Governance of Social-Ecological Systems

Short Description

The Governance of Social-Ecological Systems Working Group is part of the Earth System Governance Project. They welcome early career researchers, senior academics, and experts in the field to become members of the Working Group. Please get in touch with Dr. Elke Kellner at if you are interested. To learn more about their activities, please visit the ESG website.

This working group is keen to explore and discuss the challenges, possibilities, and opportunities one encounters when seeking to understand and explain complex emergent social-ecological phenomena – such as shifts in governance arrangements, ecosystem collapses, or the emergence of innovations. We attempt to do so through diverse conceptual avenues. Social-ecological systems (SES) are characterized by co-evolutionary dynamics that define the relationships between human and non-human components and through which diverse phenomena emerge. Understanding how social and ecological entities in SES interact, develop agency, and lead to specific emergent phenomena is vital to govern the system towards sustainability, e.g., higher resilience. By focusing on relations rather than on responses of entities or individuals, one can better account for the embeddedness of humans within natural systems – which helps to better understand the complex causal nature of emergent social-ecological phenomena. However, accounting for and capturing the structural and dynamic complexity of SES is a challenge in itself. Failure to do so may lead to misinformed governance processes or policies resulting in unsustainable, maladapted, or surprising outcomes in the short or long term. The Working Group on Governance of Social-Ecological Systems aims to focus on challenges and opportunities offered by diverse conceptual avenues to analyze the emergence of SES phenomena by assessing the dynamically evolving interactions between system components. The conceptualization of such an SES analysis will: 1) capture the intertwinedness of the social and ecological entities that contribute to a system’s phenomenon; 2) explore complex dynamics that underlie them and their effects on the system; 3) help build hypotheses about pathways towards sustainable governance of SES and system resilience; and 4) support multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.

Goals and Objectives

We want to build an interdisciplinary community of researchers interested in improving theories, concepts, models, frameworks, and tools to better grasp the intricacies of the human-nature interface and respond to the multiple challenges of studying emergent SES phenomena. These challenges are, for instance, context-dependence, complex causality, intertwinedness, multi- and transdisciplinary communication for case description and analysis, or hypotheses-building.

We plan the following activities:

  • Regular meetings (every 2 months)
  • Building an online community
  • Webinar series
  • Panel sessions at the Annual Conference on Earth System Governance
  • Organizing workshops related to the topic of the Working Group
  • Special feature or issue in a sustainability-focused, interdisciplinary journal, e.g., ESG
  • Working on an ESG-edited book
  • Policy Briefs
  • Paper seminars – presenting ready-to-be-published manuscripts

Working Group Co-Coordinators

Elke Kellner, Arizona State University, US
Maja Schlüter, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Romina Martin, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Blanca González-Mon, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Rodrigo Martinez, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Kirill Orach Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Louis Tanguay, University Laval, Canada
Laura Herzog, University of Osnabrück, Germany

GLP Themes: Land governance


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Related Information


May 17, 2024
Wednesday, June 5, 2024 -
10:00am to 11:30am

The Working Group on Governance of Social-Ecological Systems is pleased to announce a new webinar featuring an excellent group of experts. Zoom link available; no registration required.

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Working Group Coordinators