Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 7–20 | Cite as

Methodological choices in solution-oriented adaptation research: a diagnostic framework

  • Jochen HinkelEmail author
  • Alexander Bisaro
Original Article


While methodological choices are critical for solution-oriented adaptation research, the current debate on these is underdeveloped and characterized by simple dichotomies such as bottom-up and top-down as well as vaguely defined concepts such as vulnerability. Adaptation challenges and approaches for addressing them are more diverse than these labels suggest. This paper addresses this deficit by developing a diagnostic framework that helps to identify approaches suitable for addressing a given adaptation challenge. The framework was developed out of the necessity to discuss diverse approaches from natural science, social science and practice in a set of adaptation case studies conducted within the European funded MEDIATION project. Based on these case studies complemented by the literature, we iteratively abstracted typical adaptation challenges researched, typical approaches taken, and empirical, theoretical and normative criteria applied for choosing a particular approach. Our results refine the methodological debate by distinguishing between the three general adaptation challenges of identifying adaptation needs, identifying adaptation measures and appraising adaptation options. Adaptation challenges are further classified according to private and public interest involved, individual or various types of collective action involved, data/model availability, decision-making time horizon, etc. For each type of challenge and approach, we give examples and discuss salient issues. Our results point to the opportunity to apply institutional and behavioural research to support the identification of measures and possibly avoiding barriers in practice. The diagnostic framework also serves as the basis for the forthcoming guidance for assessing vulnerability, impacts and adaptation to be published by the UNEP programme of research on climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation.


Climate change Vulnerability Impacts Adaptation Methodology Methodological choices Climate risk Decision analysis Behavioural analysis Institutional analysis 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No. 244012. The work would not have been possible without the continuous support of all members of the MEDIATION project team. We are particularly thankful for the comments and suggestions provided by Tom Downing, Anthony Patt, Stefan Pfenninger, Erik van Slobbe, Rob Swart, Paul Watkiss and Saskia Werners, as well as two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

10113_2014_682_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (217 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 217 kb)
10113_2014_682_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (101 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 101 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adaptation and Social LearningGlobal Climate Forum (GCF)BerlinGermany

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