Trajectories of change in regional-scale social-ecological water systems

Lance Gunderson, Barbara Cosens, Brian C. Chaffin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The six North American case studies described in Part I of this volume provide the opportunity to explore patterns of change over time associated with the development and management of social-ecological systems. The historical assessments show the trajectories that have led to the current heavily regulated and developed social-ecological systems nested within a hierarchical governmental system. This chapter uses Panarchy theory as a general framework to evaluate the interactions between societal and ecological regime shifts and the governance regimes that mediate those interactions. The resilience assessments indicate that complex interactions among the governance and ecosystem components of these systems can produce different trajectories, which include patterns of (a) development and stabilization, (b) cycles of crisis and recovery which include lurches in adaptation and learning, and (c) periods of innovation, novelty, and transformation. Exploration of cross-scale interactions (Panarchy) among levels and sectors of government and society reveals that larger-scale processes and structures may constrain development and growth, but may also provide resources for recovery and renewal following crises or create windows or opportunities for system change. Smaller-scale processes provide opportunities for innovation and novelty, but may also be the source of revolts or crises that lead to broader system transformations. The case studies illustrate different ways that adaptive governance may be triggered, facilitated, or constrained by ecological and social (and particularly legal) processes.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPractical Panarchy for Adaptive Water Governance
Subtitle of host publicationLinking Law to Social-Ecological Resilience
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783319724720
ISBN (Print)9783319724706
StatePublished - Apr 18 2018


  • Adaptive governance
  • Cross scale dynamics
  • Panarchy
  • Social ecological system
  • Transformation


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