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Title: Reflexive Learning in the Practice of Adaptive Freshwater Management
Contributor(s): McLoughlin, Craig (author); Thoms, Martin  (supervisor)orcid ; Marshall, Graham  (supervisor); Parsons, Melissa  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2016-10-22
Copyright Date: 2015-11
Thesis Restriction Date until: Access restricted until 2016-11-24
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Related DOI: 10.5751/ES-07303-200134
Abstract: Learning-by-doing strategies allow for inherent uncertainty in the management of complex social-ecological systems. Adaptive management epitomises learning-by-doing, an iterative process based on incremental, experiential learning within adaptive management cycles. This learning is supported by strategic monitoring of, and feedback from the impacts and outcomes of decisions. Adaptive management of freshwater ecosystems facilitates a greater social context within freshwater management. This is achieved through an increased emphasis on flexible, open institutions and multi governance-level systems that allow for critical thinking and learning. Adaptive management of freshwater ecosystems is an important approach for practicing resilience because it addresses uncertainty in a complex world.
Lack of an effective natural resource management practice is frequently confounded by the requirement for complex social and technical (environmental) components to learning. Integrating societal learning based on increasing time-scales for social and technical change through the modes of single-, double-, and triple-loop learning, into adaptive natural resource management is intricate. This is because of many "enabling conditions" and facilitators associated with practicing this learning. Key "enabling conditions" for societal learning include stakeholder participation, learning-centred organizations, social learning capacities, and adaptive governance arrangements. In addition, reflexive learning (adaptive feedback systems) must be explicitly used and incorporated within adaptive management cycles in order to facilitate the three modes of societal learning. This thesis proposes that for efficient adaptive freshwater management single-, double-, and triple-loop learning must be exercised more deliberately within any adaptive freshwater management system, by the explicit facilitation of adaptive feedback systems.
The thesis employs an inductive approach to the research undertaken. It is comprised of two phases. The first phase involves the development of the frameworks, and aims to advance knowledge about the complex relationship between societal learning and the practice of adaptive natural resource management. The conceptual framework is hierarchical in nature and its design enhances understanding about how to integrate societal learning (the central learning construct) into adaptive natural resource management. Learning-centred organisations, which foster social learning capacities and achieve adaptive institutional arrangements within natural resource management have a place in adaptive natural resource management as critical enabling conditions for societal learning. However, development and use of a reflexive learning foundation of stakeholder networks and adaptive feedback systems is needed as a core mechanism for practicing single-, double-, and triple-loop learning. These feedbacks facilitate societal learning within adaptive natural resource management.
The development of the Strategic adaptive management Reflexive Learning Framework (SRLF) within this thesis uses a multi governance-level adaptive feedback system that works to enhance the facilitation of single-, double-, and triple-loop learning within adaptive natural resource management. The SRLF emphasizes the types, roles, and transfer of information within a reflexive learning context. The SRLF is a key enabler for implementing the adaptive management cycle, and thereby translating the theory of adaptive natural resource management into practice. It promotes the heuristics of adaptive management within a cohesive framework and its deployment guides adaptive natural resource management within and beyond typical single-loop learning, across all governance levels.
Under thesis phase two, application of the SRLF's adaptive feedback system to Ecological Reserve implementation in the Crocodile River Catchment of South Africa demonstrates the importance of the SRLF adaptive feedback system for societal learning and achieving ecosystem objectives. Adaptive feedbacks for lower grade single-loop learning are mandatory because frequent adjustment to Ecological Reserve operations is required due to uncertainty about implementing the required river flows. Upper grade single-loop learning is often neglected within the Crocodile River Catchment with too much attention focused on operations to implement the Ecological Reserve. However, these river flows are hypotheses about maintaining an agreed upon ecological condition in the rivers, and therefore must be assessed against end-point goal achievement, to adjust operations as required. The skill with incorporating double-loop learning is avoiding the trap of "learning for the sake of learning" because resources for this learning are scarce in the Crocodile River Catchment. However, reframing of interventions and end-point goals is required based on new knowledge becoming available and/or changing human values. Triple-loop learning is compulsory and deliberately imposed over longer time intervals because objectives require revision over time and stakeholder values also change. Triple-loop learning is required for completion and then regeneration of the adaptive management cycle.
