Open PhD position at CREAF

Operationalizing the social-ecological system framework to assess sustainable resource management policies in European mountains

Research Project / Research Group Description

Humans are part of most ecosystems at various scales, from households to neighbourhoods to governments, and their collective decisions are integral to sustaining the character and functionality of landscapes. To understand the interactions between social drivers at multiple scales of analysis and ecological outcomes, we will use a modified Ostrom social-ecological systems (SES) framework that also takes into account the ecological drivers. The framework links attributes of the physical world with those of institutions that define a set of rules for actors. All of them influence the resultant interactions and outcomes and create feed-backs. The framework unpacks these first-tier components to reveal second- and third-tier variables at scales relatable to decision-making arenas. The SES framework, supported by a long history of empirical research on the commons, institutions, and collective action was originally designed as a theoretical framework to advance collective action theory, and it is now used by many as a tool to diagnose the sustainability of social-ecological systems. In this PhD project, the candidate will operationalize the SES framework in three different contexts of mountain ecosystems in Europe: the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Scandinavian mountains, the three with differential impacts of various drivers of change (climate change, land use abandonment, tourism, etc), and development priorities. Target environmental resources will be selected according to sustainable priorities in each area, and the various SES’s (at the uni- and multi-dimensional levels) will be described and operationalized to suggest policy strategies in each region.

Job position description

A first phase of the thesis will consist on designing the various SES’s in each mountain range; each SES will be focused on a sustainable management of a resource unit or system of interest (e.g. water, wood, non-woody forest products, biodiversity, etc) taking into account the development priorities in each region. A multidimensional SES (consisting on the various SES’s in each region) will be conceptualized afterwards. During a second phase, the candidate will make extensive use of public databases from the three mountain ranges, and will extract environmental, social and economic information to fill each SES and to calculate and/or directly use indicators of state and change for each of the three pillars (social, environmental and economic). During this phase, interviews and/or meetings (in person or virtually) with various stakeholders in each region may be necessary. During the third and final phase of the PhD thesis, the various SES’s will be formalized and operationalized to derive management solutions in each region. Advanced statistical methods such as SEM (Structural Equation Modeling) and Neural Networks will be used to formalize the interactions among SES elements. Eventual visits and/or stays in the collaborating research institutions (University of Milano/Universitá della Montagna, and the Eastern Norway Research Institute at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences) will also be programmed according to the PhD schedule and progress. Dr. Bernat Claramunt is the coordinator of NEMOR, the Network for European Mountain Research (, so eventual communication with European experts of diverse scientific disciplines will be straightforward. The PhD candidate will be working with another PhD student who us currently using the SES framework to develop a serious game focused on a sustainable management of water in mountain regions, under different climatic and land use scenarios.

You can find more details about the PhD thesis here.