Original Articles

Monitoring in a complex world — seeking slow variables, a scaled focus, and speedier learning


Recent developments from complex systems theorists provide new insights into our understanding and, hence, monitoring of rangelands. Designing monitoring systems around the slow variables should lead to the generation of information that could greatly improve decision making in an adaptive management context. Monitoring can also be far better focused on supporting faster development of local environmental knowledge when traditional experiential learning modes cannot always keep up with the increasingly rapid pace of change in rangelands. After casting the design and purpose of monitoring systems in theoretical terms, the authors draw on applications from southern Africa to confront these conceptual approaches with real world practice. Using two cases, one from a community based agro-pastoral system and the other from a conservation area, the authors examine how the theory and practice inform monitoring systems design. Does theory really guide us in developing useful monitoring systems when faced with the real world of complex trade-offs among different users, different ecosystem services and a hierarchy of different scales? How can practice improve theory?

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