an ecological change ex-post, thus being discordant with their theoretical foundations. Second, the existence of a vast array of terms to refer to community assets creates disorientation among exponents of different stakeholder groups and hinders a practical and effective application of this concept. On the basis of our results, we claim the importance of conducting community resources assessment and stakeholder consultation at different times and through practice oriented approaches and cross-silos communication efforts in order to develop a shared understanding of the problem and facilitate sustainable, adaptive and participatory approaches to environmental management.
... System viability recognises that the healthy survival of any system at any scale requires attention to a number of essential responses to different 'environmental' states (where 'environment' can be the biophysical, social, economic, political) (Bossel, 1999(Bossel, , 2001(Bossel, , 2007. Our system viability framework, adapted through previous research with Indigenous Peoples (Berardi et al., 2013;Berardi et al., 2015;Mistry et al., 2010;, focuses on community responses or strategies to different environmental states, asking the following questions: How do we meet our basic needs? -to exist under normal environmental conditions, you need basic resources such as food, water, heath, shelter and fuel; How do we work with others? ...
... Our use of the system viability framework for the traditional knowledge indicators arises from long-term development of the approach with Indigenous communities across the Guiana Shield region of South America (Berardi et al., 2013;Berardi et al., 2015;Mistry et al., 2010;. There are other indicator frameworks, for example the Indicators of Resilience in Socio-ecological Production Landscapes and Seascapes (SEPLS) (Dunbar et al., 2020), that explore community or landscape resilience. ...
Traditional practices of Indigenous Peoples support the sustainable management of a quarter of the global land area. Yet their traditional knowledge is declining. To date, there has been insufficient focus on the development of participatory and evidence-based processes for assessing the state of traditional knowledge at national levels. We used traditional knowledge indicators and participatory video to evaluate the state of traditional knowledge within three Indigenous groups in Guyana. We find that traditional knowledge is perceived to be ’stable’ and responding and adapting to a diverse set of environmental factors and new circumstances. There are differences amongst Indigenous groups, but also commonalities, which help identify areas of intervention and point towards developing shared and collective narratives at the national level to feed into policy making. The findings have critical implications for the ways in which traditional knowledge should be researched, measured and safeguarded.
... Інструменти екологічної спільноти можуть сприяти розвитку екологічної свідомості в громаді, за умови набуття ширших інституціональних прав, а також більшого фінансування, як це показує зарубіжний досвід. Зокрема Berardi A., Mistry J., Tschirhart C. на прикладі захоплення прибережних зон Гвіанського щита досліджують, що інтеграція альтернативних громадських рухів корінного населення як представників локальної ідентичності та інших зацікавлених осіб можуе бути ефективними в забезпеченні життєздатності екосистеми Гвіанського щита за посередництва інститутів громадянського суспільства [14]. В Україні поки такі інститути мають доволі слабкий вплив, а екологічні рухи реалізовуються в описаних вище спонтанних заходах просвітницько-популярного характеру. ...
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The article is a theoretical overview of the problem of local identities and their level of environmental awareness depending on the criteria of territorial identification. The definition of ecological consciousness is given and its main components are listed. Territorial and territorial-motivational identification criteria are highlighted. The territorial criterion includes identification by political-administrative and landscape-geographic features. The primary sign of territorial identification for an individual is the one that carries greater value. The great significance of the natural-geographic criterion for Ukrainians is theoretically substantiated and its rapid transformation due to industrialization, as a result of which Ukraine turned into a country with a bad ecological situation, is indicated. Within the territorial and motivational criterion, the area can be considered as a resource or as a value. Local identity, which is concentrated around the natural resources of the territory, is usually characterized by an anthropocentric type of ecological consciousness of a destructive nature. Aggressive agriculture, illegal mining, environmental pollution are defined as a severe impact on ecology. Within the limits of the anthropocentric type, a mild form of impact on nature through recreational activities, which has moderately destructive features, is highlighted. Both forms of environmental consciousness are based on the masculinity of male-type identity. It is substantiated that representatives of the ecocentric type of consciousness basically rely on intangible resources. The territory of residence is considered by them as a value accompanied by significant emotional ties and rootedness. The nature of ecological behavior is determined by the features of the place of residence (nature protection zones or zones of high environmental pollution). Keywords: local identity, territorial identification, anthropocentric, ecocentric, ecological consciousness
... Les systèmes socio-écologiques comprennent, entre autres, des agents décisionnels individuels qui poursuivent divers objectifs et qui affectent la dynamique du système de plusieurs manières . Par conséquent, comprendre comment les différents acteurs identifient, perçoivent et représentent leur système est d'un intérêt crucial pour l'étude des interactions entre les systèmes écologiques et sociaux (Berardi et al., 2015 ;Berkes et al., 2008). ...
