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Méndez, P. F., N. Isendahl, J. M. Amezaga, and L. Santamaría. 2012. Facilitating transitional processes in rigid institutional regimes for water management and wetland conservation: experience from the Guadalquivir Estuary. Ecology and Society 17(1): 26.
http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04494-170126
Research, part of a special feature on Implementing Participatory Water Management: Recent Advances in Theory, Practice and Evaluation

Facilitating Transitional Processes in Rigid Institutional Regimes for Water Management and Wetland Conservation: Experience from the Guadalquivir Estuary

1Laboratory of Spatial Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (Spanish Research Council, University of the Balearic Islands), 2Institute of Environmental Systems Research (University of Osnabrück), 3Institute for Research on Environment and Sustainability, University of Newcastle

ABSTRACT

Traditional policies for water resources management and wetland conservation are often based on command-and-control approaches. The latter tend to drive the human–wetland–water system into pathological states, characterized by more vulnerable ecosystems and rigid institutions for governance. The overcoming of these states may rest in the development of flexible and adaptive institutional regimes that rely on adaptive governance and management. Because past factors might constrain the implementation of more flexible adaptive approaches to management, it is important to understand the historical mechanisms underlying the genesis of institutional rigidity. We first present the results of a historical analysis of Doñana, which can be characterized as a pathological water socio-ecosystem governed through rigid institutional regimes for water resources management and wetland conservation. In a second step, we analyze the advances achieved during a recent, large-scale restoration program for the Doñana wetlands, which adhered explicitly to the tenets of adaptive management. Our analysis indicated that the historical persistence of command-and-control approaches has been a path-dependent process that led to the emergence of a rigid institutional regime and caused it to enter a rigidity trap. However, the achievements of the restoration program suggest that a more flexible and adaptive regime could be developed through the introduction of adaptive management at the operational levels, using specifically tailored action research programs. To conclude, we speculate that the research strategy outlined could be extended to comply with, or complement, the requirements of the EU's Water Framework Directive in other European water socio-ecosystems.
Key words: action research; adaptive cycle; adaptive management; command and control; Doñana; Guadalquivir Estuary; path dependence; rigid institutional regimes; Water Framework Directive

INTRODUCTION

Wetland ecosystems provide essential services to society, such as water storage, purification and supply, flood mitigation and erosion control, and stabilization of local climate conditions (Ramsar Convention Secretariat 2006). Hence, the sustainable use and management of wetlands and water resources is a widely acknowledged need (Davis and Froend 1999, Amezaga and Santamaría 2000, Folke 2003, Gleick 2003, Zedler and Kercher 2005, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2006, Vadineanu and Preda 2008). However, current policies for water resource management and wetland conservation (WRM and WC hereafter) are most often based upon the recurrent application of panaceas (e.g., blueprint solutions) that obviate the complex, variable, and uncertain nature of wetland ecosystems (Carpenter et al. 1999, Arrow et al. 2000, Scheffer et al. 2001, Brock and Carpenter 2007, Meinzen-Dick 2007). Such panaceas operate under two implicit assumptions: (1) a predictable biophysical world in static equilibrium, and (2) productivity can be maximized infinitely through the minimization of the effects of natural variability and the simplification, centralization, and compartmentalization of management operations (after Costanza et al. 1993, Carpenter and Gunderson 2001, Folke et al. 2005, Ostrom 2009, Pahl-Wostl 2009). At their core, these types of policies are based on top-down, unique target command-and-control approaches that, although sometimes leading to short-term improvements, ultimately drive the whole human–wetland–water system into undesirable, pathological states characterized by: (1) more vulnerable, i.e., less resilient, aquatic ecosystems, (2) rigid institutions for governance, distrusted by local societies, and (3) economies that become highly dependent on limited sets of resources (sensu Holling and Meffe 1996, Olsson et al. 2006, Beier et al. 2009).

To overcome these constraints, two factors must converge. Firstly, because humans are crucial components of the system and directly affect its trajectory, the coupled and complex nature of human institutions, wetlands ecosystems, and water resources must be recognized, and such understanding incorporated into operative policies, for example through their conceptualization as integrated water socio-ecosystems (WSES hereafter) (after Anderies et al. 2004, Berkes et al. 2003, Janssen et al. 2007, Norberg and Cumming 2008). Secondly, the creation of more flexible and adaptive institutional regimes in which reactive, command-and-control responses to uncertainty and unpredictability are replaced by proactive, structured, and informed decision making processes may require the gradual implementation of transitional processes (Gunderson and Light 2006, Pahl-Wostl 2007).

Such regimes are based on adaptive governance, an emergent framework for the management of complex socio-ecosystems aimed at integrating science, policy, and decision making (Folke et al. 2005, Brunner et al. 2006). This framework postulates the need for organizing governance around systems of organizations, polycentric institutional arrangements, and networks of individuals with self-organization and self-enforcing capabilities, in order to achieve an optimal balance between decentralized and centralized control (Folke et al. 2005). At the management and technical levels, they rely on the implementation of adaptive management, a critical component of adaptive governance that involves: (1) continual, participatory processes aimed at rationally defining problems and developing solutions, (2) structured representation of knowledge and evaluation of scenarios by means of dynamic models, and (3) identification of uncertainties and alternative hypotheses to be tested through a structured process of investigation, in which policy failure is acknowledged as a source of learning (Holling 1978, Walters and Hilborn 1978, Walters 1986, Lee 1993, Lee 1999, Gregory et al. 2006, Polasky et al. 2011).

In summary, while adaptive management aims to reduce our ignorance by using direct management actions as experiments to test implemented policies at the operational levels, adaptive governance deals with the institutional barriers and opportunities to the implementation of adaptive management (Gunderson and Light 2006). Indeed, adaptive management often encounters institutional factors (e.g., rules, organizational structures, shared ideas and paradigms, individual attitudes) that may undermine the chances of its successful implementation (McLain and Lee 1996, Walters 1997, Gunderson 1999, Noble 2000, Lee 2003, Walkerden 2005, Marmorek et al. 2006, Folke et al. 2007, Méndez et al. 2010). This risk is particularly pronounced in pathological WSES; hence, it is of utmost importance to understand both their rigid institutional configuration and the historical mechanisms underlying the genesis of rigidity, in order to facilitate potential transitions to more flexible and adaptive institutional regimes.

