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Working Group on Governance of Social-Ecological Systems


We are keen on exploring and discussing the challenges, possibilities, and opportunities one encounters when seeking to understand and explain complex emergent social-ecological phenomena – such as shifts in governance arrangements, ecosystem collapses, or the emergence of innovations. We attempt to do so through diverse conceptual avenues. Social-ecological systems (SES) are characterized by co-evolutionary dynamics that define the relationships between human and non-human components and through which diverse phenomena emerge. Understanding how social and ecological entities in SES interact, develop agency, and lead to specific emergent phenomena is vital to govern the system towards sustainability, e.g., higher resilience. By focusing on relations rather than on responses of entities or individuals, one can better account for the embeddedness of humans within natural systems – which helps to better understand the complex causal nature of emergent social-ecological phenomena.

However, accounting for and capturing the structural and dynamic complexity of SES is a challenge in itself. Failure to do so may lead to misinformed governance processes or policies resulting in unsustainable, maladapted, or surprising outcomes in the short or long term. The Working Group on Governance of Social-Ecological Systems aims to focus on challenges and opportunities offered by diverse conceptual avenues to analyze the emergence of SES phenomena by assessing the dynamically evolving interactions between system components. The conceptualization of such an SES analysis will: 1) capture the intertwinedness of the social and ecological entities that contribute to a system’s phenomenon; 2) explore complex dynamics that underlie them and their effects on the system; 3) help build hypotheses about pathways towards sustainable governance of SES and system resilience; and 4) support multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.


We want to build an interdisciplinary community of ESG researchers interested in improving theories, concepts, models, frameworks, and tools to better grasp the intricacies of the human-nature interface and respond to the multiple challenges of studying emergent SES phenomena. These challenges are, for instance, context-dependence, complex causality, intertwinedness, multi- and transdisciplinary communication for case description and analysis, or hypotheses-building.

The discussions within the Working Group will focus on: 1) outlining and specifying problems or opportunities we find in studying SES and SES governance; 2) the different approaches or tools for conceptualizing SES, explanatory mechanisms, and causal pathways; 3) how these approaches or tools can tackle diverse goals (e.g., explanation vs exploration vs futuring) and propose diverse methods; 4) case studies and their specificities; and 5) proposing solutions to encountered challenges in order to open up new avenues for researching SES.

The formats in which the group works and meets may comprise the following

  • Regular meetings (every 2 months): Building an online community
  • Webinar series
  • Panel sessions at the Annual Conference on Earth System Governance
  • Organizing workshops related to the topic of the Working Group
  • Special feature or issue in a sustainability-focused, interdisciplinary journal, e.g., ESG
  • Working on an ESG-edited book
  • Policy Briefs
  • Paper seminars – presenting ready-to-be-published manuscripts
  • Discussions about conceptual challenges with other ESG Taskforces

Systems we study

  • Lakes
  • Small-scale food systems (fisheries & agriculture)
  • Agricultural systems (innovations systems and food security)
  • Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus
  • Trade-off situations between Sustainable Development Goals

We welcome early career researchers, senior academics, and experts in the field to become members of the Working Group on Governance of Social-Ecological Systems. Please get in touch with Dr. Elke Kellner at if you are interested.


Dr. Elke Kellner

Dr. Elke Kellner
Arizona State University, US

Prof. Maja Schlüter
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Further co-conveners

All names are listed in alphabetical order according to their last names

Dr. Blanca González-Mon
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Dr. Laura Herzog
University of Osnabrück, DE

Dr. Romina Martin
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Rodrigo Martinez
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Dr. Kirill Orach
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Dr. Udita Sanga
Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, SE

Dr. Louis Tanguay
University Laval, CA

Papers linked to the topic

Herzog, Laura; Tanguay, Louis; Beisner, Beatrix E.; Pahl-Wostl, Claudia; Audet, René; Schlüter, Maja (2022): Studying human-nature relations in aquatic social-ecological systems using the social-ecological action situations framework: how to move from empirical data to conceptual models. In Ecology and Society 27 (3). DOI: 10.5751/ES-13268-270307.

Kellner, Elke; Martin, Dominic A. (2023): Learning from past coevolutionary processes to envision sustainable futures: Extending an action situations approach to the Water-Energy-Food nexus. In Earth System Governance 15: 100168. DOI: 10.1016/j.esg.2023.100168.

Orach, Kirill; Schlüter, Maja (2021): Understanding the dynamics of fish politics: The role of diverse actor interactions in transformations towards co-management. In Environmental Science & Policy 124 (4), pp. 195–205. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2021.06.010.

Schlüter, Maja; Haider, L. Jamila; Lade, Steven J.; Lindkvist, Emilie; Martin, Romina; Orach, Kirill et al. (2019): “Capturing emergent phenomena in social-ecological systems: an analytical framework.” In Ecology and Society 24 (3). DOI: 10.5751/ES-11012-240311.

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