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Quenching our thirst for future knowledge: participatory scenario construction and sustainable water governance in a desert city

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Transformational sustainability science demands that stakeholders and researchers consider the needs and values of future generations in pursuit of solutions to sustainability problems. This dissertation research focuses on the real-world

Transformational sustainability science demands that stakeholders and researchers consider the needs and values of future generations in pursuit of solutions to sustainability problems. This dissertation research focuses on the real-world problem of unsustainable water governance in the Phoenix region of Central Arizona. A sustainability transition is the local water system is necessary to overcome sustainability challenges and scenarios can be used to explore plausible and desirable futures to inform a transition, but this requires some methodological refinements. This dissertation refines scenario methodology to generate water governance scenarios for metropolitan Phoenix that: (i) feature enhanced stakeholder participation; (ii) incorporate normative values and preferences; (iii) focus on governance actors and their activities; and (iv) meet an expanded set of quality criteria. The first study in the dissertation analyzes and evaluates participatory climate change scenarios to provide recommendations for the construction and use of scenarios that advance climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. The second study proposes and tests a set of plausibility indications to substantiate or evaluate claims that scenarios and future projections could become reality, helping to establish the legitimacy of radically different or transformative scenarios among an extended peer community. The case study of water governance begins with the third study, which includes a current state analysis and sustainability appraisal of the Phoenix-area water system. This is followed by a fourth study which surveys Phoenix-area water decision-makers to better understand water-related preferences for use in scenario construction. The fifth and final study applies a multi-method approach to construct future scenarios of water governance in metropolitan Phoenix in 2030 using stakeholder preferences, among other normative frames, and testing systemic impacts with WaterSim 5.0, a dynamic simulation model of water in the region. The scenarios are boundary objects around which stakeholders can weigh tradeoffs, set priorities and reflect on impacts of water-related activities, broadening policy dialogues around water governance in central Arizona. Together the five studies advance transformational sustainability research by refining methods to engage stakeholders in crafting futures that define how individuals and institutions should operate in transformed and sustainable systems.

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  • 2014

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Toward sustainable governance of water resources: the case of Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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Research shows that many water governance regimes are failing to guide social-ecological systems away from points, beyond which, damage to social and environmental well-being will be difficult to correct. This

Research shows that many water governance regimes are failing to guide social-ecological systems away from points, beyond which, damage to social and environmental well-being will be difficult to correct. This problem is apparent in regions that face water conflicts and climate threats. There remains a need to clarify what is it about governance that people need to change in water conflict prone regions, how to collectively go about doing that, and how research can actively support this. To address these needs, here I present a collaborative research project from the dry tropics of Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. The project addressed the overarching questions: How can water be governed sustainably in water-contested and climate-threatened regions? And, how can people transition current water governance regimes toward more sustainable ones? In pursuit of these questions, a series of individual studies were performed with many partners and collaborators. These studies included: a participatory analysis and sustainability assessment of current water governance regimes; a case analysis and comparison of water conflicts; constructing alternative governance scenarios; and, developing governance transition strategies. Results highlight the need for water governance that addresses asymmetrical knowledge gaps especially concerning groundwater resources, reconciles disenfranchised groups, and supports local leaders. Yet, actions taken based on these initial results, despite some success influencing policy, found substantial challenges confronting them. In-depth conflict investigations, for example, found that deeply rooted issues such friction between opposing local-based and national institutions were key conflict drivers in the region. To begin addressing these issues, researchers and stakeholders then constructed a set of governing alternatives and devised governance transition strategies that could actively support people to achieve more sustainable alternatives and avoid less sustainable ones. These efforts yielded insight into the collective actions needed to implement more sustainable water governance regimes, including ways to overcoming barriers that drive harmful water conflicts. Actions based on these initial strategies yielded further opportunities, challenges, and lessons. Overall, the project addresses the research and policy gap between identifying what is sustainable water governance and understanding the strategies needed to implement it successfully in regions that experience water conflict and climate impacts.

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  • 2014