Theme leader, Adaptive governance, networks and learning

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Staff profile

Per Olsson is a researcher and theme leader for Adaptive Governance at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and leads the centre's initiative on Innovation and Transformation in Social-Ecological Systems

Profile summary

  • He holds a Ph.D. in natural resource management from Stockholm University
  • He as co-authored a number of book chapters and scientific articles, including high impact journals Science and Global Environmental Change
  • He works with a number of research outreach initiatives, such as SHIFT, Biosphere Innovation System, Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Program, and Coral Guardian

Per Olsson holds a Ph.D. in natural resource management from Stockholm University and is a researcher and theme leader for Adaptive Governance at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. He leads the Centre's initiative on Innovation and Transformation in Social-Ecological Systems.

His primary research interest is in linked social-ecological system dynamics and resilience. His current research is in global sustainability transformations and how to reverse current trends of crossing critical thresholds and tipping points in the Earth system. This involves studies of agency, social-ecological innovations, and the emergence of new, multi-level governance regimes in response to uncertainty and rapid change.

He has co-authored a number of book chapters including a chapter for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and articles in scientific journals including Science, PNAS, TREE, Ambio, Global Environmental Change, Environmental Management, Ecosystems, Ecology and Society, and the Annual Review of the Environment and Resources.

Dr. Olsson maintains an extensive international scientific network including researchers at the STEPS Centre (UK), Social Innovation Generation (Canada), DRIFT (The Netherlands), James Cook University (Australia), Stanford University, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is an active member of the Resilience Alliance and a subject editor for the journal Ecology and Society.

Dr. Olsson has current research and outreach initiatives in collaboration with SHIFT (an accelerator for start-ups), Biosphere Innovation System (a platform for social-ecological innovation), Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Program, and Coral Guardians (combining music and science for better coral reefs stewardship). These projects serve as innovation spaces for combining music, art, policy and science.


Publications by Olsson, Per

Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene

Bennett EM, Solan M, Biggs R, McPhearson T, Norström AV, Olsson P, Pereira L, Peterson GD, Raudsepp-Hearne C, Biermann F, Carpenter SR, Ellis EC, Hichert T, Galaz V, Lahsen M, Milkoreit M, López BM, Nicholas KA, Preiser R, Vince G, Vervoort JM, Xu J.

2016 - Journal / article

The scale, rate, and intensity of humans’ environmental impact has engendered broad discussion about how to find plausible pathways of development that hold the most promise for fostering a better future in the Anthropocene. However, the dominance of dystopian visions of irreversible environmental degradation and societal collapse, along with overly optimistic utopias and business-as-usual scenarios that lack insight and innovation, frustrate progress. Here, we present a novel approach to thinking about the future that builds on experiences drawn from a diversity of practices, worldviews, values, and regions that could accelerate the adoption of pathways to transformative change (change that goes beyond incremental improvements). Using an analysis of 100 initiatives, or “seeds of a good Anthropocene”, we find that emphasizing hopeful elements of existing practice offers the opportunity to: (1) understand the values and features that constitute a good Anthropocene, (2) determine the processes that lead to the emergence and growth of initiatives that fundamentally change human–environmental relationships, and (3) generate creative, bottom-up scenarios that feature well-articulated pathways toward a more positive future.

Adaptive governance, ecosystem management, and natural capital

Schultz, L., C. Folke, H. Österblom, P. Olsson

2015 - Journal / article

To gain insights into the effects of adaptive governance on natural capital, we compare three well-studied initiatives; a landscape in Southern Sweden, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and fisheries in the Southern Ocean. We assess changes in natural capital and ecosystem services related to these social-ecological governance approaches to ecosystem management and investigate their capacity to respond to change and new challenges. The adaptive governance initiatives are compared with other efforts aimed at conservation and sustainable use of natural capital: Natura 2000 in Europe, lobster fisheries in the Gulf of Maine, North America, and fisheries in Europe. In contrast to these efforts, we found that the adaptive governance cases developed capacity to perform ecosystem management, manage multiple ecosystem services, and monitor, communicate, and respond to ecosystem-wide changes at landscape and seascape levels with visible effects on natural capital. They enabled actors to collaborate across diverse interests, sectors, and institutional arrangements and detect opportunities and problems as they developed while nurturing adaptive capacity to deal with them. They all spanned local to international levels of decision making, thus representing multilevel governance systems for managing natural capital. As with any governance system, internal changes and external drivers of global impacts and demands will continue to challenge the long-term success of such initiatives.

Adaptive governance of the Baltic Sea - lessons from elsewhere

Valman, M., Österblom, H., Olsson, P.

2015 - Journal / article

Governance of marine resources is increasingly characterized by integrated, cross sectoral and ecosystem based approaches. Such approaches require that existing governing bodies have an ability to adapt to ecosystem dynamics, while also providing transparent and legitimate outcomes. Here, we investigate how the Baltic Marin Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), the international governin body for the Baltic Sea, could improve its prospects for working with the ecosystem approach, drawing from the literature on adaptive governance. We construct an ideal type of adaptive governance to which we compare the way in which HELCOM is operating and relate thes dynamics to two other international marine environment governanc organizations, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisherie and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and the Commission for the Conservation o Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). We conclude that HELCO deviates from an ideal type of adaptive governance in several ways bu also that the other two case studies provide empirical support fo potential ways in which HELCOM could improve its adaptive capacity. Ke aspects where HELCOM could improve include increasing stakeholder participation – both in information sharing and decision making. Further, HELCOM need to develop evaluation mechanisms, secure compliance to improve adaptive capacity and organizational effectiveness, which entails the development of structures for conflict resolution. Finally, HELCOM need to increase communication and harmonization between different levels of authority.

Olsson, Per

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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