PhD Dissertation Proposal Defense: Patricia McKay

January 31, 2020 10:00 AM

Natural Resources Building, 480 Wilson Road, Room 130, East Lansing, MI 48823

Guiding Humans Toward a Sustainable Future: The human dimensions of socio-ecological system governance


We are at a critical juncture in socio-ecological systems (SES) governance. We face extreme and unprecedented governance challenges related to decision-making and management. These challenges include shifting away from governance frameworks, institutions and individual decision-making that has disrupted our ecosystem function. Sustainable governance of complex SES has been identified as necessary but challenging by SES scholars, resource stewards, and stakeholders.

The contemporary theory posits that governance challenges are rooted within the individual, and organizational and policy frameworks. At the individual level, one’s culture, values, behavior, cognition, and mental models affect decision-making. These individual decisions are influenced by reciprocal feedback processes linked to deeply embedded social traditions; and cultural, structural, and institutional frameworks. These individual and societal component are part of a complex system which is not readily understood nor easily changed.

Using a population of practitioners involved with the re-invention of Michigan’s cleanup and redevelopment program, this dissertation research focuses on the development of a quality governance framework and a diagnostic capacity tool to diagnose and potentially treat decision-making capacities that align with improved socio-ecological system outcomes. This governance framework is based on polycentric, participatory, network-based practices, structured deliberative decision processes, and capacities that align with resilient systems thinking. Network-based governance relies upon a structure and culture of interdependency, diplomacy, trust, and reciprocity.

The three major components of this research are 1) the development and initial testing of the governance framework and capacity tool; 2) longitudinal and mixed methods research to revisit the reliability, validity, and progress of improved governance and SES outcomes; and 3) the development of a system dynamics model to illustrate the significance of governance capacities associated with social learning and trust in improving SES trajectories and outcomes.

Dissertation Committee

Dr. Laura Schmitt Olabisi (Chair)
Dr. Maria Claudia Lopez
Dr. Joseph Hamm
Dr. Rebecca Jordan

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Tags: csus, department of community sustainability, phd dissertation proposal defense

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