Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 156–183 | Cite as

Development and testing a diagnostic capacity tool for improving socio-ecological system governance

  • Patricia Ann McKayEmail author
  • Christine A. Vogt
  • Laura Schmitt Olabisi


The capacity to sustainably govern complex socio-ecological systems (SES) has been identified as a necessary but daunting task by SES scholars, resource stewards and stakeholders. This research sought to inform the question: What are determinant capacities and functional linkages that can be incorporated into diagnostic tools for analysts seeking to improve sustainable socio-economic system SES governance? Literature was used to identify and translate determinant capacities and functional linkages into a quantifiable metric of governance quality. The tool was developed from ecological, business, governance and decision science literature. This tool recognizes the dynamic and systemic linkages between the resources and the social systems that use and govern them for improving systems thinking and SES outcomes. The tool was tested to determine its ability to capture perceived characteristics of governance quality and problem management using Michigan’s cleanup and redevelopment program. The results of this research indicated that the exploratory tool was reliable and valid. This research contributes to the evolving body of SES frameworks, specifically the study of individual and organizational capacities for improved SES outcomes. The implications of this research suggest participatory network-based governance with higher levels of resource exchange, in the form of interdependency, trust, diplomacy and reciprocity, aligns with practitioners’ perceptions of improved program performance. Further, while some capacities and related findings of this research may be context specific, concepts associated with the development and testing of this diagnostic tool, such as the use of systems thinking, participatory network-based governance, and related competencies, may have more universal application.


Organizational governance Practitioners SES frameworks Decision science 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Ann McKay
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christine A. Vogt
    • 2
  • Laura Schmitt Olabisi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Community SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.School of Community Resources and DevelopmentArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

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