Expanding the social-ecological science of resource management requires resolving some fundamental issues around the scale of management costs and benefits and the associated values and desires of managers and resource users. Interdisciplinary research and its application alone will not solve this problem, as there are more fundamental problems than inclusiveness and cooperation among academic disciplines. Rather, there is a need for a more explicit evaluation and implementation of stakeholder preferences, those most involved in decisions and those most involved in accessing resources (McClanahan, 2011). I believe that the resolution lies more in the political process of identifying these preferences, developing mutual respect, and co-mingling conceptual narratives and associated management actions rather than deconstructing, reinforcing, and polarizing ideological values and world views (Verweij et al., 2006). Institutional and governance design principles are likely to play key roles in increasing the chances of resolving these problems (Ostrom, 1990). Nevertheless, the elements of successful social institutional design may largely reflect the ability of people to effectively communicate, trust one another, and find and implement shared values. I suspect from experience that when dialogues are focused more specifically on preferences and the political process of compromise, then the resolution of management conflicts is likely to be accelerated (McClanahan, 2007, 2010).
Many people using common-pool aquatic resources, particularly in poor or developing countries, lean towards cultural tradition and metaphysical or environmentally indeterminate views of causation while more formally educated managers and donors frequently embrace deterministic biophysical views and associated value systems (Schultz, 2000). This is not a simple north–south cultural divide but more likely to be associated with the time spent in formal education systems – seen even among some of the poorest countries, such as those in south-eastern Africa (Figure 1). Consequently, when these two groups are evaluating cause and effect relationships there is frequently a gap in the culture and education that is not easily scaled and results in conflicting interpretations of causation and consequent plans of action. Additionally, the scale question of who benefits from the change and the perceived disparities is often a key problem – as costs and benefits are not shared equally and net benefits accrue at different scales of time and space and individuals associated with those scales (Bene et al., 2009; Cinner et al., 2012).
These differences are easily exemplified by the difference between professions associated with managing and using the aquatic environment (Salomon et al., 2011). Fisheries managers will be more focused on annual yields, accepting of longer-term risks, and aim to reduce resources to target reference points where yields are maximized and cost-benefits optimized (Hilborn, 2007). Conservation professionals, on the other hand, are less willing to exceed points where long-term use could create risks that could undermine population structure, degradation of habitat, and biodiversity (Pauly, 2010). Finally, resource users are more likely to consider current job satisfaction, changes in resources, and economic alternatives and respond to resource and access restrictions accordingly (Pollnac and Poggie, 2008; Cinner et al., 2009; Daw et al., 2012). Consequently, the scale at which these groups will or will not plan resource management and calculate risks and responses is different enough that difficult-to-resolve problems quickly arise in stakeholder management forums (Verweij et al., 2006).
Social scientist's desire to better understand resource users is driving the current trend in social-ecological evaluations of interviewing key stakeholders, collecting narratives and oral histories, describing and mapping livelihoods, evaluating seasonal and historical use, analysing and triangulating methods, and creating forums to discuss results and propose plans (Bunce et al., 2000). This need for understanding is promoted and funded to reduce the risks of conflict and the chances of increasing poverty that could result from proposed access restrictions. I believe this is a better starting point than implicit hierarchical decision making and management but I also acknowledge that it is based on the academic desire to understand people, expensive and an indirect way to resolve problems arising in management forums. The more powerful actors that frequently organize forums and interpretations are usually guided by the deterministic values and worldviews that frequently become the basis for management. Consequently, professional and funding-based values and agendas and individual incentives can still be played out, despite the inclusion of social science and stakeholder participation (Bene et al., 2009). There still lies the dormant issue of assumptions about the specific scales and mechanisms of causation and benefits, the acceptable limits and scales of risk associated with the management mechanisms and, therefore, the most appropriate actions and subsequent trade-offs for the various stakeholders.
Because people's stated preferences often already integrate the benefits and impacts on their livelihoods, I suggest that polling stakeholder preferences is a simple and cost-effective way to evaluate practical values and find answers to management questions. Recommendations for management are mostly limited to restrictions on space, time of use, effort, gear, species, size, and gender; therefore, simply asking stakeholders at different scales what they prefer and who benefits can assist this resolution. Consequently, polling preferences for restrictions is a more direct route towards resolution and, when combined with stakeholder forums and other investigations into social organization around the resource, can be a critical first step towards rapid and lasting solutions.
