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Managing Change toward Adaptive Water Management through Social Learning

Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabrueck
Jan Sendzimir, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Paul Jeffrey, Cranfield University
Jeroen Aerts, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Ger Berkamp, IUCN - The World Conservation Union
Katharine Cross, IUCN - The World Conservation Union


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The management of water resources is currently undergoing a paradigm shift toward a more integrated and participatory management style. This paper highlights the need to fully take into account the complexity of the systems to be managed and to give more attention to uncertainties. Achieving this requires adaptive management approaches that can more generally be defined as systematic strategies for improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of previous management actions. This paper describes how the principles of adaptive water management might improve the conceptual and methodological base for sustainable and integrated water management in an uncertain and complex world. Critical debate is structured around four questions: (1) What types of uncertainty need to be taken into account in water management? (2) How does adaptive management account for uncertainty? (3) What are the characteristics of adaptive management regimes? (4) What is the role of social learning in managing change? Major transformation processes are needed because, in many cases, the structural requirements, e.g., adaptive institutions and a flexible technical infrastructure, for adaptive management are not available. In conclusion, we itemize a number of research needs and summarize practical recommendations based on the current state of knowledge.

Key words

adaptive management; integrated water resources management; social learning; adaptive governance; change management; uncertainty

Copyright © 2007 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087