Problems of scale abound in the governance of complex social-ecological systems. The governance of these systems typically occurs at a single scale (e.g. local, national), but needs to inform governance and actions at other scales to be truly effective at achieving social and ecological outcomes across multiple scales. This process of integrating conservation planning across scales is conventionally conceived as unidirectional and a dichotomy between scaling down or scaling up, in the way it both exploits and creates the natural, social, human, institutional, and financial resources and benefits that are collectively known as conservation ‘capital’.
In a new paper led by Jessica Cheok and published in Global Environmental Change, we analyse multiscale conservation planning in practice and the different types of capital that impede or facilitate its effectiveness. We use Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as case studies, where conservation planning processes have inadvertently occurred different levels (e.g. local, provincial, national). We found evidence for multidirectional scaling, contrary to the perceived dichotomy of scaling down or scaling up. Multidirectional scaling was cultivated by the following six scale-explicit characteristics of effective conservation governance: 1) multiscale understanding, 2) scale jumping, 3) scaled leadership characteristics, 4) scaled stakeholder engagement, 5) scaled policy frameworks, and 6) scaled institutional settings. The latter four are familiar concepts in the conservation planning literature, though are not always recognised as explicitly scalar – our findings emphasise the need to ensure they are multiscale (i.e. present across all levels of planning).
We know little about the first two characteristics, multiscale understanding and scale jumping. Based on this novelty and relevance, we propose a new form of capital – ‘scalar capital’ – to complement natural, social, human, institutional, and financial capitals as both input and outcome of effective conservation governance. The paper demonstrates that scalar capital facilitates flows of different conservation resources (data, conservation objectives, practitioner experience, institutional support, and funding) between planning processes in multiple directions. Critically, we present empirical evidence that conservation governance can foster scalar capital to improve outcomes across multiple scales.