Transformations in Linked Social-Ecological Systems: Understanding Windows of Opportunity to Alter Course towards Sustainable Futures

How do we affect more timely and positive change towards sustainability in complex human-resource systems? Sometimes major changes happen in communities, resource management and policy, and sometimes they don't.  Why?   Our working "hypothesis" is that there are times – in landscape ecology terms "landscape loopholes" – or in social science terms – "policy windows" – when major, often 180° turns, occur due to the external conditions affecting the social-political-ecological policy process. "Over time . . . Complex social-ecological systems also reach crossroads which might be either crisis points at which future options are no longer available or, points where opportunities arise when it is easier to change direction towards more ecologically sustainable future" (Brunckhorst 2002, 2005).  These "crisis points" may be in the legal system, political system, economic systems, or ecological system, but the key point of this project is to look at these systems in a holistic and integrated way in order to understand why a confluence of conditions leads to a significant shift. This knowledge can then be used to identify when such characteristic conditions emerge and, to facilitate positive changes in direction towards sustainability.

In this research project, we intend to explore and analyze several instances of transformative change.  Cases will be selected from around the world, and we will attempt to illustrate different types of policy systems, and different kinds of policy processes and external conditions.

Related publications

'Integration Research for Shaping Sustainable Regional Landscapes'.  Journal of Research Practice.  1(2): 1-24.
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'Institutions to sustain ecological and social systems'.  Ecological Management & Restoration.  3(2): 108-116.
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Landscape Loopholes - Project Brochure
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Completed in 2011

Funded by: Collaborative grant from various USA universities

Contact: The Institute for Rural Futures