Mapping Socio-Ecological Resilience

In this post, Virginia Alonso Navarro explains how and why we build tools at AKTEK to help decision-makers better understand what creates and sustains socio-environmental resilience in environmentally fragile areas.

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Resilience refers to a community’s ability to adapt and respond to changes, as well as to withstand shocks to the system, such as disruptions in food or energy supply chains. Sustainability is commonly defined as the ability to meet present needs without compromising future needs. As such, sustainability requires the successful balancing natural and societal forces, in a way in which the economy, environment and society can co-exist and maintain each other – and is most powerful when resilience is embedded in it.

 

At a time when global environmental issues loom large over the horizon, organisations worldwide are placing sustainability and resilience at the core of scientific research and policy agendas. In 2015, the United Nations categorised its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into three different baskets: the economic, the social and the environmental. Yet, in spite of the growing global discourse around the links between them, all too often resilience assessment frameworks fail to account for the interconnectedness of the three dimensions. At AKTEK, we are working with researchers, governments, businesses and individuals to design appropriate resilience assessment frameworks that are (1) easy to use and understand, (2) relevant, culturally-sensitive and up-to-date, and (3) designed specifically to address risks and resilience mechanisms at the intersection of social and environmental forces. Powered by our FUSION engine, each resilience assessment framework is individually tailored to the specific regional setting.

 

WHAT WE DO

In three steps, our proposition is simple:

  1. Socio-ecological resilience is defined as the capability of a society and the ecosystem within which it lives to coexist and tolerate disturbances from either side.
  2. This idea of coexistence implies a certain degree of stability.
  3. This stability can be monitored using a wide range of social and environmental factors, and an enhanced understanding of stability between environmental and social forces in a given area can be used to better understand socio-ecological resilience in fragile regions, across communities, and over time.
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HOW IT WORKS

ResilientEarth is a technology-enabled resilience assessment framework designed to address risks and resilience mechanisms at the intersection of social and environmental systems. Information is visualized through interactive maps, graphs and network graphs. 
At AKTEK, we believe resilience mechanisms can be navigated using appropriate descriptive models which monitor, map and assess the ever-evolving socio-ecological systems on the ground. The model, which includes socio-environmental sustainability as an overarching agenda, is based on the underlying assumption that, in order to be resilient, a system needs to be capable of planning and preparing for, mitigating, recovering from, and adapting to any adverse events that may occur in the future.

WHY IT WORKS

Our work so far suggests that placing risk management & resilience profiling descriptive models vis-a-vis environmental assessment & predictive models allows analysts to acquire a more holistic understanding of socio-ecological resilience across areas of interest. Understanding that we don’t own the problem or the culture, working directly with the community has enabled us to develop novel, people-centric descriptive models of the working environment using FUSION that are appropriate, time- and culture-sensitive and guided directly by those who will be populating and using such models.

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  [Above] FUSION visualizing perceptions data in real-time

WHY IT MATTERS

A sustainable use of environmental goods and services thus requires special consideration to the resilience of the ecosystem and its limits. Similarly, understanding the resilience mechanisms of the community will enable it to better prepare, mitigate and adapt to possible environmental shocks and stresses.

The FUSION platform monitors both human practices that may impact the ecosystem and environmental factors that may impact the community. Therefore, it empowers decision-makers in the public and private sectors to gain both access to a larger pool of social and environmental factors and deeper insights into the connections between these factors.

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If one is to abide to the definition of sustainable development as a way of balancing forces between nature and people, it may be concluded that a unified, collaborative and easy-to-use descriptive model of the changing environment is is a useful way of understanding the underlying connections between society and nature that enhance or obstruct resilience.

 

It is in light of this that ResilientEarth emerges, as we urge businesses and governments to embrace the complex and interconnected nature of environmental and social factors that will lead a community and its surrounding ecosystem to better adapt to unprecedented shocks and long-term stresses from either side.

 

We recognise the need to move away from a society-centered approach to community resilience by recognising human and environmental factors as equal. We do so by developing context- and user-appropriate, easy-to-use, actionable and collaborative descriptive models of the working environment designed to uncover the often complex relationships between the human and the environmental dimensions of resilience.