3.1 Social–Ecological–Technological Systems (SETS) Framework

Envisioning how we transform our cities into places and communities that are resilient is an emerging urban challenge that requires an approach integrating diverse knowledge, experience, and perspectives (Muñoz-Erickson et al. 2017). Cities are SETS, and so are parts of cities like neighborhoods, parks, and various types of infrastructure. The SETS perspective is an important aspect of envisioning urban futures because cities are considered as systems, meaning we cannot consider parts of cities—institutions, ecosystems, built environment, and communities—in isolation since they interact to form the whole.

In SETS, social dimensions include social–political–cultural–economic dynamics of a city, including both the decision-making actors and their actions. Ecological dimensions include the biophysical elements of non-human nature, with their associated processes, that are part of the fabric of cities—for example, tree growth or soil formation. Technological dimensions include the built components and associated processes of urban systems, for example, roads or public transportation networks, buildings, and the knowledge embodied in technologies (Markolf et al. 2018). Envisioning cities from a SETS perspective raises valuable governance questions, such as the type of institutions and knowledge needed, as well as which people are affected by infrastructure changes (Kim et al. 2019). How can services provided by natural ecosystems be integrated into the built environment? How can technological advances be used to impart flexibility or redundancy to infrastructure? The SETS approach demands that such questions—reflecting the three SETS dimensions—be answered to build resilience and support sustainable pathways.

The SETS framework for climate adaptation is a pragmatic approach that reflects an increasing recognition of the role that built and technological infrastructure play in mediating the relationships among human activities and ecosystem processes (Grimm et al. 2015; McPhearson et al. 2016). The SETS framework is fundamental to climate adaptation plans because it helps to clarify how interactions among the social–political–cultural–economic (S) and the biophysical (E) domains are mediated through infrastructure (T). Key SETS components to consider encompass diverse social, ecological, and technological features, as well as where these intersect, since these three dimensions interact with each other in supporting urban pathways to resilient futures. Examples include social–ecological considerations in land use changes, ecological effects of biophilia, or the need for more green spaces on society, and technological–social innovation for mobility or communication (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1 Matrix exemplifying SETS features in cities. Here the social, ecological, and technological (S-E-T) domain characteristics (vertical header column) impact/influence the social, ecological, and technological components (horizontal header row) of a city. For example, the bottom-leftmost box indicates the ways in which technology influences society

3.2 Content Analysis of Municipal Planning Documents and Governance Strategies in SETS

In the face of the growing occurrence of weather extremes, climate adaptation plans are essential governance tools at regional, city, and local levels. Though such plans have been extensively developed at national and international levels, local governments have a vital role in implementing municipal-level climate adaptation strategies that are retrofit to various governance scales, regional climatic characteristics, and urban SETS. In the last two decades, city governments have been developing planning documents such as comprehensive municipal plans, disaster preparedness plans, climate action plans, and sustainability plans meant to advance urban resilience by implementing climate adaptation strategies at local levels (Reckien et al. 2018). City plans and city planning processes embody the goals and actions that cities seek to advance for urban resilience (Bulkeley 2010). Municipal governance is often shaped by various forms of interacting institutions, including governing agencies, policies, formal and informal codes, local knowledge systems, practitioners, public officials, and communities (Folke et al. 2005; Araos et al. 2016; Feagan et al. 2019). City plans express goals that are shaped by the various institutions, as well as guide interactions among institutions to achieve goals, demonstrate suitable governance strategies, and envision achievable expectations and outcomes of these strategies (Carmin et al. 2012). As cities continue to lead urban resilience planning, we analyze municipal planning documents to examine how urban governance structures (with diverse socio–political–cultural and biophysical contexts) plan for climate change. Analyzing plans help us understand what strategies are effective and practical, and how well adaptation strategies are integrated in local governance. As such, governance planning documents provide insight into how cities are framing urban resilience, yet there are few mechanisms to effectively and efficiently highlight the suite of SETS climate adaptation strategies that cities are considering. In the following sections, we provide four essential steps for analyzing governance strategies from municipal planning documents by using the SETS framework in order to support an effective scenario-development process for visioning resilient urban futures.

3.2.1 Selecting Municipal Planning Documents

The first step is to choose appropriate documents for analysis. Since our focus is municipal governance strategies for climate change adaptation, the pool of potential documents for analysis is limited to plans that are drafted and published by the city, local, and regional governments, and by local non-governmental organizations. Once the potential documents are identified in a city, three to five dominant governance documents are selected for analysis based on the following criteria.

