Strategies for managing complex social-ecological systems in the face of uncertainty: Examples from South Africa and beyond.

31 May 2016

Improving our ability to manage complex, rapidly changing social-ecological systems is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. This is particularly crucial if large-scale poverty alleviation is to be secured without undermining the capacity of the environment to support future generations. To address this challenge, strategies that enable judicious management of socialecological systems in the face of substantive uncertainty are needed. Several such strategies are emerging from the developing body of work on complexity and resilience. We identify and discuss four strategies, providing practical examples of how each strategy has been applied in innovative ways to manage turbulent social-ecological change in South Africa and the broader region: (1) employ adaptive management or comanagement, (2) engage and integrate different perspectives, (3) facilitate self-organization, and (4) set safe boundaries to avoid system thresholds. Through these examples we aim to contribute a basis for further theoretical development, new teaching examples, and inspiration for developing innovative new management strategies in other regions that can help address the considerable sustainability challenges facing society globally.