Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Tackling the Tangle of Environmental Conflict: Complexity, Controversy, and Collaborative Learning

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Tackling the Tangle of Environmental Conflict: Complexity, Controversy, and Collaborative Learning

Article excerpt

Environmental conflict situations are typically messy; a tangle of complexity, controversy, and uncertainty. As a means for addressing environmental conflict and decision situations and making progress on matters of substance, relationship, and procedure, Collaborative Learning integrates concepts and techniques from systems thinking, negotiation, experiential learning, and participatory communication. This essay establishes a context for understanding the creation and evolution of the CL methodology. Following that discussion, the Collaborative Learning approach is explained. A current comprehensive project in forest planning provides a case illustration.

Introduction

A provocative research partnership has been cultivated between Norway's University of Bergen and Spain's Autonomous University of Barcelona. The program, "Management of Complexity, Scientific Uncertainty and Public Participation in Environmental and Landscape Governance in Nordland and Catalunya," has sought "to produce, explore and compare innovative designs of processes of environmental and landscape governance in Catalunya (Spain) and Nordland (Norway)" (NORCAT). One core objective is "to develop methods to ensure meaningfulness for the local people, by improving the communication of scientific inputs (including their limitations in the form of uncertainties) into the governance process, but above all also improving the flow of local knowledge and local perspectives on values and resources into the environmental governance" (NORCAT).

Just as the NORC AT program researchers have recognized the importance of participatory governance, communication, and local knowledge when addressing complex environmental situations, we have sought to better understand and apply ideas from systems thinking, negotiation, and participatory communication in a model for conflict resolution and decision-making on environmental and natural resource policy issues. This model, "Collaborative Learning," (CL) is the focus of this essay. CL provides an innovative methodology for participatory governance on matters of environmental policy, natural resource management, and sustainable development.

As a foundation for presenting the Collaborative Learning approach, this essay establishes a context for understanding the creation and evolution of the CL methodology. Following that discussion, the Collaborative Learning approach is explained. A current comprehensive project in forest planning provides a case illustration.

The Collaborative Learning Context

Collaborative Learning, both in theory and practice, has evolved over the past sixteen years and continues to change given the requirements and characteristics of policy conflict and decision situations. More specifically, Collaborative Learning has been designed in response to factors in the environment policy and natural resource management arenas that can be fashioned into elements of two triads: The "Tangle Triad" and the "Progress Triangle." These triads provide for frames for understanding the "messy" situations that occur in environmental and natural resource management planning and decision-making (Figure 1).

The Tangle Triad: Characterizing Wicked or Messy Problems

Many policy situations pose "wicked" or "messy" problems. The term "wicked problem" appears in the applied sciences, engineering, and policy decision-making literature. A problem situation is "wicked" when each effort to develop a solution changes the understanding of the problem at hand. Wicked problems cannot be addressed effectively in a conventional linear fashion, because the nature and definition of the problem situation evolve as alternative solutions are assessed and/or implemented (CogNexus Institute; Rittel & Webber, 1973).

Such problems are also referred to as "messy," particularly in the environmental and natural resource management arenas. In characterizing messy situations, Reid, Ziemer, and Lisle (1996: 9) contend that "environmental problems are a tangle of interacting processes whose manifestation and interpretation are warped by the vagaries of time, weather, expectation, and economics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.