An assessment of the nature and utility of adaptive capacity research

Synthesis and Integrative Research Program

Wheatfarmers Image: USDA

Vulnerability to climate change can be described as a function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity (Allen Consulting 2005 after IPCC 2001). However, as evidenced by the volume of publications in journals such as Science and Nature, the focus of the science of climate change has been dominated by research on exposure. There has been a recent increase in studies and publications on adaptive capacity, yet there has been no assessment of the nature of adaptive capacity research, or on the utility of the concept for decision-making. Thus the goal of the project is to assess the interpretation and approach to adaptive capacity research among a range of disciplines, and to assess the utility of the concept for decision-making, in order to make recommendations to improve synergies between climate change adaptation researchers and decision makers. The project actively involved stakeholders through an online survey and key informant interviews.

Objectives

  • Assess the interpretation and approach to adaptive capacity research among a range of disciplines;
  • Critique case studies in which an attempt is made to assess adaptive capacity of a community, region or sector
  • Assess the utility of the concept of adaptive capacity for decision-making on adaptation policy and planning; and
  • Develop recommendations to improve synergies between climate change adaptation researchers and decision makers.

Methods

The methods for the project consisted of three parts: (i) literature review; (ii) online survey; and (iii) key informant interviews.
 
Literature review
The literature review included both academic and “grey” literature to form a report that: (i) includes a bibliography of relevant literature; (ii) an annotated bibliography of selected key publications (about 50); and (iii) a critical review of the literature that describes the nature and form of adaptive capacity research internationally. This literature review also reviewed case studies in which an attempt was made to assess the adaptive capacity of a community, region or sector. The literature review was used to develop the concepts to be explored through the online survey. The literature review also helped to identify the researchers to be targeted for key informant interviews.
 
Online survey
An online survey was used to gather data on approaches to adaptive capacity research. By using this approach the breadth of issues can be elicited via the short on-line survey, which then formed the themes of the in-depth interviews with key informants.  The quantitative responses to the survey (eg. how many studies, how many participants, etc.) was analysed through basic statistical techniques using Excel, while the qualitative responses was analysed for emerging concepts and concept mapping using the software packages NVivo and Leximancer respectively. The online survey enabled the analysis of discipline-specific conceptions of adaptive capacity and perceptions of the utility of the concept to decision-making.
 
Key informant interviews
Key informant interviews were used to explore some of the themes that emerged through the online survey. While the key informants were mostly researchers, some decision makers and research clients were also included. The key informant interviews were transcribed and then coded using the software package NVivo. A concept mapping analysis was also conducted using the software package Leximancer. The key informant interviews were used to explore the conceptualisation and approaches to adaptive capacity, and its perceived utility for decision-making. The key informant interviews were also used to gauge the relevance of the initial recommendations to improve the synergies between adaptive capacity researchers and decision makers.

Project Contacts:

Prof Tim Smith
Principal Investigator
University of the Sunshine Coast
Email: tim.smith@usc.edu.au

Daniel Stock,
Research Coordinator
NCCARF
Email: d.stock@griffith.edu.au

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