As part of a wider, long-term research program, we present the results of a historical institutional analysis of the Doñana region, which we propose as a case study of pathological WSES governed through rigid institutional regimes for WRM and WC. We first outline the research program, its general aims, and the specific objectives of the historical analysis. Then we present the methods used, followed by the results, which are presented as a systems narrative that synthesizes our interpretation of the genesis and evolution of the institutional regimes. In a second step of investigation, we analyze and discuss the advances achieved during a recent, large-scale restoration program for the Doñana wetlands, which adhered explicitly to the tenets of adaptive management. In the closure of the article, we speculate on the potential extension of our research strategy to comply with, or complement, the requirements of the European Union’s Water Framework Directive at other European WSES, and propose future research needs.

RESEARCH SITE AND OBJECTIVES

Doñana is located in the right bank of the Guadalquivir Estuary (south-west Spain). During the last two centuries, the Guadalquivir’s marsh and floodplain wetlands have been modified by the intensification of agriculture and water resource use, compounded in the last decades by accelerated tourism, infrastructure, and urban development. The result is a fragmented wetland that has lost most of its original extension and complexity (Amezaga and Santamaría 2000, Fernández and Pradas 2000a, Fernández-Delgado 2006, García and Marín 2006, Méndez et al. 2010). Such changes, along with other developments at the basin level (e.g., metalliferous mining, fluvial navigation), have bequeathed to the region increasing environmental hazards, nature conservation threats, and physical pressures (e.g., overextraction of groundwater, waterfowl mortalities, biological invasions), as well as intricate conflicts in the social realm (e.g., struggles with cattle and horse breeders, furtive hunting, economic dependence on external subsidies) (Amezaga and Santamaría 2000, González-Arteaga 2005, Fernández-Delgado 2006, Tablado et al. 2010, Martín-López et al. 2011, Palomo et al. 2011). Our long-term research program paralleled the implementation of the large restoration projects, “Guadiamar’s Green Corridor” and “Doñana 2005”, launched in response to the accidental collapse of the tailings dam of “Los Frailes” zinc mines in 1998 (Meharg et al. 1999, Taggart et al. 2004). Both projects adhered explicitly to adaptive management tenets (Montes 2002, García and Marín 2006, Santamaría et al. 2006). Our program focused on identifying the institutional constraints and opportunities for the full development of such tenets.

Overall, the program aims to: (1) use historical and current knowledge to understand and explain Doñana’s rigid institutional regimes, (2) provide, on the basis of these results, general policy guidance and specific recommendations for a managed transition towards more flexible and adaptive regimes, (3) carry out a coupled action-research program that facilitates actor involvement in the potential transition, while documenting and developing both. In particular, we wanted to evaluate whether adaptive management could be introduced at the regime’s operational levels, in particular, at the research–management interface, and whether it represents a significant avenue for the resolution of the long-standing conflict between WRM and WC in the region.

The specific objectives of the historical analysis presented in this article were:


METHODS

The methodology employed in the historical analysis consisted of the construction of a systems narrative interpreting the genesis of Doñana’s institutional regimes for WRM and WC and, in particular, of their rigidity. The next sections describe the methods employed in our research program, with a focus on the construction of the narrative (see Table 1 for a summary).

Single case study research approach

We chose to analyze Doñana as a single case study because (1) Doñana constituted a “critical case” (sensu Yin 2008:47) to test the applicability of our theoretical framework; (2) this approach was instrumental for accomplishing our long-term goal of providing specific policy-relevant recommendations for a managed transition in Doñana. As a consequence, our results can be generalized to theory, not to “populations or universes” (i.e., analytical generalization, Yin 2008:15). Theory is used as a template with which to compare the empirical results of the case study. Replication can be claimed if evidence from two or more cases is shown to support such theory (Yin 2008).

Theoretical framework


Propositional conceptualization of rigid institutional regimes
For the purpose of the analysis presented here, which has an exploratory and systemic character, institutional regimes were conceptualized as the on-the-ground matrix of institutions, organizational structures, and epistemological domains that define policy formation, decision-making procedures and required action or outcomes for the accomplishment of a certain societal function, in this case, WRM and WC (based on Gunderson et al. 1995, Holling and Meffe 1996, Ostrom 2005, Hotimsky et al. 2006, Pahl-Wostl 2007, Fischer-Kowalski and Rotmans 2009). We chose to organize the analysis using the Institutional Analysis and Development framework (IAD) (Figure 1; Ostrom et al. 1994), due to its descriptive power, analytical versatility and theoretical interoperability (Clement 2010, Poteete et al. 2010). According to it, institutions are the formal and informal prescriptions (i.e., rules-in-use) about what actions or states of the world are required, prohibited, or permitted. Actors use these prescriptions to organize repetitive and structured interactions while participating in action situations within the regime’s action arenas, at three different levels (see Fig. 1). Institutions are considered as an exogenous variable of the arena; other exogenous variables include the biophysical system being acted upon, in this case Doñana’s hydro-ecological system, and the culture of the community (Ostrom 2005). The latter is a very broad and relevant concept, considered as an institution itself by sociological disciplines (see Hall and Taylor 1996). For this analysis, we considered epistemological domains (e.g., scientific-technical approaches, traditional ecological knowledge) as a sufficient observable element for understanding the formation of the RIR and left out the more general concept of culture, which will be analyzed in subsequent studies of the current institutional configuration. Organizational structures (e.g., management and enforcing agencies, property systems) were considered as a response to the institutional matrix of the system (sensu North 1990a), occurring at the action–arena level.

