05 June 2018

Recent Publication by Jan Sendzimir

IIASA RISK Guest Research Scholar Jan Sendzimir and Prof. Stefan Schmutz, Head of the Institute of Hydrobiology and Aquatic Ecosystem Management at BOKU, recently published "Riverine Ecosystem Management: Science for Governing Towards a Sustainable Future." 

Jan Sendzimir

Jan Sendzimir

Dr. Jan Sendzimir and Prof. Stefan Schmutz recently had a book launch at IIASA hosted by the RISK Program.

Sendzimir summarizes the book as "two years of work at editing and writing with Prof. Schmutz has pulled together three decades of research in Europe, Africa and Asia on restoring river ecosystem integrity, which can serve as a guide in trying to manage rivers sustainability in the face of global change."

Schmutz explained the principle considerations about the book:

"Traditionally you have text books on limnology and aquatic ecology, and there are a number out there. Then you have books on river basin management and river engineering but there is no book that tries to combine the two elements - the ecological and management domains. We precisely checked the literature and didn't find anything, and that was the main decision to try and compose a completely different book, where the issues are not separated but integrated. In each chapter of the book you find both elements represented, which was a challenge because we try to keep them short and concise but on the other hand for them to be interdisciplinary and transdiciplinary for the principle design of each chapter."

On editing this book with Sendzimir, Schmutz mentions, it was great "because we could start from a very high level of understanding" given his experiences at IIASA with interdisciplinary and transdiciplinary work.

Sendzimir joined IIASA as a young student in 1983, when Buzz Holling was Director, becoming fascinated with adaptive management. He mentioned in his presentation that Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer and Anna Vari, with the Institute of Sociology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, successfully used interdisciplinary science and adaptive management at IIASA on a project dealing with managing floods in Hungary. Sendzimir elaborates, "they were asking economical questions that had physiological and ecological consequences: how do we manage floods in Hungary and how do we compensate people for flood in Hungary. When the socialist government there collapsed, there was no longer a government benefactor that would bail everyone out, which was what everyone was used to for almost a century. So when people came up with the superficial idea 'let's just establish a market', their research showed that there was no base for a market because people wouldn't take responsibility. So here you get to the real transdisciplinarity of it: your engineering isn't enough, your ecology isn't enough, your social science and economics isn't enough, you have to get all the way to the underlying psychology of why people feel responsible." Adaptive management allows you to see the interconnections - where you're blocked, where you need to go, and the synergies that would benefit everyone. 

This book illustrates through examples where BOKU successful used adaptive management on river ecosystems. Lessons learned through these examples include how hard it is to bring the right people to the table to discuss these important topics . Sendzimir stated, "It's much more than having the right process and the right question. We're seeing what it takes to bring the science to the right place where it can be successfully used."

Schmutz elaborated: "You need the right persons, enough time, resources dedicated to the asks, including for the communication required in a transdisciplinary network. It's not enough to hold one workshop or meeting. You have to talk to the people, see their problems by visiting the sites to see their perspectives. You have to learn their language, and you have to give them the opportunity to learn your language, which means you have to explain complex ecosystem processes in simple terms. That is something we, as scientists, need to learn because we're not trained on that, and it needs time, money and people eager to do it. You also need trust from different stakeholders, and trust is always associated with time. There's no space for that in the traditional funding scheme, where you have science, you have problems, and you put that all together for the solutions. There's much more that needs to be compiled."

And from these experiences emerged an important message from Sendzimir to young scientists. "Right now it's not enough to be a bright student who solves problems. You have to move beyond that to apply the science or have the science properly applied." One has to be able to explain complex systems science in simple compelling words in a way that will keep people wanting to talk to you. One needs to fully listen, be able to respond and have a dialogue on complex scientific issues. 

Stefan Schmutz, from BOKU, and Jan Sendzimir during their visit at IIASA.

About Jan Sendzimir

Jan Sendzimir first came to IIASA in the summer of 1983 to work with H.T. Odum on systems energy analysis of national economies. He is presently working in the Risk and Resilience (RISK) Program.

Dr. Sendzimir studied systems ecology as part of the environmental engineering program at the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA, under H.T. Odum (master’s degree in 1984) and C.S. ("Buzz") Holling (PhD in 1998). In the interim he worked as a wetlands ecologist in the design and integration of natural and artificial wetlands into waste treatment systems. In addition to field research on the dynamics of lake, river and forest ecosystems, Dr. Sendzimir collaborates with academia, NGOs and government on research applied to problems with complex combinations of ecological, economic and sociopolitical factors that occur over relatively large areas such as river basins, major watersheds and mountain chains. A major research area focuses on how ecological, social and economic interactions influence our capacity to adapt to and/or mitigate change at different scales and how that affects the robustness and resilience of social-ecological systems to change. He uses conceptual and formal modeling as social simulation exercises (role-playing games) to integrate perspectives from different disciplines and sectors of society in decision-making frameworks such as the adaptive management process.

Dr. Sendzimir’s current projects use modeling to guide scientific research - policy development related to the sustainable development of communities in major river systems: The Narew, Odra and Barycz rivers (Poland), the Rhine and Elbe (Germany), the Tisza river (Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary), and the Amudarya (Uzbekistan) as well as in semi-arid regions in Africa (Sahel) and Central America (Central Cordillera of Nicaragua).

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Last edited: 21 June 2018


Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler

Senior Research Scholar Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

Jan Sendzimir

Guest Research Scholar Equity and Justice Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program

Riverine Ecosystem Management

Science for Governing Towards a Sustainable Future


International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313