PhD position on butterflies in a social-ecological context (with Jacqueline Loos)

By Joern Fischer

A little while ago, Jacqueline Loos finished her PhD research in my lab. Among other things, she worked in agricultural intensification and butterfly conservation — both in a context of social-ecological systems thinking, or if you like, landscape sustainability science. Jacqueline has now moved on to bigger and better things, and is setting up an exciting new research project on butterfly conservation in South Africa. Like her past work, this work will have a strong foundation in ecology, but will strongly link with the social context, including socio-economic issues and questions of what is valued by local landholders.

The position will be based in Goettingen, Germany.

For this new research, Jacqueline has just advertised a PhD position. The due date is 28 February 2017. The details are described in the PDF that I provide below. (Please do not contact me about this position, but Jacqueline, whose contact details are in the PDF!)

Please help distribute this nice opportunity through your various channels! Thank you!

For details, see this advertisement (PDF): butterfly-phd-position-with-jacqueline-loos

Book recommendation: Resilience, Development and Global Change

By Joern Fischer

I would like to warmly recommend Katrina Brown’s new book entitled “Resilience, development and global change”. I found it a thoughtful, authoritative book that links and transcends several deeply entrenched ideas and discourses. As such, I think it is an excellent input (or even entry point) for people working on social-ecological systems – especially, but not only in the Global South.

The book articulates different, partly conflicting understandings of resilience, both in science and policy arenas. This overview of existing perspectives is useful, simply because resilience is used in so many different ways, by so many different people, that it’s helpful to get an overview of who actually means what. A key point here is that in much of development policy, resilience is employed to argue for status quo approaches to development. Perhaps needless to say, that’s a long way from the paradigm shift some scientists might envisage ought to come with focusing on resilience.

But to my mind, the book got most interesting at the point where it speaks of “experiential resilience”. Here, different case studies from around the world are used to highlight how people experience their own resilience (or lack thereof) in relation to surprises or shocks. Resilience dimensions touched on include winners and losers within and between households, gendered responses, different narratives of change, cultural and political dynamics, and place attachment – to name just a few.

In her conclusion, Katrina Brown argues for a re-visioning of resilience in a development context. Such a re-visioning should include three aspects of resilience. First, resistance denotes the ability to absorb shocks, but in a social context also taking an active stance against threatening outside forces. Second, rootedness denotes the deeply place-based nature of resilience, especially in a social context, but also with respect to human-environment interactions. And third, resourcefulness relates to the capacities and capabilities that people have to absorb and adapt to change.

In summary, this book bridges gaps between disciplines, between theory and practice, and between different discourses on resilience. It thus makes a theoretical contribution — but one that promises to make resilience have greater practical value.

New paper: Many pathways to sustainability, not conflict but co-learning between transition narratives

There is an increasing focus in sustainability science on transitions and transformative change and an increasing number of proposed pathways for transitioning towards sustainability. In a new paper by Chris Luederitz and colleagues we discuss four archetypical transitions narratives (the green economy; low-carbon transformation; Ecotopian solutions and the transitions movement) in terms of the kinds of interventions these different approaches engender and the ‘depth’ and nature of systemic change they seek achieve.

In addition to summarizing critiques of these four approaches to transformative change, we draw on Donella meadows’ ‘leverage points’ concept (see also here) in order to characterize the different narratives in terms of their potential to enable systemic change.  The different transitions narratives seek to act on different system characteristics ranging from system parameters (taxes, incentives, rules) and system dynamics through to challenging the fundamental design, rules, values and goals of the system. We therefore argue that rather than representing competing visions for societal change, there is considerable scope for co-learning between these different approaches. By understand where in a system a given transitions approach does or does not seek to intervene we believe it is possible to combine facets of these approaches to create a more holistic transitions pathways that act on multiple leverage points for systemic change.

Luederitz, C., Abson, D.J., Audet, R. and Lang, D.J. (2016) Many pathways toward sustainability: not conflict but co-learning between transition narratives, Sustainability Science. doi: 10.1007/s11625-016-0414-0

 

New project: Governance of global telecoupling – and two open post-doc positions

Reblogged from Jens Newig’s blog — very nice new opportunity here at Leuphana! Please help distribute this widely. Thanks!

SUSTAINABILITY GOVERNANCE

By Jens Newig

In recent years, more and more research has been pointing to the importance of distant connections of natural and social processes for issues of global unsustainability. Land-use scientist have labelled this phenomenon, which might entail global commodity chains, migration, or the spread of diseases, “telecoupling”. While there have been substantive advances in describing the flows and the associated implications for environmental sustainability, we know little about how to govern such telecoupled global linkages.