Insights and evidence about Doñana drawn from the literature, as well as our own informal observations and comparisons (“empirical puzzles”, sensu Thelen 1999) over two decades of field work in both the ecological and social grounds (e.g., Santamaría et al. 1996, Santamaría and Amezaga 1999, Amezaga and Santamaría 2000), led us early in 2006 to think that the region fitted the features of a pathological WSES. Through inductive reasoning, we therefore assumed the presence of rigid institutions for WRM and WC based on top-down, command-and-control approaches (see also Gómez-Baggethun and Kelemen 2008). Subsequently, we started to develop, following a deductive approach, a formal and testable conceptualization of rigid institutions on the basis of pre-existing concepts from the literature (see e.g., “prediction and control regime”; Moberg and Galaz 2005, Pahl-Wostl 2007). We crystallized this conceptualization under the term rigid institutional regime (RIR hereafter) and established its fundamental properties by integrating the main features defining command-and-control approaches, namely:



The adaptive cycle
Evidence from case studies of regional development and resource use has shown that complex adaptive systems undergo cyclic, multistate catastrophic behavior (Levin 1998) that fit an adaptive four-phase cycle, along which structural changes among the system’s descriptive properties, i.e. potential, connectedness, and resilience (Figure 2) (Holling 1986, Gunderson et al. 1995, Gunderson and Holling 2002). Although the adaptive cycle is a heuristic that was originally applied to resource systems and ecosystems, it has been generalized to coupled social-ecological systems and single social systems (e.g., institutional regimes), which would undergo, in principle, similar phases (Table 2) (Holling and Gunderson 2002, Allison and Hobbs 2004, Cumming and Collier 2005, Walker and Lawson 2006, Beier et al. 2009, Bunce et al. 2009, Daedlow et al. 2011). We postulate that the Doñana’s regimes for WRM and WC fitted the adaptive cycle at least once through their histories; hence, the structural changes in the system’s descriptive properties (potential, connectedness, and resilience) can be used to describe the forces that shaped the behavior of such regimes.

The meaning of resilience, in particular, can be approached from two different perspectives: “engineering resilience” (Holling 1996) and “ecological resilience” (Holling 1973). While the first focuses on the notion of time for recovering after disturbance, i.e., returning to equilibrium (Walker et al. 2004), the second focuses in the probability of multiple stable states, and is defined as the capacity of ecosystems “to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks”, a definition that may be applied to the socio-ecosystem as a whole (Walker et al. 2004). From the latter, it can be derived a definition of “institutional resilience” that is instrumental for the purposes of our analysis: the capacity of institutional regimes (“resilience of what”) to withstand external disturbances (e.g., environmental perturbation, political changes; “resilience to what”) without losing the performance capacity for the accomplishment of the societal function for which that they were devised (after Adger 2000, Carpenter et al. 2001, Perrings 2006, Baral et al. 2010, Smith and Stirling 2010).

We consciously excluded from our framework the work on panarchical (i.e., cross-scale) interrelationships and maladaptive traps (e.g., rigidity and poverty trap, Holling et al. 2002; lock-in trap, Allison and Hobbs 2004), to avoid potential biases in our interpretations. Instead of including the traps a priori in our theoretical framework, we decided to let the potential patterns of such traps arise analytically and, in such case, discuss them a posteriori and lay the foundations for further research needs. Our aim was to avoid the selective use of theoretical concepts or the imposition of an explanatory framework upon data analysis (sensu Layder 1998).

Institutional path dependence
Path dependence is a highly abstract concept that cannot be established independent of theory, and must be previously objectified. We undertook such a task through the coherent integration of concepts borrowed from both economics and historical institutionalism. According to them, institutional regimes can be understood as entities impacted, at certain points in history, by the effect of two types of events: (1) At so-called “critical junctures”, strong systematic forces may have fundamental impacts on the regime’s subsequent dynamics (Thelen 1999). Depending on the way they occur, they may produce radical or incremental changes that result in a diversity of institutional configurations, therefore shaping large political or economic development transitions in the long run (Collier and Collier 1991, Hacker 1998, Mahoney and Thelen 2010); (2) At any point in history, including at critical junctures, seemingly small events may have disproportionate consequences (i.e., exhibit nonlinearity) due to self-enforcing mechanisms (Hacker 1998). These mechanisms are often characterized by what economists know as “increasing returns” (North 1990b, Arthur 1999), highlighting how the probability of events throughout a historical path increases with each step until an equilibrium configuration is reached (Mahoney 2000).

In the first case (critical junctures), path independence is expected: change occurs in response to certain mechanisms (e.g., negative feedback, competitive selection) that preclude deviations from configurations logically expected by operating theories, the most salient ones being those based on neoclassical economic principles, the so-called efficiency baseline (Hacker 1998, Mahoney 2000).

In the second case, “increasing-returns” mechanisms entail positive feedbacks that may increase the probability of occurrence of certain institutional arrangements. Once such arrangements prevail, they are very resistant to change, that is, they are “difficult to exit from” (North 1990b) and may lead, in turn, to lock-in situations in which a “winning”, stable-equilibrium configuration becomes very costly to reverse –, regardless of the efficiency of alternative, even probable, configurations (Pierson 1993, Ikenberry 1994, Hacker 1998, Thelen 1999). Ultimately, such a configuration enters a path of institutional development characterized by institutional reproduction and continuity, which may become further reinforced by: (1) the structural constraints of its immediate past (e.g., infrastructure, institutions), or (2) the subsequent decisions, choices and coordination efforts exerted by on-the-ground, inner actors through agency (e.g., policy networks, lobbies) in ways that reflect and reinforce the “inherent logic” of the system (Thelen 1999, Mahoney 2000).

These processes are path dependent and have the following fundamental properties (North 1990b, Arthur 1994, Arthur 1999, Thelen 1999, David 2000, Mahoney 2000, Pierson 2000):



Hypotheses
We completed our theoretical framework by deducing a specific hypothesis (h1) addressing the causal mechanisms underlying the genesis of the assumed institutional outcome (i.e., the RIR), and complemented it with a working hypothesis (H1) that will guide our long-term inquiry. Both hypotheses were stated as follows:

h1: The historical persistence of command-and-control approaches is a path dependent process that has led to the emergence of a rigid institutional regime in the Doñana water socio-ecosystem, and caused it to enter and get trapped in a pathological stable state. The null hypothesis (h0) would be that of process path independence.

H1: The development of action-research programs is instrumental for implementing adaptive management at the operational levels in pathological WSES, since it facilitates the long-term transition from RIR to more flexible and adaptive institutional regimes for WRM and WC. The null hypothesis (H0) would be that of non-instrumentality of action research.

