Informing adaptation responses to climate change through theories of transformation

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Authors: S.E. Parker, N.A Marshall, E. Jakku, A.M. Dowd, S.M. Howden, E. Mendham, A. Fleming

Publication Year: 2012


Journal: Global Environmental Change

Categories: Adaptive Cycle, Decision Making, Organizational Change, Adaptive Cycle, Decision Making


Adaptive capacity determines the vulnerability of a social system to external changes, and is enhanced by interaction between research, business and policy. Much research focuses on incremental adaptation and there is a lacune in understanding transformational adaptive processes. Most research cites the theory of the social ecological resilience framework (e.g. Holling) which propagates all systems are linked, are subject to phased change in an adaptive cycle, and exist at different scales in time/space or organizational levels (i.e. ‘panarchies’). Transition theory supposes phased transformations of systems as well, moving through phases of predevelopment, takeoff, acceleration and stabilization. Transition management has such activity and decision clusters as establishing guiding principles, determining a transition agenda, experimentation, and evaluation. Extending on the aforementioned literature the authors purport a novel conceptualization of transformative and incremental adaptation as two linked action-learning cycles, each representing all four stages of the decision making process. The authors have adapted the Transition Management Cycle (Loorbach, 2007) to include a second action-learning cycle to reflect the difference between incremental and transformational adaptation processes, deeming their framework the Adaptation Action Cycles. The framework is focused on pragmatic decision making processes and is operationalized through questions that guide each stage. Departing from S-curve models, after successful transformation a new incremental adaptation-action learning cycle is established until the next transformation occurs in a continuous cycle. Note that the key difference between incremental and transformational change lies in the extent of change. A qualitative study of Australian wine firms and growers justified the model and illustrated how transformational change at one level in the industry was necessary in order for the broader industry to continue incremental change. Other highlights from the findings are transition does not always occur or may occur independently, cycles take less than 10 years to complete, and there is evidence of double or triple loop learning by stakeholders.