The concept of SES is based on the notion that ‘the delineation between social and natural systems is artificial and arbitrary’ , emphasising that people and nature are intertwined.

An example of complex adaptive systems

Key Principles

  1. Relationships are more important than individual components to understand the properties and behavior of the system
  2. Adaptive capacities (thanks to the many relations and feedback loops) to adjust and adapt to change
  3. Nonlinear dynamics, where small changes can have large effects
  4. No clear boundaries
  5. Context dependent - as the context changes elements may take different roles and functions
  6. Complex causality and emergence - not clear, linear cause and effect

Cannot be understood or predicted based on individual elements

Mindset: expect and embrace surprise and uncertainty, to be reflexive and acknowledge the limits of what is knowable or controllable

SES research

SES Frameworks

  • original conceptual framework of linked SES developed by Folke and Berkes (1998) - emphasises the links between social and ecological systems and their multi-scale nature

  • Panarchy framework depicting system resilience as an outcome of connected adaptive cycles at different scales (Gunderson and Holling 2002)
  • the diagnostic framework developed by Ostrom (2007, 2009) to analyse common-pool resource systems Ostrom’s SES Framework
  • The robustness framework by Anderies and colleagues (2004)


Sources: Book - The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods for Social-Ecological Systems