Roling N.. 2009. Professionals in context: How robust is the normative model. Irrigation & Drainage. 58


Explores the development of social learning as a normative model in water management

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This article investigates social learning and participatory decision-making as a normative process for guiding action in water management dilemmas currently faced by many communities. While the author views agricultural development as generally relying on technology in response to problems associated with social-ecological change, water management is seen to be adopting alternative approaches that rely on the interaction of stakeholders. However, given the grave nature of current circumstances, this article critiques the normative model in terms of its capacity to meet the associated challenges. Some of the challenges considered include issues of power and vested interest, institutional factors and a range of barriers to effective action and change. It is argued that issues associated with contextualising, designing, managing and facilitating action are only beginning to be understood. New coalitions of social learning practitioners (or communities of practice) are required, and evidence of this is beginning to emerge in various projects described or highlighted in this article. It is argued that initiatives of this kind are of greater value in understanding and generating social learning solutions to current crises in water management, than attempting to operationalise this learning through more abstract means.


Niels Roling is an early influential figure in the development of social learning within the context of agricultural extension. This article takes a pragmatic approach to social learning, and clearly points to both hierarchical and individual influences which undermine effective social change and action on critically important resource management issues. To counteract oppressive hierarchies and restrictive individualistic behaviours, it is proposed that learning frameworks should span all levels of social aggregation. This is a significant challenge for adaptive learning. However, linking parallel projects is one method which provides significant opportunities for common understanding, the development of standards and the creation of cumulative energy for concerted action.