Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 1685–1700 | Cite as

Participatory scenario planning for developing innovation in community adaptation responses: three contrasting examples from Latin America

  • Iain BrownEmail author
  • Julia Martin-Ortega
  • Kerry Waylen
  • Kirsty Blackstock
Original Article


Environmental change requires adaptive responses that are innovative, forward-looking and anticipatory, in order to meet goals for sustainability in socio-ecological systems. This implies transformative shifts in understanding as conceptualised by the idea of ‘double’- or ‘triple-loop learning’. Achieving this can be difficult as communities often rely on shorter-term coping mechanisms that purport to maintain the status quo. The use of participatory scenario planning to stimulate forward-looking social learning for adaptation was investigated through three contrasting community case studies on natural resource management in Latin America (in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia). Exploratory scenario narratives that synthesised local knowledge and future perceptions were used iteratively to define response options considered robust across multiple futures. Despite its intensive format, participants in each case agreed that scenario planning enabled a more systematic appraisal of the future. Scenarios facilitated innovation by providing scope to propose new types of responses and associated actions. Differences in local context meant that learning about future change developed in diverse ways, showing a need for a reflexive process. Reframing of key issues characteristic of double-loop learning did occur, albeit through different forms of interaction in each location. However, a shift towards transformative actions characteristic of triple-loop learning was less evident. Achieving this would appear to require ongoing use of scenarios to challenge social norms in light of changing drivers. Use of learning loops as a diagnostic to evaluate adaptive responses provided a useful reference framework although in practice both innovation and consolidative approaches can develop concurrently for responses to different issues.


Socio-ecological systems Community-based adaptation Scenarios Triple-loop learning Social learning Latin America 



Research for the COMET-LA project received funding from the EU 7th Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013: Grant Agreement No. 282845) and was also partly funded by the Scottish Government. We acknowledge the invaluable work of local partners: Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, Estudios Rurales y Asesoria in Mexico, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and Consejos Comunitarios de Alto y Medio Dagua and Bajo Calima in Colombia, Instituto Argentino de Oceanografia, Universidad Nacional del Sur and Aquamarina, in Argentina. The authors are grateful to all community members (Comaltepec, La Esperanza, and Zoyolapam in Mexico, Alto y Medio Dagua and Bajo Calima in Colombia and Monte Hermoso, Pehuen-co and Bahia Blanca in Argentina) and stakeholders in all three countries for their considerable contributions. Special thanks to Alejandra Cruz Bayer, Roberto Escalante Semerena, Maria Farah Quijano, Federico Ferrelli, Guillermo Fidalgo, Israel Hernández López, María Huamantinco Cisneros, Silvia London, Diana Maya Vélez, P. Ocampo-Díaz, Cesar Ortiz Guerrero, Juan Pascale, Gerardo Perillo, M. Piccolo, Lina Pinzón Martínez, Mara Rojas, Facundo Scordo, Valeria Vitale, Mariana Zilio. We thank two anonymous reviewers and Dr. Dominic Duckett for helpful advice on the manuscript. Project coordinator Maria del Mar Delgado provided sustained support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iain Brown
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julia Martin-Ortega
    • 2
  • Kerry Waylen
    • 1
  • Kirsty Blackstock
    • 1
  1. 1.The James Hutton InstituteAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and EnvironmentUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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