From robustness to resilience: avoiding policy traps in the long term

Abstract

The likelihood of being faced with trap-like situations is a worrisome aspect of long-term policy-making, such as for climate change adaptation. Even when a policy may be effective in the short-term, changes in problem or policy contexts may render it ineffective over time. The design of ‘robust’ policies, meaning those which are able to self-adjust to linear changes in their environment, can be contrasted with ‘resilient’ ones which are able to adjust not only to linear, but also non-linear shifts in their contexts. Building on Boonstra and de Boer (AMBIO 43:260–274, 2014)’s argument that traps should not be considered as a static phenomenon; rather their emergence and development is often directly influenced by history and path-dependency, this paper elaborates how trap-like situations can emerge with increase in climate uncertainty over time. Three strategies to address policy traps due to climate change form subjects of inquiry in this paper: avoiding traps in the first place, designing against traps, and overcoming traps once in them. Each requires a specific type of design thinking and practice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “What is uncertainty?”, Climate-ADAPT, European Climate Adaptation Platform, accessed 16 December 2014, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/uncertainty-guidance/topic1#What+are+sources+of+uncertainty+in+adaptation+planning%3F.

  2. 2.

    Typically, policy goals are considered to be coherent if they logically relate to the same overall policy aims and objectives and can be achieved simultaneously without any significant trade-offs. Policy goals are considered to be incoherent if they contradict the previous goal, thus making the simultaneous achievement of all policy objectives difficult if not impossible. Policy tools are considered to be consistent when they complement each other and work in combination towards meeting a policy goal. Policy tools are considered to be inconsistent when they work at cross-purposes. Congruence determines the match between goals and means (Kern and Howlett 2009).

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Correspondence to Sreeja Nair.

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Handled by Keith Tidball, Cornell University, USA.

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Nair, S., Howlett, M. From robustness to resilience: avoiding policy traps in the long term. Sustain Sci 11, 909–917 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0387-z

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Keywords

  • Policy traps
  • Lock-in
  • Uncertainty
  • Climate change
  • Adaptive policies
  • Resilience
  • Robustness