Géraud de Ville

The Open University, Department of Engineering and Innovation
London, UK

Natural resources at the centre of conflicting visions?

COBRA partners convene two sessions at the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society

September 2, 2013

Over 25 researchers attended the two sessions to explore the quantitative/qualitative frontier for consensual environmental management. Participants agreed that if culturally-sensitive, qualitative approaches are the most appropriate for managing natural resources in a specific area, their results are difficult to upscale and generalise to other contexts. However, the processes used may be replicated to generate more successful policies for the management of natural resources.

Project COBRA – Creative Commons

Sustainable natural resource management has become of crucial importance in the face of new challenges such as climate change and accelerated environmental degradation in a world of 7 billion people. In response, current international neoliberal policy formulation and implementation is focused around the management of comodified ‘ecosystem services’ such as carbon storage and biodiversity conservation. REDD+ and other payments for ecosystem services schemes require governments to establish mechanisms for monitoring these ecosystem services or natural goods. In the pursuit of assigning some form of ‘value’ to the environment and its services, together with the predominantly top-down vision governing the process of monitoring, the generally accepted approach has been to focus on highly quantitative forms of measurement and monitoring. Yet, in many countries where state and civic society resources, both financial and human are low, it is the local communities who are being asked to act as the stewards of ecosystems and actually do the ‘management’ and ‘monitoring’ on the ground. But to what extent do local communities living in these ecosystems have quantitative worldviews and means of communication? Studies, particularly on indigenous peoples, indicate the oral, relational, emotional, and visual, as important elements of how communities relate to their environment.

In this session, we drew on Hanson’s (1997) suggestion that geographers should use methods that “maximise the chance that we will see things we were not expecting to see, that leave us open to surprise, that do not foreclose the unexpected, …to…avoid… simply  affirm[ing] what we already believe“ (p.125). In the context of the management of natural resources, we explored the following questions: To what extent and in what aspect do local communities have a more qualitative worldview of their environment?; How is it possible to integrate these qualitative perspectives and dimensions into national and international policies that shape and determine natural resource management for the benefit of local communities?; What methodological tools, including participatory methods, technologies, can we adopt to promote and support a qualitative approach to natural resource management? And with what limits?; How do we analyse and communicate qualitative information?; What is the ‘unexpected’ that might be revealed?



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