The social – ecological systems (SES) framework (Ostrom 2009, Science. 325(5939):419 – 22) typologically decomposes SES characteristics into nested, tiered constituent variables. Yet, aligning the framework’s concepts of resource system (RS) and resource unit (RU) with realities of individual case studies poses challenges if the underlying SES is not a single RS, but a mid to large-scale nested RS (NRS). Using a diagnostic approach, we describe NRSs — and the activities and networks of adjacent action situations (NAAS) containing them. An NRS includes the larger RS and multiple interlinked semi-autonomous subsidiary RSs, each of which support simultaneous, differently managed appropriation of individual RUs. We further identify NAASs operating within NRSs in two diverse empirical cases — networks of lake systems in Bengaluru, India and German wheat breeding systems — representing a lever towards understanding transformation of SESs into sustainable futures. This paper contributes towards unpacking and diagnosing complexities within mid to large-scale RSs and their governance. It provides a generalizable, rigorous approach to SES case study analyses, thereby advancing methods for synthesis in sustainability science.
Cite this article: Unnikrishnan, H., Katharina Gerullis, M., Cox, M. et al. Unpacking dynamics of diverse nested resource systems through a diagnostic approach. Sustain Sci (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-022 – 01268‑y