L’objectif de la thèse est d’explorer les actions et les perceptions des acteurs intervenants dans la transformation de ces espaces délaissés, au niveau d’un territoire (sur la base du cas de l’Aire Métropolitaine de Lyon-Saint-Etienne, LySEM), dans le contexte des changements globaux. Il s’agit en particulier de savoir si les acteurs mobilisent la transformation et/ou régénération des friches pour développer des trajectoires socio-économiques et écologiques soutenables, à l’échelle locale ? Et si oui, comment procèdent-ils ?Dans le chapitre 1, nous avons cherché à identifier les parties-prenantes à considérer lors de la mise en œuvre d’initiatives de transformation de friches, quelle qu’elle soit leur nature, et les logiques qui sous-tendent ces projets de transformation, en fonction des contextes et des enjeux au sein des territoires. Nous avons pu montrer dans le chapitre 2, sur la base d’exemples tirés de la littérature, les possibilités qui s’offrent aux acteurs pour redévelopper des friches sous une perspective socio-écologique, en soutenant les capacités adaptatives des systèmes écologiques et les capacités adaptatives des systèmes sociaux. Ainsi, nous avons proposé un cadre heuristique pour analyser la transformation des friches, avec un volet écosystémique, permettant de limiter les approches économico-centrée de ces initiatives.Dans le chapitre 3, nous avons d’abord, exploré la prise en compte des changements climatiques, dans la mise en œuvre de stratégies et d’actions pour l’adaptation et la préservation de la biodiversité. Cette analyse a montré que les acteurs, bien qu’ils soient conscient des impacts des changements climatiques au niveau local, les actions en faveur de l’atténuation et/ou l’adaptation climatique restent subordonnées aux intérêts limités du court-terme, notamment de nature socio-économique et aux approches de planification qui favorisent des réponses isolées, réactives. Nous avons pu constater aussi un fort intérêt pour la transformation des délaissés vers des espaces verts en les promouvant et en les concevant pour leurs avantages esthétiques, d'infrastructure verte et de loisirs, et dans une moindre mesure pour la biodiversité. Dans le chapitre 4, nous nous sommes focalisés sur les acteurs de l’aménagement du territoire intervenants de manière directe ou indirecte dans la transformation des friches, afin d’explorer leurs points de vue (world views) à propos de la mise en œuvre d’un changement qui permet une reconfiguration du système d’aménagement en vue de développer des trajectoires socio-économiques et écologiques soutenables, au niveau du terrain d’étude, LySEM. Nous nous sommes appuyés sur l’approche par la construction de récits de changement (ou narrative of change), pour analyser les dires des acteurs. Cette analyse a montré que les narratives produites remettent en question le modèle capitaliste de développement économique, sans pour autant proposer d’imaginaires alternatifs transformateurs. Les territoires tentent de remobiliser les sites en friches dans des logiques marchandes et répondre à des enjeux de compétitivité, d’optimisation du développement socio-économique, tout en intégrant des objectifs environnementaux comme outil d’aménagement. Dans le chapitre 5, nous avons réalisé une revue de littérature à propos de la transformabilité des systèmes socio-écologiques complexes afin de mettre l’accent sur les risques d’apparition de problèmes pernicieux qui peuvent entraver ces processus de transformations délibérées. La compréhension des processus sous-jacents aux transformations socio-écologiques apporte des éléments pour anticiper la mise en œuvre en identifiant les facteurs conduisant à l'émergence de problèmes pernicieux lors de la conception de transformations socio-écologiques.
... Instead of asking participants to work through a simplification of SSM and CSH, we adapted another systems approach, Orientor Theory (Bossel, 1999) into a simple framework for exploring the survival strategies of communities. Our adaptation, termed 'system viability' (Berardi et al, 2013(Berardi et al, , 2015, asked participants to explore six distinct strategies for facing up to challenges within their environment: resisting temporary change; adapting to permanent change; developing efficient processes for dealing with scarce resources; developing flexible strategies for dealing with a heterogeneous environment; focusing on immediate existence needs; and engaging in partnerships with others. Once films and photostories, capturing the range of community survival strategies, were developed by the communities, these were analysed by the whole team (academic and Indigenous researchers) to identify community indicators of wellbeing. ...
