Developing a holistic thread of thought on restoration of land, water, and society: A synthesis and experience from southern Africa

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Harry Biggs

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This presentation tracks development, interrelationships, and common provenance of frameworks used in the RESILIM-O and Tsitsa projects in this symposium, and benefits, challenges, and meta-learnings emerging from this longer-term process. These projects emphasise particularly systemic, collective co-construction, and (invariably transformative) learning to support restoration and related practices. This evolved, over time, effectively splicing social science, biophysical science and collectively lived experience into a functional trans-disciplinary praxis. Antecedents included the decade-long Kruger National Park Rivers Research Programme, emphasising strategic adaptive management (SAM), and the Save the Sand Project in which systems thinking and resilience aspects were further developed. Innovative social learning frameworks were progressively added in the latter project and in RESILIM-O. Seeing restoration practice and contexts (system(s) of interest) as nested interconnected wholes enables feedbacks at multiple scales to be utilised for monitoring and learning, both formal and tacit, and for realist-style evaluation. Together with SAM philosophy, this encourages addressing selected immediate crises, balancing this against reflection and building pre-emptive capacity. This overall way of working promotes modesty, tries to accommodate existing structures, but has to confront perversities and promote patience and trust-building. It often defuses tensions and enables different groups to move forward together. Resource management decisions often flow from emergent outcomes of wide reflection and sufficient consensus. Although helping, the methods do not in any direct way address persistent power asymmetries. Requiring time and ongoing thoughtful development, incremental learnings from this approach give hope for more durable, better agreed-on, and sufficiently responsive restoration of land, water and society.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration