Understanding a social-ecological system through stakeholder dialogue

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;

indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Margaret Mead


As a former master’s student at Stockholm Resilience Centre I am very fortunate to continue to indulge in my interest in water governance and participatory research methods within AQUACROSS. The overarching aim is to increase knowledge about assessments and management of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem services (ES). This EU encompassing project consists of eight case studies and we are, together with Höör municipality, engaged in the case of Rönneå catchment area in Southern Sweden.

Concerning the case of Rönneå, we are interested in how social (e.g. water governance) and ecological (e.g. species interactions) processes might influence and co-create ES. Palomo et al., (2016) conceptual model has been inspirational for us, as it takes a step away from considering ES as “gifts from nature” by distinguishing the social-ecological interplay and its effect on ES supply. In this study, we are interested in how the social-ecological context might affect ES interaction (trade-offs, synergies and one-directional) and possible connections to the resilience principles. The research design emphasizes participatory methods, as people within the system have life-long experience and insights on the complex dynamics of Rönneå catchment area.


Figure 1 shows the conceptual model from Palomo et al., (2016) that highlights the social-ecological co-production of ES, trade-offs, and the connection to quality, quantity, resilience, equity and human well-being.

I find participatory research methods intriguing as I am fascinated by people and their stories. In this study, three workshops with local stakeholders were conducted during the fall of 2016. The first two focused on a local perspective (municipality level). We brought together politicians and civil servants to discuss 1) co-production of ES, 2) how policy might affect ES supply and, 3) change that is needed to improve water governance and ES supply. For the participants, it was especially fruitful to create a dialogue between politicians and civil servants as they are dependent on each other but rarely find the occasion to discuss common issues. The workshop on a regional level included people from municipalities, water councils, county administrative boards, water authorities and, land-owners. As one might suspect, many different entry points, worldviews, perspectives in one room created fruitful discussions and co-created knowledge about the addressed topics.

Figure 2 Participants discussing at the workshops in Rönneå catchment area.

These workshops were enriching in so many ways. Many participants have spent their entire life in the area and told fascinating stories. Having experienced different time-periods in their life in Rönneå catchment area adds an interesting temporal dynamic, that provided us with a deeper understanding of our case. Another important aspect, for me, is the possibility of creating a stepping stone for collaboration. The diversity of stakeholders that met during the workshops creates a unique opportunity for future collaboration across borders. The most inspiring aspect throughout all workshops was the engagement that I saw among the stakeholders, and the will to create a more sustainable governance of aquatic ES.