The role of social learning in adaptiveness: insights from water management

Abstract

The article introduces the notion of adaptiveness and discusses the role of social learning in it. Adaptiveness refers to the capacity of a social actor or social–ecological system to adapt in response to, or in anticipation of, changes in the environment. We explore arguments both from a theoretical perspective and through illustrations from case studies of water management in the Alps of Europe and Mekong in southeast Asia. We propose and illustrate that social learning processes are important for building adaptiveness in several ways and at different scales. Social learning can help cope with informational uncertainty; reduce normative uncertainty; build consensus on criteria for monitoring and evaluation; empower stakeholders to take adaptive actions; reduce conflicts and identify synergies between adaptations; and improve fairness of decisions and actions. Findings in the case studies provide some support for these generalizations but often with caveats related to diversity of stakeholder interests, levels of shared understanding versus contested knowledge and scale of coordination. For this reason, we suggest that future work pays greater attention to issues of agency, knowledge and scale: What strategies have individuals and organizations pursued in successful examples of social learning? How are the boundaries and interactions between science, policy and practice managed? How does social learning occur across spatial and temporal scales?

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Umweltbundesamt Germany; Umweltbundesamt Austria; Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Switzerland; Accademia Europea di Bolzano EURAC, Italy; Institut de la Montagne, France; ARSO Ljubljana, Slovenia.

  2. 2.

    M-POWER or the Mekong Program on Water, Environment and Resilience aims at improving livelihood security, ecosystem and human health in the Mekong region through improving water governance. The goals of the program are pursued by a network which undertakes action research, policy support and facilitation activities. See M-POWER Website: www.mpowernet.org.

Abbreviations

BDP:

Basin Development Plan

DSF:

Decision Support Framework

EU:

European Union

IPCC:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IUCN:

World Conservation Union

IWRM:

Integrated Water Resources Management

M-POWER:

Mekong Program on Water Environment and Resilience

MRC:

Mekong River Commission

WFD:

Water Framework Directive

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Acknowledgments

The case study in the Mekong Region was carried out with support from IFAD and Echel Eau for financial support through the Challenge Program on Water and Food for project PN50 (M-POWER). The analysis is also a contribution to the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement no. 226571 for the Twin2Go project. The case studies in the European Alps were carried out and partly analysed in the context of a study conducted by a consortium of various European partners including Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany; Umweltbundesamt Germany; Umweltbundesamt Austria; Accademia Europea di Bolzano (EURAC), Italy; Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Switzerland; Institut de la Montagne, France; ARSO Ljubljana, Slovenia. The study was funded by the European Environment Agency, UBA Dessau and UBA Vienna. Finally, thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and the special issue editors Frank Biermann and Ruben Zondervan for their constructive feedback.

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Lebel, L., Grothmann, T. & Siebenhüner, B. The role of social learning in adaptiveness: insights from water management. Int Environ Agreements 10, 333–353 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-010-9142-6

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Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • European Alps
  • Fairness
  • Social learning
  • Mekong River
  • Uncertainty
  • Water management