Data collection, categorization and analysis

Qualitative historical data (hereafter referred to as “institutional events”) were collected from a number of historic accounts about the Doñana WSES or about relevant events affecting it, included in grey and published literature (see Appendix 1). We classified and structured the raw data using directed, deductive content analysis (see e.g., Hsieh and Shannon 2005). We used a broad conceptual categorization matrix, composed of two nominal categories (key institutions and main policy, economic, organizational and scientific-technical features), crossed with the historical period at which each institutional event took place (based on classical denominations of Spanish historiography, see e.g., Domínguez-Ortiz 2000). The nominal categories constituted integrative surrogates to both observe the general components of the institutional regimes (i.e., institutions, organizational structures, and epistemological domains) and infer the propositional features (e.g., hierarchical decision making, power distance, “white elephants”) that characterize RIRs at a more abstract level of analysis. After the elaboration of the systems narrative (see Systems Narrative section), we complemented the historical profile of the matrix with the identification of corresponding phases of the adaptive cycle (cycle’s phase). The complete matrix is presented in Appendix 1.

Data analysis and interpretation (i.e., systems narrative construction; see e.g., Allison and Hobbs 2004) were performed in a back-and-forth fashion between both stages. This recursive process allowed us to become familiarized with the data, while looking for evidence and patterns that matched or mismatched our theoretical propositions. Specifically, we focused on:


SYSTEMS NARRATIVE: HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION

We firstly present two separated narratives for the period between the end of the 18th century and 1969, which respectively interpret the foundation and development of the Doñana’s institutional regimes for WRM and WC. Secondly, we present a joint narrative for the period 1970-2000, which interprets how both regimes operated separately, but in synchrony, due to their common foundation upon command-and-control institutional approaches (see Figure 3 for a diagrammatic representation of the narratives, including examples from the most salient institutional events). Thirdly, we present a narrative for the period 2000-2008, contextualizing the current characteristics of both regimes within the Los Frailes mining accident and our long-term research program.

From the end of the 18th century until 1969


Water resource management
The intensive transformation of Doñana did not start until the 1920s; however, the roots of its current institutional regime for WRM can be traced back to the end of the 18th century. At that time, organizational structures for water planning and management in the Guadalquivir Estuary were still based on the implementation of scattered projects for the construction and maintenance of a rudimentary infrastructure for water distribution and use, i.e., on the marginal control of water. Overall, the ruling regime was characterized by a rather stable, self-sufficient and sustainable economy based on local and traditional ecological knowledge, which had limited impacts on the estuary’s hydro-ecological system. Such a regime corresponded to the last stages of an r-K phase (Figure 3, point 1), during which local pioneers (r-strategists) became adapted to external variability, expanded incrementally and accumulated capital from the extraction of water resources, until reaching a stable exploitation pattern in which competition was starting to take place. The ensuing K phase was arranged around an archaic property system and formal institutions empowering the governing nobility (K-strategists) to regulate and organize the use of water resources.

At this stage, the regime showed limited resilience to: (1) the national, enlightened-absolutist socioeconomic trends of the époque, which promoted navigability and economic development in the estuary; and (2) the top-down, constitutional, deficit-driven impositions enforced by State officials. We argue that this was caused by two main mechanisms. On the one hand, internal stability was disturbed from inside, particularly at the operational level, where a number of key private entrepreneurs effectively promoted their view of the entire hydro-ecological system as an underexploited region with enormous potential (i.e., low-released capital). On the other hand, the regime was characterized by a general void of inter-scale, collective-choice action arenas (e.g., “weak socioeconomic structures”, Moral-Ituarte 1991) for the cooperative definition of more equitable formal rules for resource use and management (e.g., uniting the governing nobility and the local administrations). This void precluded the development of interconnected decision making processes and multilevel action arenas within the regime, i.e., it resulted in low connectedness that lowered its institutional resilience.

In system terms, the institutional regime lacked the necessary internal regulation and control for absorbing external disturbances, and was highly sensitive to the free will of some internal entrepreneurs. This resulted in a system-wide institutional collapse (Ω phase; Fig. 3, point 2), after which the entrepreneurs started to target the large-scale modification of the hydro-ecological system, and to progressively restructure the regime around a novel, alternative configuration (α phase; Fig. 3, point 3). The first plans and projects aiming at the transformation of the estuary into navigable watercourses and the marshes into productive cropland were developed. Although they were not implemented immediately in Doñana (e.g., disentitlements were only applied to surrounding scrubland and forest properties), they represented the first organized attempts to turn the region into an economically productive land, a Schumpeterian “creative destruction” phase (Schumpeter 1950:83).

By the mid 19th century, the regime had entered a new r phase (Fig. 3, point 4), characterized by the positive feedback between new constitutional institutions and local events. Royal governments transferred common property rights to actors at lower, collective choice and operational levels, allowing them to dedicate large individual and cooperative efforts to promote the new economic productivity perspectives, from both the public and the private sectors. During the second half of the century, this process was reinforced by new institutions and strategies, including the progressive increase of organized middle class actors and sophisticated technological projects, necessary to tackle the high investment costs and long-term recouping required for the transformation of marshland into irrigated cropland.

At the end of the 19th century and the outset of the 20th, the regime started to stabilize around a K phase (Fig. 3, point 5), with the support of newly formed institutions at the constitutional level and intellectual-scientific movements that encouraged large hydraulic modifications at the national level (regeneracionismo, see e.g. Orti 1984). During this period, the social and economic costs and risks associated with technological failures did not seem to represent a major limiting factor for actors at the collective choice and operational levels. For example, the deficiencies in the public infrastructure that defended the inflowing, channeled rivers in the surroundings of the Doñana marshlands resulted in several floods characterized as disastrous that ravaged the impoldered lands and colonial towns from 1892 to 1916, and broke down new dikes built with private funding in 1927 (Enggass 1968). Dikes were however rebuilt, heightened, and reinforced in the entire area (e.g., by the Guadalquivir Marshes Company for rice cultivation) without apparent detectable revision of the underlying strategies (Enggass 1968, González-Arteaga 2005). Similarly, the projected economic targets for the production of irrigated lands (e.g., cultivation of cereals, commercial crops, and forage) were not met due to lack of adequate infrastructure for reducing soil salinity and draining regularly flooded farmland, compounded by the fragmentary planning and uncoordinated work (Enggass 1968). However, both these targets and the agronomic planning behind them remained uncontested (Enggass 1968, González-Arteaga 2005).

