Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 394–411 | Cite as

Towards sustainability in the water sector – The importance of human actors and processes of social learning

  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl


Current regimes in resource management are often unsustainable as judged by ecological, economic and social criteria. Many technological resource management regimes are inflexible and not built to adapt to changes in environmental, economic or social circumstances. This inflexibility poses problems in a world characterized by fast change. The water sector is currently undergoing major processes of transformation at local, regional and global scales. Today's situation is challenged by uncertainties, e.g., in water demand (diminishing in industrialized countries, rising in developing countries), by worsening water quality, by pressure for cost-efficient solutions, and by fast changing socio-economic boundary conditions. One expects additional uncertainties, due to climate change, such as a shift in the pattern of extreme events. Hence, new strategies and institutional arrangements are required to cope with risk and change in general. When one considers processes of transformation and change, the human dimension is of particular importance. Institutions and rule systems may cause resistance to change but can also enable and facilitate necessary transformation processes. This paper explores conceptual approaches in social learning and adaptive management. It introduces agent-based modelling, and the link between analytical modelling and participatory approaches as promising new developments to explore and foster changes towards sustainability and the required transformations in technological regimes and institutional settings.

Key words. Social learning; integrated water resource management; adaptive management; scales; participatory integrated assessment. 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia Pahl-Wostl
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, Albrechtstr. 28, D-49076 Osnabrück, GermanyDE

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