Our new project, which is jointly led by Andrea Lenschow from Osnabrück University, Edward Challies and myself, will investigate how state, private and non-governmental actors have sought to govern the (un)sustainability implications of telecoupling in the past; what (polycentric) policy-networks have emerged in doing so; and, together with key state and non-state actors we will map out scenarios for more effectivley governing global telecoupling for environmental sustainability.

We’ve already published two papers on this…

View original post 110 more words

Managing research environments: heterarchies in academia

By Joern Fischer

A little while ago, I recommended Graeme Cumming’s new work on heterarchies on this blog. Thinking about heterarchies implies thinking about system architecture in terms of (i) how hierarchical it is, and (ii) how connected the elements of the system are. This is interesting in ecosystems, in social-ecological systems … and I think also in academia!

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Heterarchies in academia

As a little thought experiment, let’s bring to our minds different academic environments that are combinations of networked vs. not-networked, and hierarchical vs. not-hierarchical. Most environments are mixtures, but some are close to one kind of stereotype, while others are closer to other stereotypes.

  1. Hierarchical, but not highly networked – the “guru” model. This type of academic environment is one of strong silos, which might be lab groups. Such lab groups don’t interact very much. Each of them is headed by a professor and responds to the head of department. Within the lab groups, too, there is a hierarchical structure. Postdocs sit between professors and PhD students, acting as intermediaries. However, in his world, different postdocs and PhD students probably work on different projects, and exchange among those projects might be limited – there isn’t a culture of strong collaboration within the lab, just within specific projects, as designed from the top down. I would argue that I have seen examples that are similar to this kind of structure in some settings.
  2. Hierarchical, but highly networked – the visionary facilitator model. In this world, there is a clear lead. For example, there might be a visionary head of department, or a professor strongly driving the agenda of her research group. Still, despite such a lead, interaction among lab groups, and researchers of all levels is encouraged – even when they work on slightly different things. Senior researchers have open doors for more junior researchers, but still provide direction and a level of “control”. Again, I would argue that this way of organizing academic workplaces exists in the real world.
  3. Highly networked, but without a strong hierarchy – the collegiate model. In this world, there is strong exchange among researchers, but no clear hierarchy. In my view, this could mean a lack of strong leadership. For example, there might be a collegiate environment, where people talk and exchange ideas – but nobody is there to provide vision and direction, or make some tough decisions. Yet again – this kind of place exists, be it in certain big projects (where nobody wants to lead) or even whole departments (that pride themselves of having a flat hierarchy).
  4. Not highly networked, and lacking a strong hierarchy – the individualistic model. This is a world where everyone fights for their own survival. Corridors are empty, and behind closed office doors are individuals who “do their thing”. Some do well, some don’t. They may or may not realize that there could be benefits from talking. Nobody provides a strong vision or direction. Each is in it for their own micro-world. Yes … this world, too, does exist in some environments in academia.

Given that all of these places exist, let’s ask some questions about them. For example, other things being equal …:

  1. Which is likely to foster creativity in the best way?
  2. Which is likely to generate the most academic impact?
  3. Which is going to be most pleasant to work in?
  4. Which is likely to survive major funding cuts in the best way?
  5. Which is most likely to survive re-structuring at the level of the university?

A next step of analysis then would be to think about how to get from one kind of system to another. This might be useful for research managers to think about.

For anyone who’d like to see an “official” version of these thoughts: A refined version (largely in terms of wording) has just been published as a response to Graeme’s paper in TREE.

And then … there was a state of emergency

By Joern Fischer

An eventful week in Ethiopia lies behind me. Months ago, protests started in Ethiopia, initially relating to the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, into surrounding land. Protesters argued that farmers had been insufficiently compensated. The latest level of escalation was reached yesterday, when the government declared a state of emergency for the next six months.

Ethiopia has long been seen as one of the most stable countries in Africa. Outsiders have often commented that it might not be quite as democratic as it could be, but at least it was stable, and experienced impressive economic improvements.

The latest unrest stems, at least in part, from a sentiment in the population that “development” did not seem to be benefiting everyone equally. Especially in Oromia, more and more people started to protest, initially against further plans to expand Addis, but more recently also for the release of political prisoners, and against government responses to the demonstrations that they perceived as unjustly forceful. Over the last few months, numerous people were killed during demonstrations.

Then, last Sunday was a cultural holiday, and tragic events took place in Debre Zeit, a town a little way out of Addis Ababa. Official sources speak of a stampede killing 50 or more people; unofficial reports speak of many more dead, report the use of tear gas from a helicopter, and speak of shots fired into the crowd.

