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Innovation as an Adaptive Management Strategy in Social-Ecological Systems
Innovation is promoted as a means to address global environmental challenges and achieve resilience in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Innovation allows for adaptation and transformation in socio-ecological systems as part of the adaptive cycle. Within resilience literature, there are myriad definitions of innovation and disagreement about how to motivate diffusion of innovation, making implementation and the sustainability of innovations difficult. Specifically, matching the correct innovation to a given challenge and motivating the adoption of the innovation remains a roadblock to using innovation to address global environmental change. Here we show that there are explicit conflicts among definitions of innovation, and that innovation in the field does not align with some of these definitions. We found that the diverse definitions of innovation show a more complex view of innovation than normative treatment in policy suggests. We also found that several interacting motivations affect long-term participation in certain innovation activities. We discovered that binary views of innovation as either incremental or radical are generally supported in examples of innovation in the field, although some of the most successful examples of innovation better aligned with a continuum view of innovation associated with the adaptive cycle. Our results add to the warm-glow hypothesis that for altruistic tasks, the degree of participation motivated by a warm-glow feeling which can be enhanced by other motivations. Contrary to crowding out theory, our results suggest that monetary incentives result in higher adoption in Malawi where cost of contributing is high. The findings demonstrate the complexity of innovation, the misalignment between policy and practice, and ways in which adoption might be optimized. This research is a starting point to inform discussion about pragmatic innovation typologies. Such a typology could help operationalize the SDGs by framing the innovation dialogue between policy and practice.