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Human Dimensions in Natural Resource Management and Policy (MES 690)


Basic Course Information:

  • Course title: Human Dimensions in Natural Resource Management and Policy (MES 565A)
  • Course Instructor: Kostas Alexandridis, Ph.D.
  • Frequency: Every Fall academic semester (optional for MMES graduate students)
  • Credits: 4
  • Max Students: 10 (UVI St. Thomas campus)
  • Prerequisites: core courses of the MMES program
  • Course description: the course provides a comprehensive and integrative or transdisciplinary overview of a range of human dimensions areas involved in environmental and natural resource management and policy. The course content is complemented with a parallel group research project development that aims to builds graduate student skills and competencies in addressing coupled or linked social-ecological systems and their need for close integration.
  • Textbook: The required course textbook is: Chapin, F. S., Kofinas, G. P., and Folke, C. (eds). 2009. Principles of ecosystem stewardship : resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world (1st ed.). New York: Springer, pp. 401. Additional required reading material, including online resources and showcases are provided to the students.

Course introduction and rationale

    Human dimensions in natural resource management refers to the study of interactions between people and their natural environment, with emphasis on the use, protection and conservation of their natural resources. According to the UN’s International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP, 2009), the scientific study of the causes and consequences of human activities, behavior, attitudes and actions to the environment and the natural resources of our planet is of paramount significance. Global environmental science today recognizes the need for coordinated contributions across the board of physical/natural sciences (e.g., ecology, climatology, oceanography, physics and mathematics), as well as from social sciences (e.g., economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, decision, and policy sciences).
    The primary goal of this course is to develop a fundamental understanding of human behavior and action related to natural resource management and policy and with emphasis in the interactions between land and marine systems (ecosystems and sociosystems). Many of our contemporary environmental management challenges cannot be adequately addressed without a firm theoretical and empirical understanding of both the fundamental causal forces and drivers of human and natural change, as well as the different social and physical gradients and scales in which such changes conceptualize and operate. Such fundamental understanding will enhance the critical ability of students to comprehend the challenges in environmental and natural resource management, as well as to enhance their ability to contribute in successful NRM processes.
    This class is suitable for 2nd year graduate students that have an interest on understanding fundamental human dimensions in natural resource management.

Course aims and objectives

    The overall goal of the course is to expose students to a basic understanding of human dimensions in the study of Natural Resource Management and Policy. It especially emphasizes the role of scientific investigation, study and analysis of integrated and multidisciplinary perspectives, and addressing critical global, regional, national and local NRM problems and challenges. The specific aims and objectives of the course are summarized below:
  1. Develop a holistic and cross-disciplinary understanding of Human Dimensions in Natural Resource Management and Policy and its importance to natural resource management. Specifically, enhance the focus on:
    • Multi- and cross-disciplinary approaches to scientific discovery.
    • Understanding the multidimensional and inherently nature of human dimensions in natural resource management and policy.
    • Integrative approaches to natural resource management and policy, especially the role of human dimensions on space, time, and systemic-wide environmental change and transformation.
  2. Enhance the student’s theoretical understanding of the human dimensions’ role in environmental change, and to enrich the methodological toolbox available for addressing and dealing with issues related to natural resource management and policy. Specifically, the course aims to:
    • Review the basic theoretical approaches to coupled human and environmental systems and their transformations.
    • Provide a primer on coupled natural-human systems study of complexity and their systemic interactions.
    • Equip students with a basic and fundamental understanding of social science methods and techniques, including scale development, qualitative statistical evaluation, survey design and implementation methodologies, participatory learning skills and assessments, etc.
    • Introduce students to case studies and methodological assessments of different methods and techniques for assessing human dimensions in natural resource management and policy.
  3. Expose students to major theoretical advances in human dimensions-related fields such as:
    • Environmental and natural resource sociology.
    • Community and participatory methods and management.
    • Collaborative and organizational theory in natural resource management.
    • Theoretical understanding of social capital and the relationship between livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness.
    • Social psychology and the study of collective social processes.
    • Fundamental principles of decision sciences and policy-making.
    • Basic understanding of institutions (formal and informal) and their role in environmental governance and collective decision making.
  4. Acquire a firm understanding of how community, society, culture, gender, race, social equality, and individual and collective cognition plays a role and affects the ways that people and their groups interact with their physical environment. The course will:
    • Avail reading material, data and case studies showcasing the importance of different human dimensions and how they affect the natural resource management and policy process.
    • Foster in- and out-classroom discussions and interactive dialogue among the students and between students and the course instructor relating to the subjective aspects of assessing different human dimensions with respect to their significance in terms of their environmental interactions.
    • Provide innovative opportunities for students to apply their learning into applications.
  5. Synthesize the collective and individual learning by promoting an academic in-class culture of expressiveness and synergistic attitudes related to our understanding of human dimensions in natural resource management and policy. The objective will be achieved by:
    • Assisting students on developing and showcasing their understanding of the in-classroom learning via their own development of a semester research proposal that will combine human dimensions in a topic of interest.
    • Enhance student’s communication skills by in-classroom participation and professional style presentation of their semester research project.
    • Encouraging students to participate in active dialogue/debate processes in classroom, and to combine their own experiences and knowledge in informing the discussions.
    • Providing students with multimedia-rich and technology advanced demonstrations and interactive examples.

