Concluding Comments and Implications for Future Integrated Policy-Making

This chapter has aimed to provide an account of a methodological innovation centred on designing social learning systems for integrating social science into policy. The discussion on framing points to the possible framing choices available to scientists and policy-makers. The characteristics of messy natural resource management situations centred on interdependency, complexity, uncertainty, controversy and multiple stakeholdings suggest that no one individual or organisation is able to manage in isolation. Engaging with framing choices leads to epistemological awareness which is a key step towards integration.

Appreciating NRM situations as complex and 'messy' opens up possibilities for a complimentary methodological approach based on systems. Although much has been written on integration, it remains elusive as a concept and practice. However, the discussion on the link between integration and systems reveals their fundamental connection in that both are central to the process of 'creating wholes'. Within a soft systems tradition, the importance of boundary choices (a form of framing) is key to understanding different perspectives. A systems view also gives rise to the idea of integration as an emergent property of a system, rather than a 'thing' that can be added. The central concern then for integration of social science into policy is creating and thus designing system level conditions for integration as an emergent property of social learning systems. Integration of social science per se becomes less important than a concern with designing social learning systems from which integration emerges.

Integration, understood as the making of wholes and an emergent property of systems, coupled with an emphasis on observer dependency, leads to the view that natural resource managing is fundamentally a social process. In this framing, the imperative for social learning – understood as the process of stakeholders socially constructing an issue in which their understandings and practices change so as to transform the situation of concern through concerted action – becomes clear.

The key elements relating to the transformation process include an appreciation of the starting context; institutions; facilitation; stakeholding and epistemological constraints.

The vignettes of the case study research point to ways in which social learning systems can be designed and enacted in a variety of NRM situations and contexts, although the exact detail is beyond the scope of this chapter. Perhaps the key design criterion relates to ways in which trust is established and developed over time.

The discussion of some constraints and opportunities associated with a social learning approach as an innovative methodology for integrating social sciences into policy is only the beginning of our understanding as more research on social learning becomes available. But it would seem that social sciences has much to offer in terms of substantive content to natural resource managing as well as research on the design, process and evaluation of social learning processes.

A note of caution is necessary, however, as designing and enacting social learning systems requires epistemological, temporal and financial investment from policymakers and scientists from all disciplinary backgrounds. It also requires developing skills and competency in systems concepts and ideas – not least integration as an emergent property of a social learning system and all that this entails for policy and science processes.

Looking forward, integrating social science into policy through a social learning systems is not a given. It requires commitment and willingness to engage in second order concerns about the nature of knowledge and understanding of complex, messy situations. The increasing use and acceptance of the concept of socio-ecological system as a coupled, co-evolving system would seem to be a central arena for future research. It is here that designing social learning systems as a methodology for enabling integration of social science with policy and biophysical sciences is likely to be of most import.

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