The SES theory recognizes that human dimension shapes and is shaped by environment, so that social and ecological systems are interconnected and coevolving across scales. Since both social and ecological systems are dynamical, the associated policies, including economy that represents the main driver, have to be dynamical; governance systems based on policies that try to control few ecological processes (command and control) do not allow the sustaining of the capacity to deal with change, producing fragile SESs.

A central aspect in dealing with SESs is that they are characterized by cross-scale interactions, both temporal and spatial, and the same is applicable to their governance, because decisions taken at one place in the past and in the present can affect people currently or in the future living elsewhere. The approach used to dealing with SESs assigns surplus value to a social system that clears the limits of sociological approach. In this perspective, social system includes also economic, institutional, and management aspects, by setting the rules. This gains in importance because, according to the 'tragedy of the commons', the prediction is that in the absence of rules governing who can use natural resources (open access), individual users pursue their own interests, as in the case of ecosystem goods and services.

Since systems are uncertain and complex, the management needs to be flexible and adaptive, recognizing that it is impossible to control so many variables. Strategically, the only way to manage SESs is to adopt a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programs, by evaluating alternative hypotheses about the system being managed.

See also: Ecosystem Services; Hierarchy Theory in Ecology; Panarchy; Self-Organization.

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