Stakeholder meanings and robustness in social-ecological systems : implications for managing change.
Alignment of stakeholder behaviour with policies and rules is a key concern where natural resources are managed in the public interest. This thesis is based on the premise that behaviours are founded upon meanings as meanings direct stakeholder preferences for resource benefits. I developed a framework representing a social-ecological system and drew on the theories of symbolic interactionism and ecosystem services to illustrate the dynamic relationship between meaning, context, behaviour, perception of benefits and public infrastructure (policies). I propose that by incorporating meanings into the design of institutions, public infrastructure will continually reflect adjustments in meaning reordering in relation to the meanings of the collective to promote supportive stakeholder behaviour and enhancing system robustness during times of slow as well as rapid, disruptive change. The validity of the framework was tested using a case study from Tokai, South Africa. An interpretive and post-normal paradigm provided the foundation for the detection of stakeholder meanings brought to the fore by semistructured narrative interviews. Computer aided software and a combination of inductive and deductive analysis were used to generate themes and expressions to illustrate the construction and evolution of meanings during two distinctive phases in the social-ecological history of Tokai. Using the framework to interpret results I was able to illustrate how meanings and meaning prioritisation influence the perception of benefits and how these aspects direct behaviours. The findings indicated the importance of procedural and distributive justice in the negotiated design of public infrastructure and I was able to illustrate the implications for sustaining system robustness. The framework was helpful as a model to interpret the dynamic relationship between meanings, behaviours and institutional design but additional frameworks were needed to facilitate the construction of scenarios that incorporate vulnerability of robustness as reflected by varying levels of relational connectedness and relational capital during cycles of change. I suggest incorporating relational connectedness together with attention to meanings as an approach to fostering relational capital that is likely to direct behaviours to align more constructively with the meanings of the collective, and the associated public infrastructure. My research exposes opportunities for further inquiry: (1) Deeper insights into the relationship between meanings, collective identity and behaviours; (2) Understanding the influence of organisational culture on the adaptive management of collective identity and (3) Greater understanding of how these theoretical aspects should be applied in the practice of adaptive management and governance.