Theorizing the practice of climate adaptation governance: a conceptual framework towards more effective adaptation practice

11:15 Thursday 30 May

SS044 • OC263

Room S2


Marco Pütz (Switzerland) 1; Dominik Braunschweiger (Switzerland) 1

1 - Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Mainstream climate adaptation governance research is focused on the role of actors and/or institutions in policy development processes regarding adaptation to climate change. Actors (agency) and institutions (structure) are seen as being mutually constitutive and are representing core analytical elements of climate adaptation governance research. To move beyond that kind of dichotomic structure-agency thinking and to better understand different practices of adaptation governance this paper raises the broader issue of ‘how’ both actors and institutions influence adaptation action. In other words, this paper is interested in the simple question of what is actually happening when adaptation governance is taking place, done or performed. The need to answer this question is supported by reviews of actual adaptation actions indicating that adaptation often remains at the stage of policy and strategy development. Accordingly, this paper proposes to shift the analytical focus of climate adaptation research from actors and institutions to the ‘practice’ of climate adaptation governance.

To conceptualize the practice of climate adaptation governance this paper explores two concepts which have not been extensively discussed in adaptation research yet. First, this paper refers to Paavola’s (2007) reconceptualization of environmental governance and his idea to introduce generic governance functions (exclusion of unauthorized users; regulation of authorized resource uses and distribution of their benefits; provisioning and the recovery of its costs; monitoring; enforcement; conflict resolution; collective choice). Second, this paper refers to more recent developments in social practice theories, especially Schatzki (1996), Reckwitz (2002), and Shove (2010). Here, practice is defined as a discrete activity or as a routinized behaviour constituted by meanings, materials and skills or competences. Drawing from these two strands of scholarly literature we propose an analytical framework to conceptualize the everyday practices of climate adaptation. We propose to distinguish four dimensions of adaptation governance practice: (i) identifying entry points for adaptation action (incl. assessing vulnerabilities or risks, setting priorities), (ii) establishing working procedures for adaptation action (incl. defining ownership, building capacities, developing long-term adaptation policies, engaging stakeholders), (iii) delivering adaption (incl. mainstreaming into other policy fields and private businesses, rescaling responsibilities, shifting budgets, addressing conflicts of interest), (iv) providing recommendations for improving adaptation practice (incl. learning from good practice, reporting and evaluation). This conceptual framework is tested using examples from Switzerland. The paper concludes with policy recommendations and further research questions.