SP8: Synthesis: social-ecological restoration in western Rwanda

Joern Fischer

Dula Wakassa Duguma

Marina Frietsch

The study area in western Rwanda is a social-ecological system shaped by interconnected ecological and social variables. We hypothesise that the study area will not be homogenous in terms of its social-ecological restoration dynamics. To integrate the findings generated by all sub-projects of the research unit with their wide range of ecological, social and economic research foci across multiple scales, we will use three complementary approaches: (1) causal loop diagrams, (2) a leverage points perspective, and (3) the identification of archetypical system features. As a final step, based on the understanding of social-ecological system dynamics in our study area via these three approaches, we will take a look into the future using scenario planning. This will allow us to systematically synthesise the insights of all sub-projects and generate a comprehensive understanding of the effects and mechanisms of social-ecological restoration in the study area. 

The three different methodological approaches listed above offer complementary insights into social-ecological restoration. First, causal loop diagrams can illustrate complex relationships between key variables in a system and are ideally suited to identify causal mechanisms underpinning systems behaviour as well as reinforcing feedbacks. We will use causal loop diagrams to summarise the social-ecological restoration dynamics in different sections of the study area. Second, a leverage points perspective facilitates the identification of places to intervene in complex systems. This perspective also recognises that some system features influence the system only superficially without the capability to fundamentally change it, while addressing other types of features can more fundamentally alter the design or intent of a given system. We will apply a leverage points perspective to learn about the challenges and opportunities of social-ecological restoration in different sections of the study area. Third, social-ecological systems can exhibit archetypical features with respect to multiple key variables and their interactions resulting in unique constellations of actors, capital assets and dynamics. We will identify such social-ecological archetypes in different sections of the study area and assess whether different archetypes of restoration may exist side by side. Drawing on these insights, scenario planning will then bring together stakeholders from across the entire study area to co-generate future scenarios of social-ecological restoration trajectories. This will deliver direct benefits for local restoration action and inspire a new wave of research for the second four-year phase of this research unit.