As ecosystems change, and socio ecological systems are facing multiple pressures, is important to recognize that the traditional approach to promote sustainability and conserve biodiversity may require a different approach. Ecological transformation is challenging the essential practices behind conservation, with implications on policies, strategies and governance approaches.
Considering all the implicit complexities, uncertainties and sometimes conflicting narratives around sustainability and conservation projects, it is difficult to have a unique but fit-for-purpose approach to enabling transformation within current systems. Conceptual frameworks can help to address this challenge, providing a structured way to organize ideas, concepts and find possible solutions to the challenges faced under rapid socio-ecological change.
Of course, it is not easy to move between theory and practice, but linking practice to theories and conceptual frameworks can help us better understand and interrogate the context in which we seek to develop solutions and give direction, while allowing for flexibility of action. This can be especially relevant when working in the policy-science interface. I was delighted during the PECSii conference to see so many interesting conceptual frameworks being tested in practice, from place-based research, to unpacking the use of different but complementary epistemologies and integrating local indigenous knowledge.
In order to delve deeper into these ideas, I am going to focus in on two sessions: “Putting transformative adaptation into action” by Matt Colloff, and the session I chaired on “Governance challenges for climate adaptation in protected areas management” focused on the Conservation Futures project. Matt’s symposium was one of the many spaces enabling a dialogue on the challenges of connecting conceptual frameworks with practical implementation: from theory to action using the conceptual frameworks of Values, Rules and Knowledge (or VRK), adaptation pathways and adaptation services concepts. With case studies from different regions around the world, the talks moved from water management under climate change, to adaptation pathways in mountain ecosystems and transformation of local, complex systems. Using various frameworks, speakers presented the ongoing results of applying these theoretical approaches in understanding specific contexts, identifying potential conflicts between VRK systems and considering the multiple pathways of decisions in climate adaptation contexts.
For close to two years in our Conservation Futures project, we have been testing and applying the VRK and adaptation pathways frameworks via a co-production approach to research and science-policy engagement. Central to this project has been the collaborative work with a range of actors to address the challenge of protected areas governance under climate change. Our session at PECSii (Governance challenges for climate adaptation on November 10) provided an overview of the challenges and lessons learned while working to continue protecting biodiversity and livelihoods within protected areas under conditions of uncertainty and climate change. We presented our approach to enabling a “futures thinking” approach to facilitate the management of protected areas through the adaptation of governance systems. With the exception of the talk by Rachel Williams (CSIRO) on adaptive pathways in marine protected areas in Australia and the relevance of learning and place based research, the other presentations focused on cases from Colombia. A common theme covered by all speakers was that of the challenges inherent in trying to change governance arrangements, and the importance of multi-stakeholder knowledge co-production to support adaptation. In our presentation, we highlighted that applying the Conservation Futures process allowed protected area managers to identify barriers and opportunities to support long term conservation policy, planning, management, all while recognizing the governance challenges posed by an uncertain future under climate change.
The most fascinating thing about using conceptual frameworks is the flexibility they provide to work in complex systems, allowing new ways of thinking. From my perspective, the VRK framework as presented in these two sessions was especially helpful in gaining greater understanding of each context and providing opportunities to engage multiple disciplines in a coproduction process. From my professional and personal reflections, I recommend that other researchers consider this framework and the potential it offers to complement and help integrate different approaches to evaluate ecosystem services into policymaking processes. The question now is, what else do we need in conservation to allow the linking of practice to conceptual frameworks?
 Gorddard, R., Colloff, M. J., Wise, R.M., Ware, D. and Dunlop, M. (2016). Values, rules and knowledge: Adaptation as change in the decision context. Environmental Science and Policy, 57: 60–69. Online (DOI): 10.1016/j.envsci.2015.12.004