Resilience 2014 master class

If you’d like to check out the recent Resilience 2014 conference, this video embedded above offers an inside look at the interdisciplinary conversations.

Social anthropologist Melissa Leach, economist Luca Alinovi, and ecologist Brian Walker each begin by describing the influence of resilience thinking on their work. Leach focuses on the relationship between resilience and the STEPS Centre pathways approach. Alinovi relates his efforts at bringing a resilience perspective into the Food and Agriculture Organization. Brian Walker thinks back forty years to recall his reaction to Buzz Holling’s landmark 1973 paper.

These introductions begin at 16:00 of this 1:45:00-long video and are followed by questions from the PhD students gathered for the evening’s “master class.”

Here are a couple of segments that caught my attention.

Brian Walker, responding to the question: How do you understand and elicit the mental models of participants about the ecosystems they are involved with? (~50:00)

In the studies that we are doing with groups, where we try to elicit from them what their mental model is of the system they are working in, we begin by asking: What is it that you value in the system? What does it produce? Or what does it have that you particularly value?

Then we use, deliberately, the word identity. What gives that system its identity and makes it somewhat different to some other system? And that combination of trying to figure out a limited set of values — because you can’t have a long one — and what is the identity of that system, that is a first way in.

And another way that we then go beyond that — I don’t know if you’ve come across the notion of state-and-transition modeling. You ask: What is the current state of the system now? Tell us what it is now, in terms of those values you really value. And then: What other states could it be in? Could it be in a better state? Could it be in worse states? And then you start asking: What would cause it to go from one state to another?

Out of that, you start to get the dynamics, the mental model that people have. [For example] you would need to have a long drought before it could go from this state to that. Or if you had a big fire, you could get it from there to there. So you ask them what is it that would move it from this state to this other state you said it could be in.

You’ve got to elicit from them the dynamics and the processes that are involved. And gradually what comes out of this is an iterative process of developing a mental model of the system.

Melissa Leach, responding to the question: What if good policy design fails to result in good policy implementation? (1:09:20)

The way that I think about policy … has not been to make a big distinction between design and implementation. That’s the standard way that policy processes are thought about: there’s design, and implementation, and then evaluation, and then sometimes you get a feedback.

Whereas I think if we look at the way policy happens in the real world, it’s a much more iterative process, where feedbacks between what’s happening on the ground and what’s happening in design are much more constant, much more interactive. And often policy is de facto made, not by people sitting in offices, writing policy documents, but by what’s happening on the ground.

I find the literature on street-level bureaucrats and field-level bureaucrats very interesting, because this actually shows the agency of agricultural extension workers or urban sustainability planners, or front-line medical workers in actually de facto making policy, in a way that is sometimes much more responsive to local realities — and can sometimes feed back up into higher level decisions.

So I think one of the things one needs to do to make things implementable is to start with implementation, start with the practices. And then ask how good practices, which are sometimes a bit deviant from the norm, can be made more normal, can be institutionalized. And how you can get those channels of knowledge and practice working up from the grassroots, from the day-to-day practice, which is very engaged with local knowledge and realities on the ground — how those areas of wisdom and discretion can feed back up into shaping implementable, designable policies.

That would be one response.

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