Towards systemic governance of social-biophysical systems: social learning as collaborative performance

Ison, Ray; Collins, Kevin; Blackmore, Chris and Lonsdale, Kate (2014). Towards systemic governance of social-biophysical systems: social learning as collaborative performance. In: Resilience & Development: Mobilising for Transformation, 4-8 May 2014, Montpelier, France.



It is claimed that ’resilience thinking’ demands new approaches to collaborative planning and design. Watersheds, or river catchments and coastal estuaries help understand how social and biophysical phenomena mutually influence each other over time. Water governance is an increasingly important issue at the same time as several others that are linked to it, including climate change adaptation, energy and food security and biodiversity conservation. Effective governance needs to link up these diverse areas of policy in order to enhance and maintain the quality of biophysical and social processes in which water plays a central role. New challenges demand new ways of thinking and acting. Building on 15 years of research on social learning we have come to think of water or river catchments as a type of theatre in which new and different types of performance have to be developed to meet present and future needs.

This paper will present a synthesis of research spanning 15 years that positions social learning as a duality - a governance mechanism and a dynamic, systemic, praxis process able to contribute to situational transformation and the emergence of collaborative performances in multi-stakeholder, or ’wicked’ situations such as water catchments. The paper will explore (i) framing considerations; (ii) modalities of systemic praxis; (iii) the mediating role of institutions and (iv) the implications for resilience discourse and praxis as contributors to systemic governance.

We will draw out the different ways in which social, biophysical, and interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners frame, water catchments and their governance and unpack the ethical implications of these framing choices in relation to resilience thinking and practice under varying circumstances; the hybridization of several types of knowledge; as well as philosophical and epistemological considerations.

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