The importance of social learning and culture for sustainable water management

Annotation for The importance of social learning and culture for sustainable water management

Pahl-Wostl C., Tabara D.J., Bouwen R., Craps M., Deuwulf A., Mostert E., Ridder D., Taillieu T.. 2008. The importance of social learning and culture for sustainable water management. Ecological Economics. 64


Introduces social learning as a key conceptual framework for advancing an integrated resource management approach.

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Key Findings: 

A paradigm shift is being witnessed in water resource management, moving from an engineering tradition (based on prediction and control) to new methodological approaches that include an integrated perspective incorporating human values and collective behaviours. In this new paradigm governance and cultural adaptation are major concerns, however scientific concepts to address these concerns are in their infancy. Social learning is discussed as a contributing framework for an integrated resource management approach, using the context of the HarmoniCOP (Harmonizing Collaborative Planning) project based in Europe. The authors argue that it would be challenging to transition toward new management regimes without understanding social learning and culture at different scales along with their interdependencies. Transformative change in resource management requires social learning, and includes changes in both culture and institutions to address the causes that provoke environmental problems at different scales. More flexible and adaptive management strategies are appropriate and highly needed.


Engineering solutions maintain a place in adaptive learning. However, they are viewed as only one option or approach in highly complex management environments. Solutions based on prediction and control alone have at times demonstrated some level of success in the short term but manifested critical issues at longer temporal scales. This has served to highlight that the interdependencies of complex system elements are difficult, if not impossible, to predict. A social learning framework, such as presented in this article, is a means to acknowledge this complexity and to introduce a conceptual model that is sensitive to uncertainty and dynamism. It does this predominately through inclusiveness, addressing power imbalances, expanding options and increasing diversity, developing interconnectedness and focusing specifically on the need for transformative change at institutional and cultural levels.