Reflections from the Monday session “Novel concepts, fields and methods: Approaches and methods for understanding social – ecological system dynamics”

While the amount of knowledge and data on the interactions of biophysical and social factors is increasing we still struggle to provide helpful evidence for policy-makers or practitioners. But there are noteworthy exceptions. In the Monday afternoon conference session “Novel concepts, fields and methods” several applications of mapping that can help bridge science with policy and practice were presented and discussed.

Mapping refers primarily to synthesizing all existing evidence about something and pull that together in a graphical representation. It could involve a systematic mapping including results from a systematic literature review. It can also involve a conceptual mapping of approaches or organizations to provide learning and thinking to help understand or solve some issue. Or a geographical map from empirical and modelling data.

Three main advantages

Why has mapping become so popular? Mapping has three main advantages that appeal to researchers across natural, social and sustainability science:

– It could work from local to global scales, and it could be scaled up

– One could make the map more dynamic over time, by displaying the information on a web platform and employing complementary tools to e.g. citizens incorporate continuously more information.

– Maps are representations, symbolizing the conceptualization of something by the people that produce them. It makes participatory approaches easy to use and to include knowledge from different perspectives and views coming from a broad range of stakeholders, including traditional knowledge from indigenous people. Mapping might indeed be useful in conceptualising entities that have a role in shaping the Anthropocene related research. It could include different views and perspectives that could really help foster sustainability.

And a few challenges…

But mapping also comes with challenges. “It is difficult to find a question that is ready to be answered by a systematic literature review when working with non-academic stakeholders, the definition of the right question entail a process” said Biljana Macura from the Stockholm Environment Institute (pictured). “We usually need to deal with a lack of quantitative data, especially when asking companies or corporations for quantitative data that sometimes they could also be confidential,” Jan Bebbington from University of St Andrews, Scotland commented. Indeed, added Miguel Mahecha from Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Germany, “communicating the uncertainty in the data we provide is one of our main challenges.”

The session finished with a lively discussion with the presenters of these novel methods that are ready to support us in making the shift to a more resilient world.

Inspiring readings and references

McKinnon, M.C., Cheng, S.H., Garside, R. et al. (2015). Map the evidence. Nature 518:185-187.

Haddaway, N.R., Bernes, C., Jonsson, BG. et al. (2016). The benefits of systematic mapping to evidence-based environmental management. Ambio 45: 613 (doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0773-x).

Bebbington, J., Larrinaga, C., Russell, S. et al. (2015). Organizational, management and accounting perspectives on biodiversity, pp.213-239, chapter in Gasparatos, A., and Willis, K. eds, Biodiversity in the Green Economy, (Routledge: London).

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Noelia Zafra-Calvo is a transdisciplinary conservation social scientist. Her work aims to understand the human and social dimensions that enhance or hamper nature conservation. She is currently a postdoc at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (University of Copenhagen). Noelia moved from systematic conservation planning approaches to focus mostly on including social justice in conservation after ten years of professional experience working with multiple non academic actors in African countries.


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