Sunday, 18 May 2014

Resilience 2014: Multiple Pathways for Resilient Social-Ecological Systems
by Rebecca Jarvis and Carina Wyborn, International Network of Next-Generation Ecologists:

Rebecca Jarvis is a PhD candidate studying interdisciplinary conservation science at the Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand at AUT University. 

Rebecca’s research explores the role of social-ecological systems, governance, networks and public participation in conservation decision-making and collective action.

Carina Wyborn is a postdoc and interdisciplinary social scientist at the University of Montana researching knowledge co-production in climate adaptation.

Carina’s current research seeks to integrate knowledge social-ecological-climate change into decision-making to in the context of uncertainty.

Last week, we (Rebecca Jarvis (@rebecca_jarvis) and Carina Wyborn (@rini_rants)) attended Resilience 2014. This is the third conference sponsored by the Resilience Alliance, with the theme “Resilience and Development: Mobilizing for Transformation”.

The conference brought together a diversity of over 900 participants from universities, national and international research institutions, practitioners and students from around the world.

Resilience 2014 provided the incredible opportunity to be a part of the highly interdisciplinary conversation around resilience, transformation, development and conservation.

Resilience as a concept and a community of scholars focuses on the feedbacks and connections between social-ecological systems and the ways in which individuals, communities and institutions cope with social, political and environmental change.

The conference highlighted case studies and new methodologies to navigate change and support decision-making that will enable society to transition towards a sustainable future while attending to social and ecological considerations (you can read more on resilience here and here).

Session highlights

Session formats varied from more traditional talk format to speed talks, panels and interactive role play games. These approaches facilitated different conversations and greater dialogue between the audience and the presenters.

In particular, we found that sessions on co-production of knowledge were excellent, with many people thinking critically about what it actually means to bring together different knowledge systems in a coherent way that attends to diverse knowledges and concerns.

Natural resource management games out on the plaza threw conference participants against each other and the public in negotiating trade-offs between managing the land to feed families, and protecting the land for wildlife.

Together we explored the roles of conflict and negotiation, co-management and social learning in time-limited scenarios of uncertain and imperfect information, where the rules were not clear.

These games demonstrated how trade-off negotiations impact different stakeholders in natural resource decision-making in the real world, and also make for great learning tools in the field and classroom.

A wicked problem

Conservation is increasingly being viewed as a ‘wicked problem’, whereby a single optimal intervention or outcome is often not possible due to changing contexts, complexity, and uncertainty.

Resilience 2014 really embraced this framing with several speakers discussing how we should consider multiple pathways in a variety of contexts that are able to respond to challenges across local, regional, national and global scales.

Brian Walker of the Resilience Alliance hit the nail on the head when he explained how we should not try to choose one optimal trajectory for the future, as context will change. Instead, we should consider where we don’t want to go and try to steer social-ecological systems in trajectories that will avoid what he called ‘undesirable states’.

Participants picked up on this point, with plenty of discussion throughout the conference asking who gets to define what is desirable or undesirable and the appropriate steering mechanism.

For what and for whom?

In her thought-provoking plenary, Melissa Leach discussed how a diversity of sustainability and resilience pathways are needed to integrate ecological integrity and social equality with human rights, wellbeing and security.

Melissa highlighted how we need to account for contestations, tensions and trade-offs in human development and conservation planning, and participants continued to facilitate strong discussions around the role of equity, opportunity, power, justice and action throughout the conference.

An excellent rundown of the plenary can be found here. This was further elaborated upon when many began asking questions concerning “resilience of what, and for whom?”.

A first step towards addressing these questions starts with more open conversation about how people define resilience within their different contexts.

There was wide acknowledgement at the conference that the different disciplinary perspectives approach resilience in different ways, yet few of the speakers defined what it meant for their research or how they were applying the concept in research design, analysis, or practice.

Although tricky in a 10-15 minute talk, transparency around the multiple definitions of resilience will only facilitate more inclusive deliberation and debate.

The next generation

As early career researchers, it was brilliant to see the Student Organising Committee (SOC) so active throughout the conference.

A particular highlight was the interactive roleplaying session involving the audience in a discussion around whether we are moving from specialist to interdisciplinary to undisciplinary research, and ultimately emphasising the importance of needing young scholars who specialise AND those who connect the dots across disciplines.

SOC were an integral part of the conference, organising student activities, providing support and insight into their own experiences, as well as voicing (largely female) student feedback and opinion in the closing ceremony (in response to the presence of only one female plenary speaker of eleven).


SOC also convinced us to hop up on stage to discuss the power of twitter at the ceremony, and how it had been used to facilitate dialogue and disseminate key findings of the conference to those that could not be there (see for yourself via the twitter hashtag: #Resilience2014).

With over 300 twitter users reaching over 350,000 readers, many non-twitter users soon began setting up their own accounts and we are sure we will see many more familiar faces in the twitterverse!

What’s next?

Resilience 2014 provided the opportunity to eat lots of cheese and drink lots of wine catch up with old colleagues, meet new ones, and showcase our work to an interdisciplinary audience across science, policy, and practice.

Feedback across multiple paradigms was invaluable to inform the interdisciplinary nature of our work and to further bridge social and ecological systems thinking.

But the resilience conversation didn’t end there. Calls from participants included a need for greater inclusion of economics and the differences of scale in future resilience thinking, and of course, in how we consider the “resilience of what, and for whom?”.

The Resilience2014 discussion continues across the 16 social and ecological pathways outlined by the conference on the online forum: - sign up and be a part of the conversation!

For other blog wraps of the conference check out:

Ideas for Sustainability:
The Pacific Exchange:
Resilience Science:
Reflections on Nature and Culture:
Steps Centre:

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