 Course content and themes

Introduction to human dimensions

  • Week 1: Introduction, discussion on course outline, syllabus and roles, and a basic conceptual foundations/rationale of the course. Introduction to human dimensions research: Understanding the concept of human dimensions; Human dimensions and environmental change; Human dimensions and scales: from global to local and vice versa; Conducting human dimension research – basic concepts and disciplines. Preliminary selection of research topic. Preliminary selection of research topic.

Society and Environment

  • Week 2: Society and Environment: the social basis of environmental concern, and the environmental basis of social concern. From communities to societies to nations, to planets – the multiplicity of dimensions. Historical overview of social science approaches. The interplay between social actions and ecosystem functions and services. Introduction to study concepts of interest (micro-to-macro link, tragedy of the commons, decision principles and paradoxes, invisible hand and limits to growth). Finalization of research topics and short informal presentations of topic overview. Homework 1: critique of an article of choice related to lessons learned.

Basic qualitative analysis methods

  •  Week 3: Introduction to basic qualitative analysis methods: what are qualitative methods and how they are similar or differ from quantitative methods? The need for scale development and scale development methodologies (e.g., Likert, semantic differential, etc). Basic qualitative statistical concepts (e.g., nominal and ordinal variables and processes, factor analysis, hierarchical and k-means clustering, sociomattrices and social networks). Survey design principles and methodologies. Introduction to grounded theory. Subjective versus objective evaluative frameworks. In class exercise: scale development. Homework 2: construct a social network from a dataset, and run basic statistics.

Attitudes, beliefs and behavior

  • Week 4: Attitudes, beliefs and behavior: examining the role of attitudes, beliefs and behavior as key human dimensions in natural resource management and policy. Introduction to key theories and paradigms (e.g., theory of reasoned actions, belief-norm theory, attitude-belief-behavior consistency, cognitive dissonance theory, etc). Examining of key case studies in environmental and natural resource management related to human attitudes, beliefs and behavior. The normative and cognitive basis of human dimensions in natural resource management and policy. In-class exercise – short video. Draft research proposal due.

Collective social processes and the role of participation

  • Week 5: Collective social processes and the role of participation: Communities, societies and sense of place and purpose. Social capital. Group dynamics and the role of collective decision making. Collective learning and the role of knowledge acquisition, representation and transformation. The collective social basis of human dimensions in natural resource management and policy. From dispositional to situational to systemic approaches: the role of community formation in environmental and natural resource management. The concept of community-based participatory management. Participation, inequality and environmental justice: who’s reality count? Governance and citizen’s voice in participatory settings for natural resource management. In-class exercise – short video.

 Dialogue and deliberation in participatory natural resource management

  • Week 6: Dialogue and deliberation in participatory natural resource management: Deliberate versus nondeliberate mechanisms. The role of dialogue in participatory settings. Principles of successful dialogue. Case studies of environmental conflicts. Negotiating and mediating dialogue. Mitigating negative effects and delegating responsibilities in decision making. From decision-making to policy making: making people matter. Common pool resources and participatory processes in environmental and natural resource management and policy. Informing public dialogue. In-class exercise: role-playing game. Final research proposal. Homework: critique of a selected case-study of environmental conflict.

