Climate change and globalization constitute important drivers for social-ecological systems in the rural South. By affecting resource stocks and accessibility, they can exacerbate competition between users and generate conflicts over land or other limited, yet valuable natural resources. These issues are particularly relevant in rural Tunisia where poverty-led, short term resource management strategies combine with changing climatic conditions to threaten water resources, soils, and biodiversity, while the democratic transition engaged in 2011 has yet to create space for involving local communities in decision and policymaking. Attempting to respond to this multidimensional challenge, the Climate Change Adaptation Program for Vulnerable Rural Territories (PACTE) supports experiments on joint management of natural resources, funds the development of sustainable agro-sylvo-pastoral value chains, and promotes local governance mechanisms. In support of this initiative, a collective of researchers is engaged with the Ministry of Agriculture for facilitating the co-design and functioning of multi-stakeholder platforms in five governorates of northern and central Tunisia. These platforms are conceived as collaborative networks gathering a diversity of actors, from central to local levels, organized for public dialogue on territorial development stakes, integrated planning of actions, and impact monitoring and evaluation. This presentation highlights key challenges related to pervasive, deep-rooted relations of mistrust between rural communities and the Tunisian administration, as well as to a lack of resources and agility for participative, cross-sectorial approaches within the administration. It also shows how the break-up with established top-down, sectorial approaches rests on the emergence of new expertise and new institutions in the field of rural development in Tunisia – illustrated in the work of ‘territorial facilitators’ and the establishment of ‘territorial committees’. Facilitation and inclusive institutions appear thus as key elements for addressing local tensions and State-society conflicts and, ultimately, allowing social learning for decentralized, sustainable management of natural resources.