In other words, the recurrent impact of natural disasters and the low economic performance of the production systems did not challenge the existing, on-the-ground approaches for WRM, owing to the strong institutional support for the implementation of new technologies. Thus Ω phases were not followed by α phases of destructuration and renewal. These phases are indicated as Ω' to emphasize the absence of α phases (Fig. 3, point 5), and the reestablishment of the K phase after them (Fig. 3, point 6). This whole period followed the collapse of the Ancient Regime and coincided with the Spanish Liberal Reform (1833-1870s) and Liberal-State Consolidation (1870s-1920s) periods (see Appendix 1). It can be conceptualized as a broad critical juncture (CJ1; see Fig. 3), characterized by incremental change and the quasi-sequential accumulation of institutional events depicted in Table 3.

The regime-level processes described so far suffered an almost complete collapse (depicted again as a Ω’ phase; Fig. 3, point 7) during the Civil War but, immediately after it, recovered momentum swiftly and returned to the pre-existing K phase (Fig. 3, point 7). This phase became further stabilized by a diverse set of reinforcements at the constitutional level, underpinned by institutional legacies from the past that persisted at different levels. For example, during the 1940s, the regime gradually shifted from being based on communal lands and public property, to a mixed public-private system led and controlled by the engineers of the new authoritarian government, who promoted further the drainage-canalization-colonization strategy established during the previous decades. Furthermore, in 1944, the Guadalquivir River Authority (a State organization created in 1927) presented for the first time a coordinated plan for the canalization and drainage of the Guadiamar River, aimed at halting its discharge into the Doñana marshes. The project had been backed by pre-war institutions (e.g., Gasset Act of 1911) and benefited, at this later time, from the development of existing infrastructure.

The post-war regime thus resumed the intensive exploitation of the region, and expanded its focus from agriculture and water resources into forest resource policies and institutions, including the development of extensive eucalyptus afforestations aimed at providing raw materials for industry. The development of new drainage projects for agriculture was fuelled by the synergies from other economic sectors that participated in the development processes, the all-time records of the Spanish GDP during the late 1940s, and the nation-wide autarchy imposed by Franco, which emphasized national food security and supply self-sufficiency. In the 1960s and 1970s these developments, described by some authors as a land reclamation process (Engass 1968), favored the north-to-south colonization of the Guadalquivir River’s right bank territories, including about 2/3 of the Doñana marshes.

In summary, in the period comprised between the 1920s and the 1960s, the institutional regime for WRM increased its resilience owing to the maintenance of the former production and engineering schemes, the changes in the property system, and the increasing interventionism and bureaucratization of the State. The regime became fully stabilized in a K phase dominated by K-strategists (Fig. 3, point 7).

Wetland conservation
Spain’s institutional regime for nature conservation probably has its foundational constitutional event in the passing of the National Parks Act of 1916. Among the various models of conservation available at the time, governmental authorities selected the top-down implementation of a National Parks system. New room emerged for pioneers to fulfill the institutional developments demanded by the new conservation paradigms. An entirely new institutional regime for nature conservation was purposely created and connectedness among officials and pioneer entrepreneurial actors began to increase. During a short, α-r phase (Fig. 3, point 8) new organizational structures were created and empowered to operate at the national level, taking elements and techniques from the conservation regimes of other Western countries (such as the USA), but necessarily subservient to the powerful forestry- and civil-engineering corps, which systematically excluded from protection “unproductive lands”, i.e., marshland/ wetland ecosystems. The incipient institutional regime for nature conservation became rapidly dominated by policies and operational techniques already in place for the exploitation of forests, game, and fish.

Although the Spanish Civil War halted the development of nature conservation policies (Ω’ phase; Fig. 3, point 7), the tandem National Parks/ Forestry Policy persisted after it as the preferred operational model at the national level. Following the top-down, constitutional implementation of new institutions (e.g., Forestry Heritage Act of 1941, Forestry Act of 1957), the regime for nature conservation and forest resource management became increasingly bureaucratic and rigid, and focused almost exclusively on maximizing economic returns. Hence, it rapidly entered a K phase (Fig. 3, point 9).

In spite of the strong rigidity characteristic of K-phase institutional configurations, small crises and reorganization may be triggered by groups of actors, self-organized in coalition networks, which benefit from “windows of opportunity” to introduce novelty (i.e., small Ω-α phases triggered by Ω-α groups; Gunderson et al. 1995, Olsson et al. 2006). This was the case in Doñana. During the 1950s and the 1960s, perhaps due to its early establishment as one of the most important waterfowl reserves in Europe at the end of the 19th century, a growing awareness of the necessity to safeguard the conservation of its marshland/ wetland ecosystems built up, at both national and international levels.

A careful analysis of historical events shows that, in parallel to the development of the institutional regime for nature conservation, a small Ω-α group of actors from the scientific sector (e.g., J. A. Valverde, F. Bernis), informally organized at the operational level, became aware of the unstoppable degradation of Doñana’s marshland/ wetland ecosystem and started an effective lobbying campaign to introduce a new set of protection policies for their conservation (Fig. 3). These policies were not the result of a strategic analysis and decision making in the public policy sector, but the work of a network of private pioneers and strategists who raised ecological awareness at the societal level and triggered new policy formulations (Valverde 2004).

A Ω-α group that succeeds in achieving change and introducing novelty often benefits from key reinforcements by powerful external groups (Gunderson et al. 1995). In Doñana, several international organizations supported the Ω-α group with key knowledge and funding (e.g., the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, IWRB). The lobbying and fundraising campaign reached a peak with the constitution of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the acquisition of large areas of marshland and surrounding forests, and the creation of the Doñana Biological Reserve and Doñana Biological Station (Fernández and Pradas 2000b, Valverde 2004). Indeed, the creation of the WWF was an unexpected international repercussion of the local, protection-for-conservation struggle. The Doñana Biological Station received the constitutional mandate of conducting research and managing the Doñana Biological Reserve, and a sizable portion of the original marshland and dunes were included in the new Doñana National Park (Act of 1969).

