Putting local well-being into the game? A transdisciplinary approach to mangrove management planning and monitoring in North Brazil
Marion Glaser
Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT)
University of Bremen

Summary for the International Workshop on Researching Well-being in Developing Countries July 2-4 2004
at the
Hanse Institute for Advanced Study

This paper arises from the context within which natural resource planning is undertaken in natural science-led projects such as at the Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology at the University of Bremen. Here, the major orientation for interdisciplinary ecosystem research and management programmes in often physically remote and poor regions of tropical countries is, or was up to very recently, natural science data. Natural science information on how ecosystem resources reproduce themselves was expected to indicate how human population should – or, more often, should not – use the natural resources of the ecosystems in question. Human well-being and quality of life dimensions were marginalised by the statement that, with the degradation or destruction of an ecosystem, the basis for human livelihoods and well-being would be removed anyhow. The Mangrove Dynamics and Management Programme (MADAM), an interdisciplinary Brazilian-German research cooperation programme started in 1995 with the assumptions that humanity is to be regarded merely as an ecosystem predator against whom conservation efforts have to be enforced through direct external control of ecosystem users or environmental education.

Now in its ninth year, MADAM´s socio-economic research group has supplemented its initially assigned sole task of quantifying the human impact on the coastal ecosystem with the much wider objective of capacitating coastal co-management to in order to increase the likelihood of sustainable coastal management. One intention in this context is to establish stakeholder priorities, especially those of direct ecosystem users as traceable variables in ecosystem planning and monitoring: Our hypothesis here was that as local stakeholders’ priorities gain in precedence in coastal management planning, implementation and monitoring, so will social objectives such as well-being, quality of life and social sustainability rise in relative precedence as a management objective.

We work on the coast of Bragança in the North-East of the North Brazilian state of Pará. The work reported was undertaken by the socio-economic research group of the MADAM programme which I coordinate, and whose currently 14 members are mainly Brazilian and some German under- and postgraduates from the social sciences in the wider sense.

Our major work steps were as follows

1. Identify and select coastal management stakeholders

2. Determine stakeholder priorities for coastal management

3. Develop indicators of success

4. Select indicators and structure an indicator system

5. Set up regular participatory data collection and analysis

The paper reports on the methods and results of the above work chronology which operated as an adaptive cycle with continuous backloops of information and adjustment. Our approach was not initially focussed on well-being as such but on capacitating and empowering the priorities of hitherto marginalized ecosystem users, and on establishing social sustainability as a monitorable variable in the natural resources management process. Our results, however, clearly point to the centrality of well-being as a stakeholder priority.

Entering the arena of practical applicability in coastal management, we then introduce “the amoeba”, a planning tool currently being adapted from a range of predecessors from arenas as disparate as development work, the biological sciences and traffic planning. The amoeba is an integrated visualisation tool which is accessible to audiences of varying degrees of formal education. It can integrate highly subjective and stakeholder-specific priorities such as well-being along with other planning criteria even if data types and degrees of accuracy vary widely. In a context of regular participatory data collection and analysis over time, the amoeba may enable a transdisciplinary and adaptive form of analysis which reveals whose priorities are being achieved – or not - in ongoing implementation. The capacity of the amoeba to combine locally meaningful indicators with natural and social science indicators is central in this. Our ongoing work aims to generate a situation in which local priorities which, as we have found centrally revolve around well-being, can be rendered more effective within the political process. Current results also show, however, that there are specific obstacles in the translation of ecosystem users’ criteria for well-being into effective indicators.