Tuesday 6
Towards an intermediate level of complexity in SES analysis
Maja Schlüter, Orjan Bodin
› 17:10 - 18:10 (1h)
Towards an intermediate level of complexity in SES analysis
Maja Schlüter  1, *@  , Orjan Bodin  1, *@  
1 : Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm -  Suède
* : Corresponding author

Seesion Chairs: Maja Schlüter & Örjan Bodin

Social-ecological systems (SES) are increasingly recognized as complex adaptive systems of humans and nature whose development over time is determined by interactions of actors and ecosystems across multiple scales constrained by biophysical and governance settings. However, it remains a tremendous challenge to develop research approaches that are able to disentangle such complexity in a tractable way. To date, SES studies are often either in-depth, detailed case studies that illustrate the diversity of factors and processes influencing SES development and governance in a particular case, or based on precise models and/or experiments that are however rather abstract and conceptually simple, neglecting many contextual details. The former approach addresses high levels of complexity, but lacks generalizability, whereas the latter approach typically aims for higher generality at the expense of complexity. We argue that approaches are needed that find a middle ground between the specific details of a case study and the abstractions of a simplistic conceptual model. They do so by taking relevant contextual factors into account while remaining as general as possible to facilitate identification of patterns across cases. In this session we would like to discuss approaches that try to find an intermediate level of complexity, i.e. approaches that are sensitive to contextual factors while not being context specific. The aim is to present a range of approaches that tackle this challenge from a mathematical, experimental, empirical, simulation modeling, and participatory perspective and to discuss their potentials and challenges for analysis and governance of SES. We plan a dialogue session discussing the different approaches along the lines of the following questions:

  • What is an intermediate level of complexity? How can it be found?
  • How do the different approaches treat complexity while remaining tractable?
  • What are major conceptual challenges, e.g. extracting specific mechanism (such as drivers and feedbacks) in one system, and pinpointing the same mechanisms in a contextually different system?
  • What are major methodological challenges?
  • What contextual variables should be taken into account? Do they differ between an analysts and a practitioner's point of view?
  • What are differences and communalities between bottom-up (e.g. case-comparisons, participatory approaches) and top-down approaches (e.g. adding contextual detail to generic approaches)?

Session participants:

Claudia Pahl-Wostl (Uni Osnabrück): How to capture the complexity of water governance systems

Örjan Bodin, Therese Lindahl, Maria Tengö, Diego Galafassi (Stockholm University): Using lab experiments to explore behaviors of actors managing complex natural resources: strike a balance between complexity and traceability

Maja Schlüter, Jamila Haider, Emilie Lindkvist, Nanda Wijermans (Stockholm University): Using ABM prototypes to identify and explore typical SES configurations

Steven Lade (Stockholm University): Mathematical modelling approaches of intermediate complexity

Geraldine Abrami, Olivier Barreteau, Nils Ferrand (IRSTEA): Participatory Planning – the Wat-A game

Alex Smaigl (CSIRO): Science and policy in a complex world: Implementing the ChaRL framework in the Mekong region

  • Other
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