From 1970 to 2000

During the 1970s, both regimes entered a new phase, during which novel α-type attempts to harmonize WRM and WC took place. In 1978, after the constitutional replacement of Franco’s authoritarian government by a democratic one, the new Doñana National Park Act of 1978 (hereafter Doñana Act) established novel operational guidelines for conservation inside and outside the park, demonstrating for the first time, de jure, the public interest in the conservation of its aquatic ecosystems. The new institution seemingly laid the foundations for the consolidation of the WC regime and the collapse of the old WRM regime. However, the old technocratic organizations, paradigms, and institutions maintained their top-down, command-and-control approaches and their focus on engineering works. Thus, the institutional regime for WC entered, after this short period (which can be characterized as a failed Ω’-α phase, Fig. 3, point 10), a stable K phase in close synchrony with the WRM regime (Fig. 3, point 11).

In our view, this was due to three main mechanisms that coincided with another critical juncture (CJ2; see Fig. 3) during the 1960-1970 period of progressivism and transition to democracy (see Appendix 1). Firstly, the management-for-conservation institutions and organizational structures were co-opted by the old-fashioned engineering lobby, which dominated the public sector and still endorsed the previous management-for-productivity, command-and-control framework. During the 1960s, the Forestry Directorate lived a struggle of power between pro-conservation engineers and old-school ones, focused exclusively on economic productivity (Fernández and Pradas 2000a). Pro-conservation engineers received the support of the Doñana Biological Station, but the struggle was dominated by the established, old-school engineering lobby by 1971, when the Forestry Directorate and the Forestry Heritage merged to become the Nature Conservation Institute (ICONA; Fernández and Pradas 2000a). By 1974, J. A. Valverde, the most significant champion of the Doñana’s protection-for-conservation race, was replaced by an old-school engineer as director of the National Park (Valverde 2004).

Secondly, the Doñana Act consolidated the dominance of the engineering lobby in the management of the National Park. The direction of the National Park and the Biological Reserve were respectively assigned to the ICONA (Ministry of Agriculture) and the Doñana Biological Station (Spanish Research Council, Ministry of Education). Both agencies received separate mandates: ICONA should manage the Park, while the Doñana Biological Station should guarantee scientific research and monitor its conservation. The conservation of the Doñana marshes, therefore, became dependent on the institutional relationships between the Doñana Biological Station and the ICONA, which personalized the existing tensions among conservationists and old-school engineers (Valverde 2004).

Thirdly, this period was characterized by the promotion of intensive development in the immediate surroundings of the National Park, which was clearly at odds with its long-term purpose and objectives. Governmental agencies, supported by a blooming national economy, continued acquiring more territory, draining wetlands and marshes to gain agricultural lands (e.g., rice cultivation; González-Arteaga 2005), and developing irrigation schemes to feed them with both surface and groundwater. As a consequence, the last strides of pristine marshes in the immediate vicinity of the recently created National Park were transformed; the hydraulic system that fed the Park’s marshes was drained, diverted, controlled, or canalized; and the Doñana marshes became progressively dependent on a completely artificial water management regime, which has lasted until today (Figure 4).

During the 1980s and the 1990s, the synchronized K-phase regimes proved their ever-increasing institutional resilience by surviving several Ω-type crises (Fig. 3, point 12), including:


None of these crises resulted in the introduction of significant innovative changes within the regimes, at any institutional level. Paradoxically, they resulted instead in the reinforcement of command-and-control approaches, the increase of the regimes’ institutional resilience and their recursive recycling in a permanent Ω'-K phase (Fig. 3, point 13) that increased further the risk of new social-ecological collapses.

On the basis of our historical interpretations, we argue that the developments of the outcome regimes during the last decades of the 20th century can be characterized by:



Especially relevant is the current hydraulic regime of the remaining marshland/wetland ecosystems protected within the current Doñana Nature Reserve, which largely depends upon artificial management (Fig. 4). For example, water is controlled via a surrounding clay dam equipped with outflow channels and sluice gates, and the flooding regime is halted by early June to prevent waterfowl mortalities triggered by botulism (Casas and Urdiales 1995, Clemente et al. 2004, García and Marín 2006).

From 2000 to 2008

During the first decade of the 21st century, the institutional regimes for WRM and WC have been fundamentally influenced by the public shock caused, in 1998, by the previously mentioned Los Frailes mining accident. This accident provided impetus for the application of two hydro-ecological restoration projects, implemented separately by the regional (“Guadiamar’s Green Corridor”, 1998-2002; Montes 2002) and national (“Doñana 2005”, 1998-2006; García and Marín 2006) Ministries of Environment. In both cases, the projects explicitly acknowledged the need for new alliances between science and management, and opened a window of opportunity for the promotion of new institutional configurations. There was enough flexibility for enrolling a wide range of stakeholders and developing new forms of participation and management at the operational levels (e.g., adaptive management, participatory action research; see G. K. Meffe, T. Dunne, and J. B. Zedler 2002, unpublished report, Montes 2002, Arenas et al. 2003, Escalera 2003, Santamaría et al. 2006). However, the inertia of the former institutional regime progressively compromised these initiatives and, after a period of creativity largely restricted to the declarative phase, both projects returned to top-down models of organization and implementation, largely based on the endorsement of civil engineering-based works (see, e.g., the post-implementation views reported in Arenas 2003 and Arenas and Carrascal 2004, in which references to adaptive and participatory approaches are conspicuously absent, or the specific restoration works reported in García and Marín 2006).

DISCUSSION

h1 evaluation: implications for theory

Our analytical interpretation indicated that, if theories based on the efficiency and productivity baseline are used (e.g., neoclassical economic theory), h1 can be validated. Our data show, indeed, that the current RIR (i.e., institutional outcome) is characterized by system-wide (institutional, organizational, and epistemological) inefficiency in its current societal function, which requires the integration of economic development, water resource management (WRM), and wetland conservation (WC) goals. The RIR is not, therefore, a necessary or expected outcome of the institutional events that occurred during the first critical juncture (CJ1), during which the implementation of command-and-control approaches responded to a search for economic efficiency and productivity.

