Addressing the environmental challenges of the 21st century requires substantial changes to the way modern society views and manages ecosystems. In particular, many authors contend that fundamental transformation of the largely sectoral, expert-centered ecosystem-management institutions of modern, Western societies is needed. There is increasing agreement that more adaptive, integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches, interlinked at multiple scales, would improve society’s ability to sustainably manage complex social–ecological systems. Therefore, understanding processes of transformation, and factors that may enable transformation in ecosystem management, has become an active research area. We explore ecosystem-management transformations using a social-innovation framework. Based on three local-level case studies of transformation in freshwater management, we provide a pilot assessment of factors that may promote the emergence and adoption of integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches. Our analysis suggests that ongoing environmental degradation, increasing environmental awareness, and shifting societal values are creating fertile ground for the emergence and adoption of new approaches to ecosystem management. Based on the case studies we examined, we suggest that initiatives that foster environmental awareness and attachment to local ecosystems, develop capacity for social entrepreneurship in the environmental arena, promote dialogue between key stakeholders, and provide institutional support to new institutions may facilitate the emergence of integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches.
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