An example of this type of polling of communities reliant on coral reef fisheries in the western Indian Ocean showed that managers, regardless of their country of origin, supported all restrictions (Figure 1). In contrast, there was large variation in ratings among resource users at the level of the fishing community. Only 18% of the fishing communities scaled all restrictions positively. Further, the survey found that managers overestimate many of the benefits of the restrictions to resource users, relative to the users' scaling of these same benefits to themselves (McClanahan et al., 2011, 2012). Only gear restrictions and minimum size of fish had broad appeal and fishers' scaling of preferences for sustainability was often strongly correlated with their perceived benefit of the restriction to their community. This support may be associated with equating gear with tradition and also a moral concern about catching fish before they have reproduced – as opposed to achieving a size-based optimization of yields. Resource users' appreciation of restrictions was context specific but also indicated the history of associations with different managers and management systems and their dependence on the marine resource (McClanahan et al., 2009). Opinions about fisheries closures were very community specific with communities near to closures being both positive and negative towards closures, suggesting the importance of history, context, and fisher's socio-economic alternatives.
In Kenya, an adaptive management forum developed between fisheries leaders, the Fisheries Department and the Wildlife Conservation Society, used preference polling, forums, and adaptive management to assist management decisions (McClanahan, 2007). Gear restrictions, specifically on the use of beach seines, were identified as a factor having strong support among some of the communities. Consequently, an experimental management design was developed where communities least in favour of these nets had them removed with the help of the Fisheries Department, while those in favour maintained them and these sites acted as ‘controls’. Catches and income were studied over a 7-year period after the change and it was found that larger individual fish and more highly valued species increased in the restricted areas, resulting in large increases in fishers' incomes (McClanahan, 2010). These communicated results have, however, not led to conversion of beach seines in the control sites because of poverty-trap social dynamics and a lack of skills that prevent adopting alternative gear. So, while this system worked effectively in catalysing change in some fisheries, there are places where alternative and supplementary approaches are needed.
Given the historical struggles between fishers and national parks in Kenya (McClanahan et al., 2005), a somewhat unexpected result of evaluating management preferences was that some communities favoured closure restrictions when under their own control. It became critical to distinguish community from government closures and, therefore, the Swahili word tengefu was used to describe this social-ecological management system. Tengefu means an area set aside from fishing by resource users, possibly for a future or alternative use. The tengefu concept and promotion of local governance by Kenya's constitutional change, led to the rapid creation of closures. These community closures are going through the usual social-ecological-governance challenges that one might expect but the rapid change was unexpected in a country with a long history of authoritarian management. The desire for closures was uncovered by evaluating preferences, focusing on communities with specific preferences, and promoting a governance environment that catalysed the desired actions (McClanahan et al., 2012). Consequently, although the slow progress in establishing nationally managed closures and reaching international targets in Kenya and elsewhere has been noted and lamented (Wells et al., 2007; Wood et al., 2008), the emerging management initiatives were not considered until the polling, forums, and adaptive management developed. The current evolving management may be more realistic in the current socio-economic settings and produce greater long-term sustainability than what was suggested and hoped for by authoritarian planners.
When the values, choices, and scales of incentives of managers conflict with resource users, the resulting divide can weaken the social relevance, applicability and adoption of science, and delay real-world problem solving (McClanahan, 2011). Societal engagement, acceptance, objectivity and effective solutions are likely to increase if scientific effort is spread more evenly across a broader spectrum of values, management restrictions, and more components of the social-ecological system. Among biophysically trained people, there is frequently embarrassment, patronizing, discounting, or antagonism towards common metaphysical and environmentally indeterministic views that can impede constructive dialogues and successful management actions. Nevertheless, all people can appreciate the simplicity of being asked what they like and the outcomes of before and after management experiments – regardless of their underlying worldview. Consequently, greater inclusiveness of preferences, social-ecological context, and focusing on outcomes rather than causes and management idealogies can play key roles in resolving conflicts. My experience is that understanding and using rather than discounting these differences in management preferences is a potential way to accelerate the management adoption and compliance process. Consequently, I recommend a more permissive approach to incorporating values, preferences, and management options, less focus on models of social-ecological causation, and more focus on directly asking people what they want and basing decisions on the outcomes of management experiments.