  • Must be an overarching planning document (e.g., General Plans, Comprehensive Plans, Sustainability/Resilience Plans, Climate Action Plans, Common Plans)

  • Must be less than five years old, with exceptions if the total number of available documents for analysis in a city is less than three

  • Must be relevant to climate change, flooding/heat/drought adaptation, resilience, or sustainability

  • If more than five documents are available that fit the above criteria, only those salient to climate change adaptation, sustainability, or resilience are selected. If the document is titled with climate action, sustainability, or resilience, it may be prioritized, otherwise the relevance may be determined by how comprehensively the document focuses on strategic planning for mitigation of climatic risks or adaptation to environmental changes (e.g., comprehensive municipal plans, hazard mitigation plans, disaster preparedness management plans, stormwater plans)

  • Match the plans to the spatial scale under consideration (e.g., neighborhood, city-wide, regional, national).

We recommend consultation and validation with city practitioners regarding the priority and relevance of documents to finalize the selection. Using the above section criteria, 30 planning documents from across the UREx SRN cities were selected for analysis. These include a diversity of document types relevant to climate adaptation, resilience, and sustainability. The selected documents were published between 2010 and 2015 at the municipal, regional, and state levels (Table 3.2).

Table 3.2 List of municipal planning documents selected for content analysis of governance strategies among the nine UREx network cities. Each document reflects climate adaptation, sustainability, or resilience

3.2.2 Extracting Governance Strategies

From the selection of municipal plans in each city, governance strategies are extracted by capturing exact quotes from documents. The extraction should focus primarily on quotes that describe implementation strategies relating to extreme weather events (namely flooding, extreme heat, and drought), actions, or approaches to adapt to climate change or extreme events in general, and governance mechanisms to mitigate, adapt, or respond to events related to climate change. Examples of strategies extracted from across the UREx SRN cities are presented in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3 Example of extracted strategies found within the planning documents outlined in Table 3.2, demonstrating how governance strategies differ by document type and by city

3.2.3 Labeling Strategies with Levers and Exogenous Drivers

After strategies are extracted, the individual strategies are first qualitatively coded for the type of climatic drivers being addressed (i.e., exogenous drivers) and the type of policy instruments being implemented (i.e., levers) (Lempert et al. 2003; Wiek and Iwaniec 2014; Iwaniec et al. 2020). In our case, climatic drivers refer to extreme weather events that impact cities, such as floods (urban, coastal, riverine, or non-specific), extreme heat, drought, and non-specific hazards. Policy instruments are governance mechanisms that may be manipulated to mitigate or respond to the impact of these drivers. Examples include research and plan development, intergovernmental coordination, maintenance of built infrastructure, economic incentives, and education and outreach.

3.2.4 The SETS Codebook

We developed the SETS codebook that helps us identify SETS components of governance strategies based on Denton et al. (2014), Berbés-Blázquez et al. (2017), Burch et al. (2017), and Iwaniec et al. (2020). The SETS codebook (Table 3.4) is developed in an inductive process by encompassing a pool of sample strategies and incorporating previous studies on systems governance analysis. We propose this codebook for analyzing governance strategies to be qualitatively coded by their contents and evaluated by the interaction of social, ecological, and technological domains. As a non-scale, system-level, bridging framework, this coding scheme allows cities and their stakeholders to explore SETS interaction and adaptation strategies associated with them in city to regional-level governance data. In Table 3.5, we include selected examples of governance strategies that are analyzed by the proposed SETS codebook. The outcome of the analysis creates a comprehensive framework to assess climate change adaptation strategies based on their synergies, conflicts, and tradeoffs across SETS domains.

Table 3.4 The SETS codebook developed to capture SETS components of governance mechanisms in strategies
Table 3.5 Example of coded strategies using the SETS codebook. To maintain inter-coder reliability, multiple coders analyzed and reviewed each strategy following the suggested codebook in Table 3.4. Before analysis, selected coders were trained according to standardized coding protocol and the codebook to maintain coding coherency across various documents and among coders. SETS codes correspond to SETS components set out in Table 3.4

3.3 Conclusion

In this chapter, we present an approach to identify and analyze municipal governance strategies using a SETS framework for urban resilience framework. Assessing governance strategies using a SETS framework is particularly valuable in the scenario-based visioning process. SETS governance strategies help stakeholders understand current dynamics of urban systems and explore adaptation options prioritized at various governance scales, and are thus useful for visioning futures when provided to diverse stakeholders in the process of developing participatory scenarios. Analysis of governance strategies using a SETS framework can explain how cities currently address climate risks and existing system vulnerabilities through governance adaptation mechanisms. We are particularly interested in determining whether planning documents tend to prioritize a particular SETS domain over others (e.g., predominance of technological solutions), and if they adequately consider system relationships. Identifying SETS interactions in proposed and implemented municipal governance plans is an important step in bridging the gap between aspirations and viable adaptation actions. Shaping climate adaptation goals and instigating governance strategies by integrating social, ecological, and technological domains in a systems perspective is essential for building urban resilience, and ultimately, for enabling transformation to sustainable pathways toward the resilient future.