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This chapter portrays the development of a research program involving a number of phases and funded projects over the longer term. The authors depict a lay expertise model of development where local people promote their own solutions to environmental problems. They comment on the way their methodological approach changed over the 15 years of researching with indigenous forest communities in Guyana to find solutions to their complex environmental issues. Their initial expert-led approach, using quantitative methods, became increasingly participatory as more appropriate qualitative and visual methods were employed. The chapter shows how such techniques can be used to overcome communication barriers and how they can aid the interactions between academic researchers and non-academic researchers and between local people and policymakers. The chapter also shows how research and visual techniques may be used not simply to empower local communities to take action themselves but to take ownership, offering the potential for longer term outcomes.
Since the 1990s, the overexploitation of marine resources has led to the degradation of the fisheries’ social-ecological systems (SES). In response to these collapses, scientific fishery studies have tried to develop multiple approaches to improve sustainability of the systems. The purpose of this study is to understand how the scientific literature conceives of the conceptual responses of the fisheries systems to social-ecological changes. Our research, based on a systematic literature review, builds a conceptual framework and highlights the level of importance scientific discourse which has conferred to the notions of uncertainty, resilience, adaptation, and governance in a context of changes in fisheries. The scientific discourse emphasizes relevant paradigms such as social and environmental justice associated with the distribution of resources, consideration of ecological knowledge, and the value associated with marine resources. Conversely, scientific discourse only marginally considers notions of equity, the ecosystem approach, and precaution. In addition to highlighting scientific paradigms framing fisheries systems in the face of social-ecological changes, this study discusses the influence of scientific knowledge-building mechanisms on scientific discourse.
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Improving equity in the context of protected areas conservation cannot be achieved in situations where people have different capabilities to participate. Participatory video has the potential to uncover hidden perspectives and worldviews and to build trustworthy, transparent and accountable relationships between marginalized communities and external agencies. We present findings from video-mediated dialogues between Indigenous peoples and decision makers involved in the management of three protected areas in Guyana. Participatory films created by Indigenous researchers in their communities were screened and discussed with protected area managers. We recorded their responses and presented them back to the communities. We show how the video-mediated process provided a rich and contextualized understanding of equity issues. It enabled recognition and respect by protected area managers for Indigenous lived experiences and the contribution of their values and knowledge. For Indigenous peoples, the participatory video process built confidence and critical reflection on their own activities and responsibilities whilst allowing them to challenge decision makers on issues of transparency, communication and accountability. We show that equity is an evolving process and that different protected areas with their differing histories and relationships with Indigenous communities produce distinct outcomes over time. Thus, promoting equity in protected areas and conservation must be a long-term process, enabling participation and producing the conditions for regular, transparent and honest communications. Standardized indicators of protected areas equity could be useful for reporting on international targets, but video-mediated dialogue can facilitate deeper understanding, greater representation and a recognition of rights.
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Indigenous communities retain considerable knowledge and skills for environmental governance, but continue to be largely excluded from political, economic, social and cultural life, with limited rights to land and the mechanisms for determining their own development. Working in a team of academics and Indigenous peer researchers, the authors used participatory video and photography to explore the importance of community owned solutions for addressing environmental challenges in the Guiana Shield region of South America, as a means to further Indigenous empowerment and self-determination. Drawing on follow up video interviews conducted with Guyanese peer researchers, community members and wider government and non-governmental stakeholders, this chapter documents the lasting impacts of peer research, for individuals and communities, as well as policy and practice, beyond project implementation.
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The past two decades have seen an accumulation of theoretical and empirical evidence for the interlinkages between human health and well-being, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and agriculture. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the devastating impacts that an emerging pathogen, of animal origin, can have on human societies and economies. A number of scholars have called for the wider adoption of «One Health integrated approaches» to better prevent, and respond to, the threats of emerging zoonotic diseases. However, there are theoretical and practical challenges that have precluded the full development and practical implementation of this approach. Whilst integrated approaches to health are increasingly adopting a social-ecological system framework (SES), the lack of clarity in framing the key concept of resilience in health contexts remains a major barrier to its implementation by scientists and practitioners. We propose an operational framework, based on a trans-disciplinary definition of Socio-Ecological System Health (SESH) that explicitly links health and ecosystem management with the resilience of SES, and the adaptive capacity of the actors and agents within SES, to prevent and cope with emerging health and environmental risks. We focus on agricultural transitions that play a critical role in disease emergence and biodiversity conservation, to illustrate the proposed participatory framework to frame and co-design SESH interventions. Finally, we highlight critical changes that are needed from researchers, policy makers and donors, in order to engage communities and other stakeholders involved in the management of their own health and that of the underpinning ecosystems.
