Organizational Knowledge Creation to Enhance Adaptive Capacity: Exploratory Case Studies in Water Resource Management
Goucher, Nancy Patricia
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This research focuses on how conservation authorities create organizational knowledge to enhance adaptive capacity to improve environmental policy. Organizational knowledge creation refers to the ability to create, disseminate and embody knowledge to improve products, services and systems (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). Organizational knowledge is required for building adaptive capacity, which is defined as the ability to anticipate, respond to and learn from disturbance and change. Highly adaptive organizations can anticipate, respond to and learn from disturbances to adjust management practices and overcome weaknesses in policy created by changing circumstances (Ascher 2001). As quasi-government agencies responsible for water management in Ontario, conservation authorities need to respond to change if they are to learn from past experiences and develop innovative water resource policy that adequately addresses increasingly complex social-ecological problems. A broad multidisciplinary literature review was conducted to develop a theoretical framework of conditions that potentially facilitate organizational knowledge creation and adaptive capacity. A case study analysis was conducted using five conservation authorities to acquire insight into the circumstances under which these conditions facilitate knowledge creation and adaptive capacity based on practical water resource management experience in three programs areas: flood damage reduction, low water response and source water protection. The case studies include Credit Valley Conservation, Grand River Conservation Authority, Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority and Toronto Region Conservation Authorities and were chosen because they reflect a cross section of institutional attributes in terms of budget, staff, rate of growth and population. A qualitative, exploratory research methodology was employed to undertake analysis of empirical evidence from 64 semi-structured interviews with water resource practitioners. Analysis of interview transcripts was conducted with QSR NVivo, a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software, to provide insight into the role facilitating conditions played in water resource management. Findings from the analysis suggest there are twelve facilitating conditions for creating organizational knowledge to enhance adaptive capacity in conservation authorities. A conceptual model illustrates the relative importance of the facilitating conditions to conservation authorities and highlights three core conditions: values of trust and respect, social capital and accountability. The other nine conditions include leadership, surveillance of the environment, social memory, autonomy, motivation, conditions for social interaction, dialogue, shared vision and adaptive mental models. The conceptual model identifies and operationalizes theoretical facilitating conditions in water resource management. The model has a strong theoretical underpinning developed through a consolidation of insights from various fields of study including social-ecological systems, knowledge management, organizational learning and collaborative planning. The model’s structure is derived from the observations and experiences of practitioners in managing water resources and can in turn, provide practitioners with an opportunity to recognize how their daily activities and decisions can influence organizational knowledge creation processes and adaptive capacity. From a planning perspective, this research highlights the importance of creating organizational knowledge and building adaptive capacity in planning institutions to improve their ability to develop informed and adaptive public policy.