Development of a sustainability assessment tool in the context of social-ecological systems using system simulation and participatory modelling: The case of the Winton Wetlands, Victoria, Australia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

In the last decades, sustainability has become a benchmark for planning and implementing programs around the world. This day and age it might be difficult to find an initiative, programme or project that does not place sustainability as a guiding principle. However, what is understood by sustainability varies almost as much as the initiatives and policies that aim towards sustainable goals. Nowadays, sustainability has been defined from a wide range fields. Lozano (2008b) argues that in its infancy, sustainability was defined emphasizing environmental, social or economic aspects of sustainability separately. More recent definitions of sustainability argue for an integrative interpretation of the term, in which human and environmental elements interact. In this interpretation, actions towards sustainability need to be taken to affect these elements as a whole. Because of integrative interpretation of sustainability, various methods have been designed to assess the sustainability of initiatives in an attempt to help decision makers continuously revise and reflect on decisions taken towards sustainability. Sustainability assessments (SA) can be broadly defined as tools that aid decision and policy makers to determine actions that lead to sustainable outcomes. Historically, the majority of assessments of sustainability can be found so far within two main categories: monetary approaches, designed to give a market value to natural and human resources and biophysical methods that measure sustainability through the underlying biophysical parameters that proxy to environmental impacts. A third type, integrated assessments, has gained importance in the recent years to evaluate sustainability through the complex interactions of the initiative or project with other elements of the social-ecological system (SES) in which it exists. A social-ecological system refers to the interactions between human and ecological systems. This thesis addressed the systemic nature of sustainability by developing a sustainability assessment tool in the context of social-ecological systems (SES). To achieve this, the assessment tool was developed using a mixed methods approach including systems simulation and participatory modelling and was developed through the case study of the restoration and nature-based tourism project of the Winton Wetlands in Victoria, Australia. A conceptual model of the Winton Wetlands social-ecological system was developed through a series of initial and follow-up interviews and a literature review. In this conceptual model, the main elements and interactions of the SES were established. From these interactions, a computer-based agent-based model (ABM) of the SES was implemented. In this model, rules were given to the different agents of the model (birds, fish, tourists, neighbours, etc.) to interact with each other and with their environment. Once the computer-based model was implemented, 250 surveys were collected inquiring on the sustainability values of the community surrounding the restoration and nature-based tourism project of the Winton Wetlands. The results form this surveys were used to develop four plausible scenarios. These scenarios represented potential effects of the restoration and tourism project when certain sustainability values of the community were given preference. For example, in a scenario where economic sustainability is the most important value, all resources were allocated to increase the revenue of the project. As a result of the whole process, potential indicators of sustainability were suggested. These indicators reflect the most important elements and processes that would give sufficient information to the Winton Wetlands Committee of management about the sustainability of the project in any given time as well as the project continues. Some of the main findings include the emergence of trends and patterns in the SES that could not have been seen from analysing the elements separately.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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