It’s more top-down and outside-in than bottom-up or inside-out

–Assume the recommendation is that stakeholders sit down and hammer out a management plan for the landscape. Assume they are community residents, large business- and land-owners, representatives from local non-profits or NGOs, and government officials and planners with duties for the area. Looks bottom-up, at first pass.

What if the businesspeople and large landowners do not live within the landscape; the NGO personnel are headquartered or live elsewhere; and government officials attend if able to travel from the capitol? Stakeholders they are, but do they have the same “stake” in the landscape as do local residents–namely, the only stakeholders in this “bottom-up” exercise that reside in the area to be better managed?

–This kind of stakeholder planning isn’t so much bottom-up as it is outside-in planning. It equates outsiders and insiders as well as experts and residents are stakeholders, full stop. It asserts that the claims of expertise or government duties in the landscape are right up there with the claims arising from full-time presence there.

A different exercise is to come up with recommendations that promote inside-out planning and management, where locals are themselves the professionals and where the planning and management process is initiated and guided by those within the landscape. Policy relevance of information gathered under these conditions is more likely to increase when those who determine what information is needed end up using the information they themselves have gathered.

–Which is to be preferred: (first-pass) bottom-up or (in-practice) inside-out? The answer depends on your stance with respect to the context complexities for planning.

A top-down or outside-in approach to sustainable livelihoods might be grounded in an overall design or foundation said to be better or best for realizing the goals and mandates of “sustainable livelihoods.” In contrast, the goals and mandates that emerge from a bottom-up or inside-out approach are likely to differ, when really-existing practices, rather than macro-designs, accommodate the local contingencies.

The crux for me is whether or not the contingently local practices are directed to reducing the complexities that give rise to having to live sustainably. When sustainable livelihoods are a response to context complexity, insiders must be expected to wonder what are options, if any, to reduce the complexity outright. Inside-out and bottom-up are to be distinguished from each other if their respective practices represent different orientations to accommodating or reducing the complexity.

–A last point. One form of accommodating complexity is to recast a seemingly intractable problem more tractably. Doing so isn’t simplifying or reducing the complexity; indeed, recasting shows the issue to be complex in other ways than thought to that point. A new analogy, for example, illuminates complexity rather than shrinks it.

From my perspective, it’s much better to think of sustainability not so much as ensuring resources for future generations as it is increasing the opportunities of this generation to respond to unpredictable change without killing ourselves in the process. Both tasks are complex; the latter, however, is a necessary albeit not sufficient condition for the former. To repeat this blog’s mantra: If you can’t manage now, why would I believe you can manage later?

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