Following last weekend, protests intensified. In some places, road blocks were erected. Anger was unleashed against the government, cars were burnt, and rocks thrown at vehicles. An American postdoc died when the minibus she was on was attacked by protestors.

With these developments, we were unable to travel by car between our study area and Addis, and had to fly to get over the road blocks. One day after getting to Addis, news reached me that a state of emergency had been declared; and only hours after that, that a number of soldiers had shown up right in our study site. Two of our researchers and two Ethiopian colleagues are still there, in the midst of this. They’ll leave within a few days, and until then, have been assured their safety by local authorities (who had previously received our research findings with genuine interest).

This blog is about sustainability, and I’m not here to put forward a political argument – for those interested in the politics, it’s easy enough to research these issues on the internet and formulate an opinion.

All I want to say here is very simply that it makes me sad. Just days ago, we distributed initial research findings to local politicians and government experts – who, by and large, were very interested in what we had found. But now the country seems to be at a very real risk of slipping into a spiral of conflict. Conflict kills people, research, and many other good initiatives taken by both civilians and government representatives to improve human well-being while also protecting the environment. I hope for all the people of Ethiopia – regardless of political disposition – that the current situation will be resolved with as little pain to the people as possible.

Values, conservation and sustainability

By Joern Fischer

In 1992, Shalom Schwartz published a seminal paper entitled “Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries”. The paper has been cited something like 12,000 times, and the findings have been refined since then. In short, it summarises different value orientations held by individuals. On reading this paper, I began to wonder what the implications of this are for conservation and sustainability.

schwartz_spatial1

Source: valuesandframes.org

I’ll start with a disclaimer and a summary of what Schwartz found. First the disclaimer: perhaps everything I write below has long been known by people working on conservation and sustainability, and I’m very late in catching up. If so, I’m happy to be further educated, e.g. by people explaining to me and other readers how this has been applied to conservation and sustainability in the comments below. But if I’m somewhat “typical”, then this is not at all widely known, understood, or reflected upon within the conservation and sustainability fields. And if that is the case, there might be some pretty important implications that require our attention.

Second – a summary of what Schwartz found. In the original paper from 1992, Schwartz developed theory, and then tested it on a large sample of individuals from a number of different countries. His theory was largely confirmed, and went something like this. Different people hold different values. Some values are compatible, whereas others are oppositional. Compatible values are, for example, if I value the attainment of wealth, and if I value the achievement of social recognition. Oppositional values might be valuing tradition versus seeking excitement in life.

These kinds of constructs – compatible and oppositional values – can be depicted in a kind of circular wheel, as shown in the Figure above. This wheel was generated by a multivariate analysis of many people responding to the same questions about their values, so this is an empirically grounded theory . Adjacent sectors in this wheel are compatible values, whereas opposite sectors in the wheel are oppositional.

So far so good – how is this relevant to conservation and sustainability? I think it is in a number of ways.

A lot of the values associated with conservation and sustainability cluster in the sector on “universalism” (top right). For example, here, we find “protecting the environment”, “social justice”, and even “unity with nature”. Opposite of that, we find the sector “power”, with values such as “wealth” and “social recognition”.

We can now ask ourselves where in this wheel individuals belonging to different cultures might sit. This is relevant for conservation and sustainability, because we might pitch our messages differently, according to people’s values (e.g. see this comprehensive report, or here for a simpler summary; and here for additional materials).

But I think perhaps there is something even more interesting going on. Here, I present three testable hypotheses, which would have implications for conservation and sustainability action.

Hypothesis 1: A substantial proportion of the population (probably differing between jurisdictions) actually holds values that are compatible with universalist values (i.e. sustainability and biodiversity conservation).

Hypothesis 2: Despite this, we are seeing patterns of behaviour at an aggregate (societal) level that emphasise values that are largely oppositional to sustainability, such as achievement and power. That is, we have created institutions that foster values that are not inherently shared by people. We thus have a mismatch between the value sets fostered by institutions and the value sets held by people.

Hypothesis 3: If this is correct, the “solution” to sustainability problems becomes one of “simply” re-aligining institutions to what people actually want. This may be a major task, but is a relatively smaller problem than if people themselves actually did not hold values compatible with sustainability. In other words, we may not need to “re-educate people”, but rather draw out what people actually want, and ensure that institutions are reformed in ways that reflect the want of “the people”.

