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From Premise to Practice: a Critical Assessment of Integrated Water Resources Management and Adaptive Management Approaches in the Water Sector

Wietske Medema
Brian S McIntosh
Paul J Jeffrey

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Abstract

The complexity of natural resource use processes and dynamics is now well accepted and described in theories ranging across the sciences from ecology to economics. Based upon these theories, management frameworks have been developed within the research community to cope with complexity and improve natural resource management outcomes. Two notable frameworks, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Adaptive Management (AM) have been developed within the domain of water resource management over the past thirty or so years. Such frameworks provide testable statements about how best to organise knowledge production and use to facilitate the realisation of desirable outcomes including sustainable resource use. However evidence for the success of IWRM and AM is mixed and they have come under criticism recently as failing to provide promised benefits. This paper critically reviews the claims made for IWRM and AM against evidence from their implementation and explores whether or not criticisms are rooted in problems encountered during the translation from research to practice. To achieve this we review the main issues that challenge the implementation of both frameworks. More specifically, we analyse the various definitions and descriptions of IWRM and AM. Our findings suggest that similar issues have affected the lack of success that practitioners have experienced throughout the implementation process for both frameworks. These findings are discussed in the context of the broader societal challenge of effective translation of research into practice, science into policy and ambition into achievement.

Key words

adaptive capacity; adaptive management; integrated water resources management; sustainable water management; uncertainty
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087