Adaptation wheel

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 30th Mar 2011

Adaptation as a social process: spinning wheels?

A conceptual model of the socio-institutional interactions that produce climate adaptation would have numerous linkages connecting actors and organisations, the vulnerable with the powerful, scales from local to global and back again, integrating exposure across sectors and threats, not forgetting the iterations of perception, insight, communication, adjustment, adaptation, responses, all leading to or depending on adaptive capacity (depending on whether you subscribe to structuralists, post-normal or emergent social science paradigms). For the academics, the conceptual framings are important. For practitioners understanding key elements of adaptation processes is their business and art. (For an exercise in conceptual models of vulnerability, see the exercise in vulnerability concepts.)

We need not produce a fully articulated conceptual model in order to make progress. Here is a simple sketch, designed as an introductory exercise for a small group to help organise the content of a training workshop, a course book or even the workplan for an adaptation project.

1. Start with a question: "Adaptation is a social process of ...". The tacit assumption is that planning adaptation (whether to climate change, hazards or livelihood threats) is a process, of decision making by actors, etc. There are other definitions of adaptation, but the view of adaptation as a social process, with social learning as a particular interpretation, is an appealing starting point.

2. The spokes of the wheel are the elements important to planning adaptation. There are lots of suggestions here, from the rational planning paradigms to the eclectic judgements of what is critical in adaptation. Why not see what the group thinks? In their own context is there a dominant framework that they see their working fitting into?

3. Closely related is the canvass of actors, also known as stakeholders, decision makers, policy makers, targetted audiences, the vulnerable themselves. In this simple approach, who are the most important actors? Important in the sense of influencing the success of the project (that central question applied to a place and peoples). Can they be aligned in the spokes of the wheel from above? That would be nice, and maybe we can get by with that for now. In reality actors are in complex networks (see actor-network mapping, TED: draw in material from Gina's dissertation, Kate's exercises, etc.).

4. Now tidy up the wheel with a rim (or set of rims) that are the methods, tools, processes that connect the actors through the elements to the central question. Rim in the sense of what meets the ground and is grounded in what actors would or could do, reinforced with structural consistency through the spokes that act together on hub to make a wheel. Okay, this is stretching it, and all that is important in the exercise is to 'see' the connections. (Another graphic device we've used is to make a road (or even a river or walking path) that starts with here and now and ends up with the outcomes a project plans, see the roadmap exercise).

TED: I can add some images once I figure out how!