Achieving societal learning within and across multiple governance levels within the Murray- Darling Basin is needed in order to practice an effective adaptive freshwater management. Societal learning is fostered via an explicit recognition of practitioner mandates across governance levels. In addition, by adopting a flexible objectives hierarchy and seeking stakeholder participation and finding adaptive management champions to steer the learning requirements. Achieving an effective balance between the modes of societal learning is key, while working toward implementing adaptive freshwater management in water resource plan areas of the Murray-Darling Basin is needed for stimulating learning in the upper governance levels.
Thesis chapters two to five are presented as manuscripts for journal publication. Each provide an original research contribution. Chapter Two advances our understanding about the complexity of learning within the practice of adaptive natural resource management (ANRM). Chapter Three demonstrates a unique way for deploying an adaptive feedback system within adaptive management cycles, for facilitating single-, double- and triple-loop learning within and across governance levels. Chapter Four sets an important precedent for implementing adaptive freshwater management in the real-world, using single-, double-, and triple-loop learning explicitly and deliberately within the adaptive management cycle. Lastly, Chapter Five advances our knowledge about how to implement adaptive freshwater management in the real-world, within and across governance levels. This adaptive freshwater management uses societal learning to embrace uncertainty under complex water reforms.
The thesis proposes that a complex adaptive feedback system must replace the typical linear interpretations of feedbacks within the adaptive management cycle, and therefore learning. In addition, a mind-set change is required for the translation of natural resource management theory into practice. The research (theory) mind-set, with its "idealism" frame-of-mind ("enhancing angle to learning") emphasises an enhanced version of societal learning within adaptive freshwater management, i.e. with full double-, and triple-loop learning occurring. However, in the real-world practice of adaptive freshwater management a "pragmatism" frame-of-mind ("requisite angle to learning") is needed. This mind-set focuses on getting single-loop and some initial form of double-loop learning going, within any given adaptive freshwater management system using current resources/structures available. Implementation of a complex nested and overlapping set of adaptive feedbacks is required to activate the more immediate responses, and adaptive assessment and reflection routines within the adaptive management cycle, and this bequeaths a critical foundation of "facilitating processes" for both learning angles. In addition, for assessing potential success or effectiveness of any given adaptive freshwater management system, taking a hierarchical, scaled perspective to implementation of the adaptive management cycle, across all governance levels, bestows a better gauging method for the practice of adaptive freshwater management. This is because societal learning is more achievable at the lower governance levels.
The SRLF and its principles developed in this thesis promote the practice of resilience. This is achieved via several emergent themes; thinking in multiple scales, paying attention to thresholds, celebrating/embracing change and uncertainty/surprise, fostering innovation, and remembering adaptive governance. Hence, the SRLF has implications for further research to advance knowledge about harnessing adaptive capacity within natural resource management (e.g. integrating with panarchy theory). In addition, research exploring application of the SRLF Environment theme with the other SRLF themes, i.e. Economic and Community/Social themes, is needed due to the integrated nature of freshwater legislation and management. Testing implementation of the SRLF principles at the upper governance levels of adaptive freshwater management is another area requiring further research, within a multiple governance-level practice of adaptive freshwater management.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2008: 050205 Environmental Management
050209 Natural Resource Management
050206 Environmental Monitoring
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 410404 Environmental management
410406 Natural resource management
370901 Geomorphology and earth surface processes
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 960604 Environmental Management Systems
960913 Water Allocation and Quantification
960608 Rural Water Evaluation (incl. Water Quality)
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 189999 Other environmental management not elsewhere classified
180305 Ground water quantification, allocation and impact of depletion
190211 Water policy (incl. water allocation)
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Thesis Doctoral

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