Traps and Transformations of Grenadian Water Management
Neff, Brian Phillip
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The adaptive cycle metaphor provides insight into how and why social-ecological systems change. Literature on 'resilience thinking' has built upon this foundation and further developed the concepts of resilience, adaptation, and transformation to describe social-ecological system behavior. The resilience-thinking literature also describes systems that do not change, even when such change is desirable, as being in a trapped state. However, relatively little research has explored why such systems are trapped and how to free them. This thesis is the product of doctoral research which resolves how to identify, evaluate, and free a system caught in a maladaptive system trap. The study setting is water management in Grenada, a small island developing state in the southeastern Caribbean. Four research questions guide this study: (1) To what extent is Grenadian water management in a trap?, (2) To what extent is Grenadian water management transformable?, (3) Do current and recent interventions effectively foster or utilize transformability?, and (4) Which interventions should be pursued to facilitate transformation of water management in Grenada?. The study is informed by literature on social-ecological systems and integrated water resources management. Methodologically, the study is an explanatory single-case study of water management in Grenada, conducted from 2012 to 2013. The study utilizes data from semi-structured interviews (n=19), a questionnaire (n=180), a document review (n>200), and observation. The general strategy was to evaluate attempts to transform Grenadian water management within the 3-phase transformation framework described in the resilience-thinking literature. 'Points of failure' in transformation are defined as the cause(s) of a trap, and interventions to relieve the points of failure are proposed. Results indicate Grenadian water management is in a rigidity trap, although it exhibits some capacity to transform. A key point of failure of attempts to transform the Grenadian water sector into an integrated and holistic management system has been an inability to seize windows of opportunity to pass key legislation. I conclude the primary cause for this failure is poor fit among the problem, as perceived by various stakeholders, the proposed solution prescribed by water sector reform proponents, and political reality. In addition, reform proponents focus on advocating for reform to water sector professionals and do little to broker passage of legislation politically. Finally, reform proponents also assume legislation will be effectively implemented, which is not certain. Contributions specific to the Grenadian setting include a post-mortem on why efforts to reform the water sector have failed, described above. Five recommendations are made for future interventions to foster transformation of Grenadian water management: (1) engage residents as part of a vision to create political pressure for proposed solutions, (2) frame the problem with substantial resident input and focus, (3) craft solutions which take advantage of political realities such as funding restrictions, (4) anticipate and prepare for crises, and (5) enlist one or more people or organizations to serve as brokers. Empirical contributions include support for the three-streams framework of seizing windows of opportunity as fundamental to explain transformation of social-ecological systems. The primary conceptual contribution is the development of resilience thinking to illuminate ways to free trapped systems. I begin by providing a nomenclature to quantify and describe traps, which includes the type of trap, the degree of persistence and undesirability of the trap, and recent changes in these properties. Then, I develop a framework to assess transformability of a given system based on the existing 3-phase framework of transformation. When applied empirically, this framework illuminates points of failure of transformation, which I define as the cause of a given trap. Once identified, specific strategies can be devised to foster transformation and to break free of a trap.
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