What is a social-ecological system and how do we study it? Why is it good to think about linkages between humans and nature in relation to development projects?
Projects of Czech Development Cooperation (CDC) take place in a complex social-ecological system (SES), which represents the relations between society and nature. In this sense society is an integral part of nature, and so human behaviour must be understood as something influenced by and influencing the processes in ecosystems. A typical example would be development projects focused on climate-resilient agriculture, which bring new practices into rural communities. While adoption of these practices is dependent on behavioural changes in society, the effect of the application of new practices is, to a great extent, underpinned by biophysical factors, which may vary from community to community. Moreover, all this is contingent on the broader social, economic and political context, which impacts, for example, the accessibility of necessary agricultural inputs or the opportunity to trade harvested crops.
But how do we grasp these social-ecological linkages in CDC projects and how do we unravel them? The answer to this is precisely what project Coop4Wellbeing is searching for; in February 2022, we set off to collect data in the field (in Zambia) with our colleagues from the NGO People in Need, Department of Development & Environmental Studies at Palacky University. We spent our month-long stay in the surroundings of Mongu, the regional centre of Western Province, mapping the social-ecological linkages between society and nature. We also focused on what role these linkages play in CDC projects.
Workshop for CDC implementers
Because the results of our research are primarily intended for CDC project implementers, we organised a two-day workshop in Litomyšl on 25/8-26/8 called Linkages between society and nature in the practice of Czech development cooperation II. Our aim was to:
- present the key findings from our field research in Zambia,
- discuss these findings and their practical applications during design and implementation of development projects, and
- co-define follow-up recommendations and priorities for further field research.
On the first day, together with the participants, we focused on systems thinking and its importance for research in development cooperation. For this purpose, we used the map of the social-ecological system in Western Province that was based on the field research in Zambia, which illustrates the perspectives on SES of local stakeholders and inhabitants. The map helped us demonstrate the complex reality in which CDC project operate. We also took a closer look at specific examples of social-ecological linkages which are relevant in the design and implementation of CDC projects.
Whereas on the first day we primarily engaged in the discussion of the wider social-ecological context of development projects, the second day was dedicated to the practical sides of implementation and design of the projects. We first focused on the mechanisms which influence knowledge transfer from the projects to the target communities. This activity allowed the participants to combine their experience from the implementation of development processes with the results of our field research, or rather with the diagram of these mechanisms. In the following part of the workshop we, together with the participants, co-developed possible recommendations for CDC actors emerging from the results of our field research in Zambia and from the workshop itself. The last stretch was dedicated to reflection of the workshop and the discussion of the topics for further research.
What comes next?
We are currently working on a research report on the SES mapping in Zambia, which will also include the key conclusions from the workshop related to the topics of our further research and the recommendations for CDC actors. This reflection on the outcomes of the field research in Zambia will first and foremost serve as a stepping stone for our upcoming project activities, primarily for our second research trip to Zambia, which will happen at the beginning of 2023.