The GRIN Meeting: A ‘third place’ for managers and scholars of social-ecological systems

Author(s): Roux, D. Clements, H., Currie, B., Fritz, H., Gordon, P., Kruger, N. & Freitag-Ronaldson, S.
Link to CST author(s): Dr Hayley Clements
Publication: South African Journal of Science
Year: 2020
Full reference: Roux D, Clements H, Currie B, Fritz H, Gordon P, Kruger N, et al. The GRIN Meeting: A ‘third place’ for managers and scholars of social-ecological systems. S Afr J Sci. 2020;116(3/4), Art. #7598, 2 pages.
Download publication'third_place'_for_managers_and_scholars_of_social-ecological_systems


In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg writes about the important role that ‘third places’ play in community building. Third places refer to social environments other than home (first place) and work (second place) where people spend time. These places provide neutral ground for engagement and relationship building, with conversation or dialogue being the main activity. Churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries and parks are examples of third places. The ancient Greek concept of the agora or ‘gathering place’ is an older variant of a third place, which served as a dedicated public space in a city-state for deliberating philosophical, artistic, spiritual, economic and political affairs of the day.Third places or agora-type spaces are also required for scientists and practitioners to meet, share experiences and learn together.

This requirement is particularly relevant for addressing sustainability challenges, which typically requires consideration of diverse scientific expertise in combination with social values, policies and management practices. Sustainability challenges are social-ecological in nature and characterised by complex feedbacks, contested decision options and uncertain outcomes. Addressing these challenges usually goes beyond the capacity of any one organisation and requires integration of knowledge from across disciplines, sectors, scales and science–policy–practice realms. Furthermore, these challenges tend to evolve and hence call for adaptive approaches that allow for continual reframing, ongoing and collaborative learning and cooperative decision-making. The Garden Route Interface and Networking (GRIN) Meeting was initiated in 2017 with the aim of creating a third place for dialogue on, and advancement of, research and practice dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems, and with how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability. Held in the Garden Route over 3 days during September–October of each year, GRIN addresses two important interfaces: research–practice and human–nature (or social-ecological). As such, the overarching theme of GRIN meetings is research and management for sustainable social-ecological systems. Social-ecological systems that have been presented at GRIN meetings include estuaries, protected areas, agricultural landscapes, cities, fisheries and catchments