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A synthesis of key factors for sustainability in social–ecological systems


Attempts to identify relevant variables for the success or failure of sustainable management of social–ecological systems seem to be constrained by the inconsistent organization of the variables and the difficulties arising from their lack of comparability; both of these reduce generalizability to other systems. Therefore, to date, only a few comprehensive lists of attributes relevant to the performance of socio-ecological systems exist for sustainable management. This paper integrates such lists into a synthesis of 24 concepts. The scattered evidence of why each factor is important for sustainability has been compiled through a literature review. This concept synthesis may help to overcome some of the constraints of SES research by increasing the comparability of research designs and extending analyses from that of a few concepts for a few systems to widely applicable approaches in sustainability science.

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This article is dedicated to Lin Ostrom who inspired generations of researchers. Lin contributed as co-author to the initial stages of this paper.

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Correspondence to Ulrich J. Frey.

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Handled by Osamu Saito, United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), Japan.

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Frey, U.J. A synthesis of key factors for sustainability in social–ecological systems. Sustain Sci 12, 507–519 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0395-z

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  • Sustainability
  • Design principles
  • Success factors
  • Common-pool resources
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Framework