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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Iterative scenarios for social-ecological systems

Herrmann, Dustin L.; Schwarz, Kirsten; Allen, Craig R.; Angeler, David; Eason, Tarsha; Garmestani, Ahjond


Managing social-ecological systems toward desirable regimes requires learning about the system being managed while preparing for many possible futures. Adaptive management (AM) and scenario planning (SP) are two systems management approaches that separately use learning to reduce uncertainties and employ planning to manage irreducible uncertainties, respectively. However, each of these approaches have limitations that confound management of social-ecological systems. Here, we introduce iterative scenarios (IS), a systems management approach that is a hybrid of the scopes and relationships to uncertainty and controllability of AM and SP that combines the "iterativeness" of AM and futures planning of SP. Iterative scenarios is appropriate for situations with high uncertainty about whether a management action will lead to intended outcomes, the desired benefits are numerous and cross-scale, and it is difficult to account for the social implications around the natural resource management options. The value of iterative scenarios is demonstrated by applying the approach to green infrastructure futures for a neighborhood in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., that had experienced long-term, systemic disinvestment. The Cleveland green infrastructure project was particularly well suited to the IS approach given that learning about environmental factors was necessary and achievable, but what would be socially desirable and possible was unknown. However, iterative scenarios is appropriate for many social-ecological systems where uncertainty is high as IS accommodates real-world complexity faced by management.


adaptive management; futures; green infrastructure; iterative scenarios; scenario planning; social-ecological systems; structured learning

Published in

Ecology and Society
2021, volume: 26, number: 4, article number: 260408

Authors' information

Herrmann, Dustin L.
University of California, Riverside (UCR)
Schwarz, Kirsten
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
Allen, Craig R.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Eason, Tarsha
US Environmental Protection Agency
Garmestani, Ahjond
Utrecht University

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Fish and Wildlife Management

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