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Exploring institutional adaptive capacity in practice: examining water governance adaptation in Australia

Yvette Bettini, University of Queensland, Institute for Social Science Research; Monash Water for Liveability Centre, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University
Rebekah R Brown, School of Social Sciences, Monash Water for Liveability Centre, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University
Fjalar J de Haan, School of Social Sciences, Monash Water for Liveability Centre, Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07291-200147

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Abstract

Adaptive capacity is widely held as a key property of resilient and transformative social-ecological systems. However, current knowledge of the term does not yet address key questions of how to operationalize this system condition to address sustainability challenges through research and policy. This paper explores temporal and agency dimensions of adaptive capacity in practice to better understand how system conditions and attributes enable adaptation. An institutional dynamics lens is employed to systemically examine empirical cases of change in urban water management. Comparative analysis of two Australian cities' drought response is conducted using institutional analysis and qualitative system dynamics mapping techniques. The study finds that three forms of adaptive capacity appear critical: the ability to learn, decide, and act. The analytical approach developed provides insight into change dynamics and the agency mechanisms that generate them. The paper proposes a typology of adaptive capacity by characterizing these change dynamics and mechanisms for locked-in, crisis, reorganizing, and stabilizing systems. This set of propositions on institutional conditions and forms of adaptive capacity is offered to further advance research on the topic and help to operationalize adaptive capacity in practice.

Key words

adaptive capacity; institutions; resilience; transformation; water governance

Copyright © 2015 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087