Human dimensions in environmental planning and management

  • Week 7: Human dimensions in planning and management: Dimensions on planning for environment and natural resources. How human dimensions alter planning perspectives and priorities. Introduction to principles and historical overview of land use and marine planning approaches. Case studies of planning. Human dimensions in planning: from landscapes to socioscapes. Planning and community perspectives. Planning and natural resource policy. Understanding the connections between planned landscapes and systems with environmental and natural processes. 2D and 3D participatory mapping. In-class exercise: 2D mapping exercise. Homework: 2-page summary on planning in USVI.

Sense of place/purpose and environmental change

  • Week 8: Sense of place, sense of purpose and environmental change: Introduction to tangible versus intangible outcomes. Understanding the uniqueness of space and time. “Place” as a contemporary symbolism. Social science and place-related research. The need for place-space interactions in coupled human and natural systems. Dynamic societies, communities and contemporary approaches to acquiring a sense of place. Environmental change, place-based community attitudes and sense of purpose. Attachment and detachment as dynamics of social environmental change. Social and environmental identity. Identity and purpose for natural resource management and action. In-class exercise: Synthesize a class sense of place and purpose and relate to our collective and individual learning objectives. Homework: 10-min group summaries on measuring sense of place in marine and environmental systems.

 Livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness in natural resource management and policy

  • Week 9: Livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness in natural resource management and policy: Introduction to livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness research. The lost connection between wellbeing and happiness. Sustainable livelihoods approaches. Choice and outcomes in sustainability of livelihoods. Social, racial, and economic inequalities, livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness. Relation between social indicators and ecosystem services. Introduction to synthetic indexes (e.g., happy planet index, ecological footprint, environmental sustainability index, etc). Criteria and indicators for sustainability and environmental livelihoods. In-class exercise: short-video. Homework: 10-min group summaries assessing the significance of the three concepts (livelihoods, wellbeing and happiness) for the Caribbean reef region.

 The study of coupled human-natural systems

  • Week 10: The study of coupled human-natural or social-ecological systems. Dynamic systems perspectives. Systems as more than sum of the parts. Feedbacks and non-monotonicity as drivers of change. Understanding the role of thresholds, tipping-points and regime transitions in the context of human dimensions in natural resource management and policy. Fundamental overview of resilience theory, complex adaptive systems theory, adaptive governance systems, and social cybernetics. Approaches to study feedbacks between human and natural systems and processes. The role of subjectivity in judgments and heuristic interpretation in decision and policy making for natural resource management. In-class exercise: Shelling and preferential attachment models. Homework: journal paper group critique.

Policy dimensions in environmental and natural resource management

  • Week 11: Policy dimensions in environmental and natural resource management: What are policy dimensions in natural resource management?. Policy actors and institutional consideration. The politics of ecosystem management approaches. From decision to policy-making: important considerations. Achieving community goals and meeting policy expectations. Community-based natural resource management and citizen voice in policy making. Who’s reality counts: policy perspectives. Navigating across agencies and institutions in natural resource management and policy. Complexity and jurisdictional overlap in environmental management – critical approaches. In-class exercise: role-playing game.

 Measuring and assessing human dimensions in natural resource management and policy

  • Week 12: Measuring and assessing human dimensions in natural resource management and policy: Fundamental concepts on measurement and assessment. Static approaches to measurement and assessment – criteria, indicators and simple multidimensional techniques. Dynamic approaches to measuring and assessment – nonparametric and inductive methodologies. Social – ecological emergence as a method for assessing socio-ecological impacts and transformations. Introduction to computational methods and computational social science. In-class exercise: select a problem and assign method of assessment.

Student research project presentations

  • Weeks 13-14: Student Research Project Presentations. Each student will present her/his project, and will address three major questions listed below. Students are expected and encouraged to ask additional questions and to actively and critically evaluate their colleague’s presentation. At the end of each of the weekly presentation session, the students will be asked to provide their evaluation and assessment of everyone’s presentation.
    1. What is the social-natural system that the project examines, and what are the human dimensions considered and investigated?
    2. What methodologies/theories were studied and what was their rationale for selection?, and
    3. What are the results of the study, and what are the recommendation for: (i) community/society?; (ii) management and decision makers?, and; (iii) policy makers and governing bodies?; 
  • Week 15: Wrap-up and collective learning synthesis. In class discussion and dialogue relating to achieved goals and prospects of students and instructor about what was learned and how can learning be improved. Final research papers due.

 Course tools and resources