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Amplifying Small Solutions for Systemwide Change

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Green Growth That Works

Abstract

Biodiversity loss, the conversion of natural ecosystems, the impact of climate change on ecosystems, and the depletion of fish stocks in the oceans are all complex, “wicked” problems that lack an easily identifiable and generalizable solution (DeFries and Nagendra 2017). Most of these problems are large in scope as they cover multiple geographies, sectors, and stakeholders. They also involve collective action problems: individuals make independent decisions about costly actions, but outcomes of these decisions benefit or harm an entire group. As a result, cooperation would lead to a better outcome for all, but individuals fail to cooperate because of conflicting interests that discourage joint action.

A major challenge is the design and implementation of solutions that lead to transformations at the scale of a large, complex problem. The polycentric model of governance recognizes the importance of multiple vectors in driving change. Here we argue that multiple small, bottom-up solutions can have synergistic effects and reinforce each other to lead to rapid change provided that, in addition to the design of small solutions, efforts are dedicated to their up-scaling. The amplification mechanisms that create tipping points of adoption of small solutions include (1) changes in social norms that influence consumer behaviors, (2) public policies that support small solutions or make them mandatory, and/or (3) commitments by dominant private companies that apply solutions across their value chains and their sector. This theory of change for sustainability makes small actors feel empowered, as small solutions implemented locally, within the scale of competence of each actor, can then be scaled up and lead to systemwide change.

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Lambin, E.F., Leape, J., Lee, K. (2019). Amplifying Small Solutions for Systemwide Change. In: Mandle, L., Ouyang, Z., Salzman, J.E., Daily, G. (eds) Green Growth That Works. Island Press, Washington, DC. https://doi.org/10.5822/978-1-64283-004-0_3

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