Integrating knowledge exchange and the assessment of dryland management alternatives – A learning-centered participatory approach

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The adoption of sustainable land management strategies and practices that respond to current climate and human pressures requires both assessment tools that can lead to better informed decision-making and effective knowledge-exchange mechanisms that facilitate new learning and behavior change. We propose a learning-centered participatory approach that links land management assessment and knowledge exchange and integrates science-based data and stakeholder perspectives on both biophysical and socio-economic attributes. We outline a structured procedure for a transparent assessment of land management alternatives, tailored to dryland management, that is based on (1) principles of constructivism and social learning, (2) the participation of stakeholders throughout the whole assessment process, from design to implementation, and (3) the combination of site-specific indicators, identified by local stakeholders as relevant to their particular objectives and context conditions, and science-based indicators that represent ecosystem services of drylands worldwide. The proposed procedure follows a pattern of eliciting, challenging, and self-reviewing stakeholder perspectives that aims to facilitate learning. The difference between the initial baseline perspectives and the final self-reviewed stakeholder perspectives is used as a proxy of learning. We illustrate the potential of this methodology by its application to the assessment of land uses in a Mediterranean fire-prone area in East Spain. The approach may be applied to a variety of socio-ecological systems and decision-making and governance scales.
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