Governance as a Trialogue: Government-Society-Science in Transition

Part of the series Water Resources Development and Management pp 253-280

Principles Enabling Learning Environments for Good Ecosystem Governance

  • Dirk J RouxAffiliated withNatural Resources and the Environment, CSIR: Water Ecosystems
  • , Kevin MurrayAffiliated withInsight Modelling Services
  • , Ernita van WykAffiliated withWater Resources Governance Systems, CSIR: Natural Resources and the Environment

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Complexity and, by implication, change and uncertainty, are inherent features of ecosystems. In managing ecosystems, or linked social-ecological systems, decisions are often based on insufficient or uncertain data and information. Appropriate and sufficient knowledge, which essentially resides in people, is a critical factor for making informed decisions under such circumstances. Informed action is a function of what we know, and our knowledge is a product of what and how we have learned.

Because of the central importance of learning, this chapter proposes that the development of an appropriate learning capability should not be left to chance but should be the result of deliberate intervention to establish the conditions for an organisation to operate in a learning mode. Focusing on organisations or agencies with mandates for ecosystem governance, the chapter sets out to identify the principles that will enable the creation of such learning environments.

Firstly, the key concepts of knowledge, learning and ecosystem governance are defined. Secondly, the chapter identifies main issues of concern regarding (a) the type of knowledge that needs to be created for good ecosystem governance; (b) the desirable processes for learning or knowledge creation; and (c) the characteristics of good learners. Thirdly, these main issues (10 in all) form the basis for formulating nine principles intended to enable the setting up of appropriate learning environments for ecosystem governance.

The proposed principles are summarised as follows. Good ecosystem governance requires positively persistent and adaptive people with a culture of empathy for other knowledge systems and levels. Their knowledge must be trans-disciplinary, moulded by a common future focus, acquired by patiently engaging their prior knowledge and learning by doing, in an environment of social knowledge sharing.

It is concluded that good learning practice would promote the achievement of some of the principles underlying the practice of good ecosystem governance, notably effective stakeholder engagement, adaptability and transformability. The proposed learning principles could be used as a framework to assess the learning proficiency of ecosystem management agencies and to develop learning strategies for such agencies.


learning environments ecosystems governance knowledge social-ecological systems complex adaptive systems