Applying the system viability framework for cross-scalar governance of nested social-ecological systems in the Guiana Shield, South America

Berardi, Andrea; Mistry, Jayalaxshmi; Tschirhart, Céline; Bignante, Elisa; Davis, Odacy; Haynes, Lakeram; Benjamin, Ryan; Albert, Grace; Xavier, Rebecca; Jafferally, Deirdre and de Ville, Géraud (2015). Applying the system viability framework for cross-scalar governance of nested social-ecological systems in the Guiana Shield, South America. Ecology and Society, 20(3), article no. 42.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-07865-200342

Abstract

Linking and analyzing governance of natural resources at different scales requires the development of a conceptual framework for analyzing social-ecological systems that can be easily applied by a range of stakeholders whose interests lie at different scales, but where the results of the analysis can be compared in a straightforward way. We outline the system viability framework, which allows participants to characterize a range of strategies in response to environment challenges for maintaining the long-term survival of their particular system of interest. Working in the Guiana Shield, South America, and with a range of local, regional, and international stakeholders, our aim was to use system viability to (1) investigate synergies and conflicts between distinct scales of governance, (2) identify scale-related challenges, and (3) test the framework as a conceptual tool for supporting cross-scalar analysis for environmental governance.

At the international and national levels, a number of civil society organizations explored system viability indicators that would measure the successful implementation of governance mechanisms relevant to sustainable development and natural resource management. At the local level, we used participatory video and photography within two indigenous territories to enable local participants to identify indicators of viability within community governance systems. A grounded theory approach was then used to identify common themes across the different scales of analysis.

Five key themes emerged: land rights, leadership, partnerships, lifestyle, and identity. We found that although most categories of interest were theoretically aligned across scales, all perceived systems of interest were struggling to face up to various cross-scalar challenges undermining different system viability responses. In conclusion, we highlight how the system viability framework can be used with a disparate variety of stakeholders as a practical, participative and “big-picture” approach for facilitating the integrated governance of nested local and regional social-ecological systems.

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