Hopelessly optimistic? Actually, people are selfish and individualistic, and care about power and wealth and nothing else? Perhaps – convince me if you can. But at this stage I think it’s more likely that we are dealing with a mis-match between values fostered through institutions and values held by individuals. I speculate, in turn, that such a mis-match has probably arisen from power dynamics that go hand in hand with how we have organized societies (including economic principles); i.e. the whole thing is an institutional and power problem, not fundamentally one of values.

If I’m right, all of this points to us needing more conversations at a societal level about what it is that we truly value — and then working towards how to (re-)organise society accordingly. And then who knows, perhaps sustainability is within closer reach than we may have thought …

Understanding migration from a social-ecological perspective

By Joern Fischer

At the Development Research Conference in Stockholm this morning, I attended a session on migration in Africa, focusing especially but not only on Ethiopia. Two projects introduced and currently being developed struck me as worthwhile to summarise for readers of this blog.

First, Gunilla Olsson outlined her nascent project, which focuses on livelihoods as key drivers underpinning the decision to stay or migrate. Existing research, she highlighted, had mainly focused on socio-economic drivers of migration, while environmental drivers had received relatively less attention. Drawing on Black et al. (2011), she highlighted that other potential drivers include social and cultural, demographic, political, and institutional or governance drivers. Migration, she showed, was a key topic of our times, including within Africa, but also between Africa and Europe (see recent outcomes of the Valletta summit).

Gunilla’s upcoming research will address the adequacy of current governance frameworks and will investigate livelihoods as drivers of migration. The research will focus on Ethiopia, which she argued, has a number of different potential drivers operating all at once – including climate change, land use change, “land grabbing”, and conflicts. Moreover, Ethiopia has the largest refugee camps in Africa – and a lot of migration from Ethiopia is directed at the European Union.

Among several other interesting presentations, a second one I’d like to highlight was by Lisa Garbe and Kathleen Hermans, who is also in the process of setting up new research on migration in Ethiopia; and also taking a social-ecological perspective.

Lisa and Kathleen focused, quite specifically, on the role of drought as a potential driver of migration – a recurring and increasingly frequent phenomenon in many parts of Ethiopia. To this end, Kathleen showed spatial analyses that identified locations where the likelihood of out-migration is particularly high. Specifically, maps of (declining) net primary productivity across Ethiopia, and of rainfall variability together provide a good picture of where the environmental risk of droughts may be particularly pronounced. If this is combined with maps of population density, it is possible to identify likely hotspots of out-migration – places where population density is high, rainfall variability is high, and land is already in a degraded condition.

Building on this desktop-based analysis, Lisa led some field research in South Wollo – one of the regions previously identified as a potential hotspot of out-migration. Two kebeles (local municipalities) were selected for in-depth investigation, and in these kebeles over 300 households were surveyed and a number of focus groups were conducted. Household surveys focused on comparing livelihood strategies in drought-years versus non-drought years; and looked at coping strategies in the event of drought.

Looking at migration, in particular, the findings showed that only one of the two kebeles had migration as a common coping strategy. Moreover, the drought played an important role for migration only in the kebele with high migration levels, but not in the other one. Thus, one kebele appeared to be hit harder by drought than the other one – an interesting finding since the two kebeles are very close to one another. Such small-scale differences raise new questions for research, and pose challenges for adapting policy measures to local conditions.

No doubt there will be more interesting research coming out of Gunilla’s and Kathleen’s research groups in the future! Overall, I found this a nice session. Applying a social-ecological perspective to migration seems a nice avenue worth exploring in more detail.

The politics of rescaling environmental governance and development practice

By Joern Fischer

Still in Stockholm, at the Development Research Conference 2016, today I’ll summarise yet another interesting keynote talk – by Professor Andrea Nightingale. Her talk was entitled “Global Challenges and Visions for Change: the politics of rescaling environmental governance and development practice”, and her Abstract is available (halfway down the page) here.

Focusing primarily on climate change policy in Nepal, Andrea asked four key questions. Who decides the scale of a problem? Which mechanisms are in place to govern a problem? What are the consequences of scaling problems as “global” versus “national” versus “local”? And how do new governance mechanisms play out on the ground?

To start with, Andrea reminded us that scale reflects relationships in the world, but is primarily defined socially. Moreover, scale in a context of policy action can reveal the politics of problem formulation. And finally, just like “time doesn’t exist, but clocks do”, “scale doesn’t exist, but levels [along a scale] do”. That is, how the continuum of scale is broken up into levels is a subjective process that different people will do in different ways for different purposes.

