For the last 10 years or so my personal research has been concerned with developing better governance and practice arrangements for managing in complex, uncertain, contested and multiple stakeholder situations, particularly water or river catchments (called watersheds in North America). Our research has been funded by the EU and the Environment Agency of England & Wales.
The outcomes of the SLIM Project, which includes a set of easy to read Policy Briefings, and our follow-up work with the EA, is becoming more accessible and is, gratifyingly, of increasing interest to many practitioners and researchers in the area of 'water' and other fields of natural resource management.
For example, we have recently produced a special edition of the journal Environmental Science & Policy devoted to our SLIM work. There are also papers in a special issue of Ecology & Society. Mark Dent, who is based at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, writing in his Catchment Management Leadership Newsletter Number 69, recently had this to say about our SLIM research:
'I have been in many discussions in which participants have expressed some frustration at the term “sustainability”. They say it has been so abused and misunderstood that it has lost its real meaning. I sense that this view is widespread. I found the quote below, from the SLIM Report, was helpful to my understanding :-
“ …… it is very useful to view sustainability as an emergent property of stakeholder interaction, and not a technical property of the ecosystem.” Pg 6 Final Report http://slim.open.ac.uk
SLIM stands for Social Learning for the Integrated Management and Sustainable Use of Water at Catchment Scale. It is a multi-country research project funded by the European Commission (DG RESEARCH – 5th Framework Programme for research and technological development, 1998–2002). Its main theme is the investigation of the socio-economic aspects of the sustainable use of water. Within this theme, its main focus of interest lies in understanding the application of social learning as a conceptual framework, an operational principle, a policy instrument and a process of systemic change.
Our 1998 NWA is hailed and respected internationally. I believe that such acclaim is justified. My opinion was reinforced last week when I read the SLIM final report. I commend this report to any serious student of these matters. It is a veritable basket of gems, which places much emphasis on appropriate platforms for stakeholder interaction. At these points in the report my pulse raced as I recognized the potential of our CMAs to function as ideal, stable platforms for stakeholder sector interaction. I am thinking particularly of the interaction between specialist advisors who align themselves behind sector interests in the ongoing social learning directed at integrated water management. Given its focus on healthy ongoing interaction the SLIM report spends much time analyzing the factors which either encourage or impede such healthy interaction. One of the key outcomes of healthy interaction is the enabling of early sensing, wise interpretation and timely responses, which are crucial to resilience. Factors which impede interaction reduce the resilience of communities and decrease their prospects of attaining sustainability in integrated water management.
The message for CMA leaders is clear. We must create the conditions for these interactions, communications, sensing and responding to take place between all stakeholders. This is the essence of what the CMA must be all about. The rest of the CMA structural trappings and their place in the overall arrangement of institutions are important, but they are merely the body, not the soul of the healthy CMA.Our paper at the recent CAIWA conference, delivered by Kevin Collins, received very positive feedback and a subsequent presentation of Kevin's based on the same research has been blogged.