If novel frameworks, based upon resilience and adaptive change disciplines, are used, h1 can also be validated. However, its evaluation requires the inclusion of an additional conceptual layer to our theoretical framework, hence a more elaborated argumentation. Our analytical interpretations support the characterization of Doñana’s RIR as path dependent. The institutional regime for WRM once fit the adaptive cycle, between the end of the 18th century and the outset of the 19th. Based on our theoretical framework, this was logically expected and predicted to occur, therefore, it represented a path independent event. However, from that moment to the present, the institutional regime for WRM twirled recurrently in a persistent Ω’-K phase; and the emerging WC regime was quickly synchronized to this dynamic. This recurrence cannot be predicted by the adaptive cycle theory, at least in its simplest form. But, was it completely unpredictable?

If we consider, in retrospective, the theory on maladaptive traps that departs from the adaptive cycle (Holling et al. 2002), the establishment of a RIR is theoretically probable. Indeed, a RIR fits the features of a rigidity trap fairly well, e.g., a high potential for change, connectedness, and resilience (see Allison and Hobbs 2004). But the existence of a probable outcome does not necessarily imply that it is a predictable consequence of a given set of conditions. In Doñana, the institutional regime for WRM could have stabilized following CJ1 around three feasible alternative configurations, namely: (1) an adaptive regime that completed, at least, a second adaptive cycle, (2) the chaos trap (high potential, but low connectedness and resilience; Loring 2007), and (3) the lock-in trap (low potential, but high connectedness and resilience; Allison and Hobbs 2004).

In the first case, the inference is straightforward: actors learn, after the Ω’-type crises, the long-term inefficiencies of command-and-control approaches and, instead of promoting institutional reproduction, they foster institutional innovation and restructuring on the basis of the lessons learnt (i.e., α phases). In the second case, certain constraints (e.g., the non-existence of public funding, such as in the period prior to CJ1) deprive command-and-control approaches of their initial advantages, which results in a backlash or breakdown of the institutional regime (sensu Brugge and Rotmans 2007) and its return to a previous configuration, based for example on a structurally weak and low-resilient, self-sustainable economy (which fits the features of the chaos trap; see Loring 2007). In the third case, the regime enters a path in which the whole ecological system becomes irreversibly modified for economic productive purposes, losing its most important ecological and hydraulic components, and posing high sunk costs (i.e., it enters a lock-in trap; see Allison and Hobbs 2004).

Our interpretations show that none of these alternatives crystallized. Instead, the regime stabilized around a rigidity trap, foreseen by theory but unpredictable on the basis of the preceding events, making the outcome path dependent. During CJ1, several alternative configurations, especially the lock-in trap, seemed to be equally probable; it was only after CJ1 that the regime began to stabilize around the rigidity trap. We now turn to a discussion of why.

Historical mechanisms underlying institutional rigidity

After CJ1, the winning institutional configuration was one imbued with institutional arrangements based upon command-and-control approaches for WRM at the estuary level. These arrangements, focused on economic/ organizational efficiency and the maximization of productivity, appeared to have competitive advantages over alternative approaches (e.g., self-sufficient economies based on traditional ecological knowledge). They capitalized on their advantages during the early periods of the juncture and became locked in within the institutional regime in posterior periods.

In our view, the lock-in of command-and-control at the operational levels was facilitated by several self-enforcing events, characterized by “increasing-returns” mechanisms and favored by past structural flaws (e.g., initial inter-scale institutional void). These mechanisms operated before and during the 1920s, despite the verified inefficiency of the approach (Ω’-type crises). The most clear example involves the actors’ expectations about the returns on investments in innovative technologies, agricultural development, and engineering works supported by public funding. Incremental investments in public and private infrastructure led to large set-up costs that created, in turn, increasing payoffs for further investments in infrastructure and transformative technologies. As they gained experience and knowledge from the recursive operation over the hydro-ecological system, actors were affected by learning and coordination effects, and benefited increasingly from the extension of command-and-control approaches to water resource management and marshland/ wetland transformation (i.e., actors were r-strategists).

In this way, the winning institutional configuration entered a developmental path characterized by the top-down reproduction of institutions aimed at reinforcing the array of command-and-control approaches developed at the operational level. Such institutions sought to recoup costs and incentivize the streamlined operation of the existing structures. In fact, they reinforced the on-the-ground investments for the transformation of Doñana’s hydro-ecological systems into productive lands and waters, as well as their intensive exploitation.

The persistence of such institutional configuration during all subsequent periods, despite the existence of several windows of opportunity for the promotion of new institutional configurations (e.g., Ω-α group action, Doñana Act of 1978) and more Ω’-type crises, was rooted in its strong inertia and the power of technocratic elites (i.e., K-strategists). Such elites legitimated and supported, from the constitutional level and through institutional reproduction mechanisms, an inherent institutional logic that curtailed reorganization and renewal. This was done, for example, by changing the property system, increasing interventionism and bureaucratization at all levels, or replacing local change champions. In other words, the institutional events that took place prior (Autarchic period) and during CJ2 reinforced the system’s path dependence, and the trajectory of the Doñana’s WSES entered a pathological rigidity trap characterized by high potential for change, high connectedness, and high resilience.

Why not a low-potential lock-in trap? Firstly because, contrary to other regions where lock-in traps have been described (Allison and Hobbs 2004), the Doñana WSES has retained part of its wetland/ marshland ecosystems isolated in a Nature Reserve, owing to the innovative action of the Ω-α group during the 1950-60s. In other words, it has retained a sizable part of its structural and natural capital. Secondly, because the window of opportunity opened after the Los Frailes mining accident allowed the proactive introduction, by several independent actors, of bits of innovation within the regime (for example, promotion of novel, learning-by-doing and participatory approaches for hydro-ecological restoration; Escalera 2003, Santamaría et al. 2006). In our opinion, these two factors leave sufficient scope and opportunities for the development of a flexible and adaptive institutional regime, more independent of historical factors and better suited to return Doñana’s WSES to a more healthy and sustainable state.