Andrea then introduced two key themes that would run through her talk. First, she introduced the REDD+ programme, which seeks to encourage the sequestration of carbon in forests, “plus” providing benefits to people on the ground. Hence, in Nepal, for example, people might get paid to protect or manage forests, through carbon offsets being purchased in other places (i.e. primarily in wealthy countries). Second, Andrea introduced the notion of climate change adaptation planning, or national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs).

Moving on to scale, Andrea pointed out that a lot of climate change modeling has been, quite inherently, global in scale. Down-scaling climate models is turning out to be extremely complicated in a technical sense. But perhaps more profoundly, Andrea argued, the inherent focus on global models in climate change – defining climate change as inherently “global” – may inadvertently prevent us from finding suitable solutions at sub-global scales.

Existing governance programmes such as REDD+ and NAPA require project coordination across scales – they are conceived at the global level, but play out in particular places. At the same time, Andrea observed there had been a distinct shift from participation (which was encouraged with Agenda 21 in the 1990s) to carbon markets (implying stronger engagement of the private sector).

Scaling decisions thus have consequences. Depending on the scale at which problems are framed, very different governance mechanisms might come to mind. Discussions around climate change have primarily focused on the global level, and as such, democratic representation is inherently weaker, and finding successful mechanisms to govern carbon may be particularly difficult.

Nepal’s process of designing a national adaptation plan is often seen as a role model in linking the global with the local. Through extensive participatory efforts, a wide range of adaptation challenges were identified throughout the country, including a variety of associated resource user groups. Moreover, a lot of implementation efforts in Nepal have actually focused on the local, rather than national, level (so-called LAPAs). On paper, at least, cross-scale integration of global challenges and their local solutions thus has been quite successful.

However, Andrea pointed out, on the ground things are a little bit more complicated. Nepal is a State of Change. Amongst a lot of political change (including various elements of violence), again and again, resources are at the centre of political struggles. Programmes such as REDD+ and NAPA thus are inherently political – playing out in a context of global geopolitics, national bureaucracies in transition, and implemented in districts without elected representatives.

A closer look thus shows, for example, that REDD+ has come with interesting on-ground challenges. Thousands of small community forestry user groups are involved in carbon management. Interestingly, what used to be a local concern only (forest management), has now become a global concern – for the first time, the global community cares what goes on in some patch of remote forest in Nepal, sending “experts”, and training some local people to “know” about carbon while others remain untrained. These changes, Andrea highlighted, are not inherently bad – but they are inherently political. Similar complexities as for REDD+ also exist for NAPA. Questions of who is involved, who benefits, and who is left out (or behind) thus seem to inevitably emerge when global framings are taken to local places.

The changes described can also open new spaces for transformation. New actors are starting to be involved in global processes, including NGOs, new district authorities and local people; and new money is flowing to the Global South. At the same time, some of the more controversial changes have brought about new social movements, for example in opposition to carbon markets changing access to local forests.

In conclusion, Andrea emphasized that global climate change was driving a profound shift in how resources were conceptualized. Viable solutions, in turn, need to do a better job of taking into account social, political and environmental implications in the actual locations where they play out in practice.

Paper recommendation: motivational crowding (out) in conservation

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to recommend the following paper: Rode J, Gómez-Baggethun E, Krause T. 2015. Motivation crowding by economic incentives in conservation policy: A review of the empirical evidence. Ecological Economics 2015 Sep; 117:270-282; DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.11.019

In a conservation context, “crowding” refers to effect that economic incentives to engage in conservation action have on people’s intrinsic motivation to engage in such action. Crowding in occurs when economic incentives further strengthen intrinsic motivation, while crowding out refers to a reduction in intrinsic motivation, following economic incentives.

This paper reviews the evidence generated to date of motivational crowding in a conservation context. This is very timely because many modern conservation schemes use economic incentives. Arguably, when conservationists routinely advocated stronger regulation in the 1980s, right now, they routinely argue for the use of economic instruments.

This article shows that calls for economic incentives need to be scrutinised carefully in any given system. Especially in cases where intrinsic motivation to engage in conservation action is high, economic incentives may do more harm than good (by crowding out intrinsic motivation).

This article also comments on the fact that most initiatives advocating economic incentives come from the Global North, while they are often applied in the Global South. Since the value systems in many of the affected communities can be expected to differ from those where the incentives were conceived of, it is critical to examine carefully whether economic incentives are in fact the right policy tool — before implementation of such schemes.

The issue of crowding out is not well understood among ecologists and conservationists, who as a group quite frequently advocate the use of economic incentives. This paper provides an authoritative review and entry point into this important field of study.