Socio-ecological system framework (SES framework)

What is it?
This framework is a conceptual model to analyse the sustainability of Socio-Ecological Systems (SES). It was proposed for the study and comparison of SES by providing a common vocabulary that enable identify and organize the variables relevant in SES analysis into a multitier hierarchy (Ostrom 2007, 2009, McGinnis, and Ostrom. 2014).
Besides, this framework facilitates the integration of data from different disciplines and can be used to analyse small and large scale SES (fishery, forestry, freshwater ecosystems, dryland areas). Then, the framework has been described as multilayer and holistic (Janssen and Anderies 2013).

Background/context and objectives
Socio-ecological systems are dynamic systems in continuous change. Some of their environmental problems are originated by complex interactions between social and ecological components (Ostrom 2007, 2009). An interdisciplinary and integrative approach that allows the analysis of the SES taking into account socio-ecological aspects and their interactions would improve our understanding about this resource system.
Actually, diverse SES frameworks have been proposed the last decades (Binder et al., 2013) although the framework proposed by Ostrom is one of the most commonly used. The long term goal of this framework is increase general knowledge of SES through the study of multiple individual cases (Ostrom 2007, 2009; Hinkel et al., 2015). For this reason, the framework is still evolving.

The first tier of this framework includes: four multi-linked subsystems [(resource units (RU), resource system (RS), governance system (GS) and actors (A) who extract or modify resource units], their interactions (I) and the outcomes (O) of the whole system. Additionally, the framework also contemplates that any of these components can be affected by, and create feedback to, external variables from related ecological ecosystems (ECO) or social-economic-political settings (S) both sited outside of the focal action situation (McGinnis and Ostrom, 2014).

These subsystems are indeed decomposed into second, third, fourth, tiers variables depending on the needs of the analyst. Based in extensive empirical and field studies, 53 second-tier variables common across diverse cases have been identified (McGinnis and Ostrom, 2014). Even though according to the particularities of the focus SES these variables may be more or less relevant, they provide a checklist to guide initial process of data collection (Partelow 2015). Moreover, depending of the analysed SES the deeper level of variables can be identified and added.

Guidance for applying the framework
The socio-ecological framework does not describe a step-by-step guide to apply it allowing a variety of methodological process (Partelow 2015). Likewise, specific indicators of sustainability should be defined by the researchers according to the SES evaluated.
The use of the framework involves three basic steps suggested by McGinnis and Ostrom (2014)
-First step: selection of a focal situation of analysis. In this step, the reserachers of the study should identify the components of a given system, the interactions and outcomes, actors implicated and the governance systems acting on them. The authors of the work highlights the possibility of multiple version of the
-Second step: identify the potential variables and their indicators. In this point, the list of variables proposed may act as a guide.
-Third step: communicate and disseminate the results obtained. In this sense the framework has been designed to facilitate the exchange of the knowledge acquired between different disciplines.

Other authors have developed operational and diagnostic process to facilitate their application in different SES. For example, Hinkel et al. (2015) developed a diagnostic procedure based in 10 questions to facilitate the unambiguous application of the SES framework in four cases (see more references below).

Good practice tips
From a practical point of view, the absence of a methodological guide can be considered a limitation. However, several researchers have explored potential procedures to apply the framework in contrasted SES and then, these works may contribute to solve ambiguities. A summary and a systematic comparison of this and other nine frameworks designed to study socio-ecological systems can be read in the work of Binder et al (2013). This work highlights three main criteria that may be helpful for classifying and selecting a framework for analysis.

Success stories
From his publication, the socio-ecological framework has been increasingly used in different countries to examine different kind of SES, from individual watersheds to global climate change.
An example of application of the SES framework is the SESMAD project:

To learn more
Addison, J., & Greiner, R. (2015). Applying the social–ecological systems framework to the evaluation and design of payment for ecosystem service schemes in the Eurasian steppe. Biodiversity and Conservation, 1-20.

Binder, C. R., Hinkel, J., Bots, P. W., & Pahl-Wostl, C. (2013). Comparison of frameworks for analyzing social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society, 18(4), 26.

Hinkel, J., Bots, P. W., & Schlüter, M. (2014). Enhancing the Ostrom social-ecological system framework through formalization. Ecology and Society, 19(3), 51.

Janssen, M and Anderies, J (2013). A Multi-method Approach to Study Robustness of Social-Ecological Systems: The Case of Small-Scale Irrigation Systems. Journal of Institutional Economics, 9, 427–447.

Leslie, H. M., Basurto, X., Nenadovic, M., Sievanen, L., Cavanaugh, K. C., Cota-Nieto, J. J., ... & Nagavarapu, S. (2015). Operationalizing the social-ecological systems framework to assess sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(19), 5979-5984.

McGinnis, M. D., & Ostrom, E. (2014). Social-ecological system framework: initial changes and continuing challenges. Ecology and Society, 19(2), 30.

Nagendra, H., & Ostrom, E. (2014). Applying the social-ecological system framework to the diagnosis of urban lake commons in Bangalore, India. Ecology and Society, 19(2), 67.

Ostrom, E. (2007). A diagnostic approach for going beyond panaceas. Proceedings of the national Academy of sciences, 104(39), 15181-15187.

Ostrom, E. (2009). A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science, 325(5939), 419-422.

Partelow, S. (2016). Coevolving Ostrom’s social–ecological systems (SES) framework and sustainability science: four key co-benefits. Sustainability Science, 11(3), 399-410.

Schlüter, M., Hinkel, J., Bots, P. W., & Arlinghaus, R. (2014). Application of the SES framework for model-based analysis of the dynamics of social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society, 19(1), 36.


Created on 22 Jul 2016 13:59 by Karen Disante
Updated on 09 Sep 2016 12:58 by Kristin Blum

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