Preliminary insights from the action-research program

The results of the historical analysis informed the design of our action-research program, which we regarded as an indispensable step for a transition toward more flexible and adaptive regimes over the long term. The program was tailored to: (1) generate networking and build trust among the various, disconnected, often competing agencies in charge of WRM and WC, and (2) to inform the development of small-scale, successful examples of adaptive management at the operational level (Santamaría et al. 2006). In particular, the use of an action-research approach allowed us to introduce new modes of actor involvement (actor analysis and interviews) and promote a collaborative understanding of the challenges facing Doñana’s WRM and WC (workshops). We will now provide a number of preliminary insights derived from it, with an emphasis on the research management workshop that culminated it (see Appendix 2 for a detailed description of the specific methods used in the program, which took place from 2006 to 2008). A complete analysis of the interviews (e.g., trust evaluation, management narratives), current policy and legislation will be presented elsewhere.

Our historical analysis indicated that Doñana’s institutional regimes for WRM and WC developed, over time, disparate strategies that deepened the conflict between water resource management and wetland/ marshland conservation. This problem was formalized and discussed at the research management workshop. The workshop revealed that the different actors held contrasting mental models about WRM and WC, which included different perceptions about nature (nature in static equilibrium vs. constantly evolving nature) or about the procedures for making decisions (hierarchically vs. collectively). During the sessions, facilitated through Group Model Building, these differences were made explicit, collectively discussed and accommodated in shared models. Participants were organized in two thematic groups (water and vegetation) and requested to identify first-order and second-order drivers of change towards the accomplishment of a main goal, involving, in both cases, sustainable performance (Table A2.4; output models are provided in Figs. A2.2 and A2.3). Sources of uncertainty were subsequently identified; they included gaps in ecological and socioeconomic knowledge, complex ecosystem behavior, unpredictable reactions of society to management decisions, unexpected political developments (such as changes in EU policies), and climate change. Uncertainties were then scored for importance and urgency. Climate change was scored as the “most worrying” source of uncertainty in both sessions; however, it was not considered the most urgent. Instead, participants assigned the highest priority to actions addressing: (1) the lack of knowledge about the hydrological system, and (2) the unpredictable reactions of society to management decisions.

A preliminary analysis of the interviews and workshops led us to the realization that their combined use constituted a powerful tool to identify and develop, informally and collectively, unexpressed ideas that had remained tacit but were broadly accepted (e.g., the existence of large power differences between individuals within management agencies, expressed by most actors from the operational levels). The combined use of thematic talks, facilitated discussion, and Group Model Building proved also to be instrumental for the participatory identification of future steps and initiatives toward institutional change (summarized in Table 4). Finally, it is worth noting that action-research initiatives represent a demanding task requiring updated knowledge about the case study, in situ social capital, strong commitment, resilience to short-term failure, and considerable social/ emotional skills, particularly since those involved in them usually enter a locked conflict as “external insiders” (see Appendix 2), and must navigate the risk of being involuntarily involved in the conflict themselves.

GROUNDED SPECULATION AND FURTHER RESEARCH NEEDS

Our historical analysis and the preliminary insights from the action-research program suggest that the statutory backing of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) could provide the momentum needed for an innovative change in Doñana’s WSES. For example, one of the conclusions of the management workshop was the need to draw specific plans for the wider catchment area influencing the Doñana Nature Reserve, complemented by the separate delimitation of the subbasin (with a specific management plan) directly influencing the Doñana wetlands. Article 13.5 of the WFD states that River Basin Management Plans may be supplemented by the production of more detailed programs and management plans for sub-basins, to deal with particular aspects of water management. The directive also requires special attention for protected areas, which have to be registered (Article 6 and Annex IV) and covered by adequate monitoring programs (Article 8).

Furthermore, participatory processes similar to those of our action-research program could become the cornerstone of the process of public information and consultation required by Article 14, in the spirit of the widening participation proposed by the WFD guidelines (WFD Common Implementation Strategy 2003). Our reasoning could be generalized to comparable cases, in which key protected nature reserves including wetlands are important elements of a river basin. Such participatory processes could provide both a solid interface with a whole range of stakeholders, and a platform for the dynamic interaction between research and management.

In the Doñana case, future research aimed at guiding managed transitions must be based on collaborative analyses of the current institutional configuration at different levels, focusing, for example, on the role of culture, or the impact of current policies and legislation upon the management at operational levels. For this purpose, our theoretical framework could be best complemented by using updated versions of the IAD as a meta-conceptual framework (Poteete et al. 2010), cross-scale interrelationships (panarchy heuristic; Gunderson and Holling 2002) and managed transitions (transition arenas; Brugge and van Raak 2007). As a final note, we would like to stress the importance of continuing the micro-analyses of cross-disciplinary teams implementing action-research programs, a research topic that has been addressed in other recent articles (see e.g., Daniell et al. 2010, Huitema and Meijerink 2010, Moellenkamp et al. 2010).

CONCLUSIONS

The historical persistence of command-and-control approaches for water resource management and wetland conservation is a path dependent process that led to the emergence of a rigid institutional regime in the Doñana water socio-ecosystem, and caused it to enter a pathological stable state that can be characterized as a rigidity trap. Doñana still retains a high potential for change in the form of structural and natural capital, which opens considerable opportunities for managed transitions towards more flexible and adaptive institutional regimes. Our analysis shows how the heuristics posed by adaptive change theories, complemented with concepts borrowed from institutional theory, can be used to understand and describe the trajectory of institutional regimes, as well as to evaluate and generate theory, thus increasing our predictive power. Historical analyses such as the one presented here may serve the purpose of informing and guiding the design of action-research programs aimed at facilitating transitions in rigid institutional regimes.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We are particularly grateful to Glen Hearns for his contribution to the research-management workshop, as well as to all the interviewees and participants of the workshops carried out under the umbrella of this project who kindly provided time, data, experiences, results, and insights from their management experience and research projects. Critical comments from four anonymous reviewers, K. Daniell, R. Bijlsma, and F. J. Fernández Segura significantly improved earlier versions of the manuscript. Funding by the Doñana 2005 Project (Guadalquivir River Authority, Spanish Ministry of Environment), the Canada–Europe Awards (International Council for Canadian Studies, Government of Canada), and the NeWater Project (Contract no. 511179, 6th EU Framework Program) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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Address of Correspondent:
Pablo F. Méndez
Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (CSIC-UIB)
C/ Miquel Marqués, 21
07190 Esporles, Mallorca (Illes Balears)
Spain


pfmendez@gmail.com
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