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La investigación en el tema de la gobernanza ha tenido un auge importante desde el año 2012 y por el lado de la investigación en socio-ecosistemas (SES) ha venido aumentando de manera importante desde el año 2016. En este sentido, esta revisión tiene como propósito analizar las tendencias de investigación sobre dos categorías, gobernanza y socio-ecosistemas, para plantear algunos caminos para nuevas investigaciones. Metodológicamente se adelantó una revisión a través de las bases de datos Scopus, WoS y PoP, en las que se realizó una búsqueda sistemática de las categorías Gobernanza y SES entre los años 2004 y 2018. La búsqueda arrojó 72 artículos de Scopus, 59 de WoS y 133 de PoP, de los cuales se escogieron 50 para hacer la revisión. Como resultado se halló que, aunque las publicaciones de las categorías conjuntas han disminuido, éstas, relacionadas con otras categorías específicas, se han incrementado desde 2014. La revisión pone en evidencia la pertinencia de investigar nuevas relaciones de la gobernanza en SES; por ejemplo, agua, turismo, ciudades, bosques, entre otros.
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The empirical evidence in the papers in this special issue identifies pervasive and difficult cross-scale and cross-level interactions in managing the environment. The complexity of these interactions and the fact that both scholarship and management have only recently begun to address this complexity have provided the impetus for us to present one synthesis of scale and cross-scale dynamics. In doing so, we draw from multiple cases, multiple disciplines, and multiple perspectives. In this synthesis paper, and in the accompanying cases, we hypothesize that the dynamics of cross-scale and cross-level interactions are affected by the interplay between institutions at multiple levels and scales. We suggest that the advent of co-management structures and conscious boundary management that includes knowledge co-production, mediation, translation, and negotiation across scale-related boundaries may facilitate solutions to complex problems that decision makers have historically been unable to solve.
This book introduces a new concept in ecosystem theory and discusses it in an interdisciplinary framework, originating in succession theory, network theory and thermodynamics. The central hypothesis claims that there are certain system attributes which are regularly optimized in the course of ecosystem development. Many of these orientators can also be interpretated as general attributes for self-organizing processes. As a result of the discussions, a new quality of a holistic environmental management is designed, capable of integrating the ideas of sustainability, ecological integrity, and ecosystem health.
According to orientation theory, multidimensional value orientation is a basic emergent feature of evolutionary adaptation of systems to environments characterized by particular physical conditions, sparse resources, variety, variability, change, and other systems. The need for balanced satisfaction of essential system values, i.e. basic orientors (existence, effectiveness, freedom of action, security, adaptability, coexistence) emerges in response to these environmental challenges. This process of emerging value orientation can also be demonstrated in computer experiments with artificial organisms (animats) using genetic algorithms to study knowledge growth and organization. Basic orientor emphasis emerges differently among individuals of the animat population, resulting in different lifestyles. Pathological behavior and system failure result if there is insufficient attention to any of the basic orientors. The basic orientor approach allows comprehensive assessments of system fitness and performance, in particular also of the feasibility and viability of future development paths. Goal functions are context-specific and system-specific expressions of basic orientor requirements.
How did the industrialized nations of North America and Europe come to be seen as the appropriate models for post-World War II societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America? How did the postwar discourse on development actually create the so-called Third World? And what will happen when development ideology collapses? To answer these questions, Arturo Escobar shows how development policies became mechanisms of control that were just as pervasive and effective as their colonial counterparts. The development apparatus generated categories powerful enough to shape the thinking even of its occasional critics while poverty and hunger became widespread. "Development" was not even partially "deconstructed" until the 1980s, when new tools for analyzing the representation of social reality were applied to specific "Third World" cases. Here Escobar deploys these new techniques in a provocative analysis of development discourse and practice in general, concluding with a discussion of alternative visions for a postdevelopment era. Escobar emphasizes the role of economists in development discourse--his case study of Colombia demonstrates that the economization of food resulted in ambitious plans, and more hunger. To depict the production of knowledge and power in other development fields, the author shows how peasants, women, and nature became objects of knowledge and targets of power under the "gaze of experts." In a substantial new introduction, Escobar reviews debates on globalization and postdevelopment since the book's original publication in 1995 and argues that the concept of postdevelopment needs to be redefined to meet today's significantly new conditions. He then calls for the development of a field of "pluriversal studies," which he illustrates with examples from recent Latin American movements. © 1995 by Princeton University Press. 1995 by Princeton University Press.