Water catchments are characterised by connectedness, complexity, uncertainty, conflict, multiple stakeholders and thus, multiple perspectives. Catchments are thus unknowable in objective terms although this understanding does not currently form the dominant paradigm for environmental management and policy development. In situations of this type it is no longer possible to rely only on scientific knowledge for management and policy prescriptions. ¿Social learning¿, which is built on different paradigmatic and epistemological assumptions, offers managers and policy makers alternative and complementary possibilities. Social learning is central to non-coercion. It is gaining recognition as a potential governance or coordination mechanism in complex natural resource situations such as the fulfilment of the European Water Framework Directive, but its underlying assumptions and successful conduct need to be much better understood. SLIM (social learning for the integrated management and sustainable use of water at catchment scale), a European Union, Fifth Framework project assembled a multidisciplinary group of researchers to research social learning in catchments of different type, scale, and socio-economic situation. Social tools and methods were developed from this research which also employed a novel approach to project management. In this introductory paper the rationale for the project, the project design intentions and realisations, and the case for researching social learning in contexts such as water catchments are described. Some challenges presented by a social learning approach for science (as a form of practice) and society in the sustainable management and use of water are raised.
- resource-poor farmers