Introduction to resilience assessment as a tool for transforming social-ecological systems

The Resilience Alliance has published a workbook designed to enable practitioners and policy makers assess the resilience of "social-ecological systems" (landscapes, farms, fisheries, forests, water catchments) and enable strategic decision-making based on the best available knowledge of the state and dynamics of the system being managed. The strategic decision may be either: retain the system in its current state by enhancing its resilience to disturbance; or deliberately transform the system to one of a number of alternative states, and build the resilience of that new system state. Resilience assessment tools are relatively new and largely unknown. They are complimentary to other planning and assessment tools including the Ecosystems Approach and various forms of risk and vulnerability analysis. As they are based on the paradigm of "complex adaptive systems" they offer considerable advantage over conventional planning and assessment tools because they help managers and policy-makers deal with uncertainty and complexity from a simple model of the system's dynamics.

As human populations are increasing exponentially and entirely dependent on a finite resource base, the complexity and uncertainty of situations facing humanity, and the biosphere of which we are part is increasing. Food, water and energy crises are occurring on a relatively large scale, biodiversity loss is accelerating and climate change impacts pose many unknowns for people and nature. Understanding systemic change processes through resilience assessment provides managers and policy makers with a foundation for strategic decisions about the desirability of existing systems and how they might be either maintained or transformed to deal with our uncertain future.

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