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learning to adapt organisational adaptation to climate change impacts n.
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Figuring out how to adjust: hierarchical adjustment to environmental change sways

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  1. Learning to adapt:organisational adaptation to climate change impacts Frans Berkhout (University of Sussex, UK) ARGCC, Columbus, OH 30 October 2003

  2. Aims To outline an approach to understanding adaptation by organisations which sees adaptation as a process of learning. To interpret findings of case studies of UK water and house-building companies

  3. The Study • Two-year study of 9 companies (5 house-building and 4 water services) • Interview and workshop-based • Concerned with perception of impacts, analysis of vulnerability, evaluation of adaptation options and decision-making over options implementation

  4. Adaptation: neo-classical approaches • Assume agent predispositions to specific adaptive strategies • Notion of autonomous and planned adaptation • Notion of efficient and optimally-timed adaptation

  5. Critiques • Static approach - no account of uncertainty, reflexivity and role of expectations • Assumptions of efficient markets, rational decision-making, free information, perfect foresight, equally distributed capabilities may not hold • Responses to mean changes, rather than adjustments to new knowledge and extreme events • Assumption of adaptation by independent entities – no notion of co-adaptation

  6. Adaptation: climate-centred approaches • Super-abundance of concepts and definitions • sensitivity, vulnerability, resilience, adaptation, adaptive capacity… • Focus on climate signals and assume ‘induced’ adaptation • Focus on system attributes, not processes of adaptation

  7. Adaptation: an organisation-centred approach • Organisations adapt: singly and collectively • Organisations adapt to climate in the context of other environmental signals • To inform better adaptation we need to understand processes of adaptation by organisations • No a priori simplifying assumptions: autonomy, efficiency, foresight…

  8. Resources for adaptation • All organisations have a capacity to adapt – especially those operating in less stable or predictable conditions • Organisations are continually adapting – climate change is a new stimulus for adaptation • Greater adaptive capacity imposes new costs - adaptation requires resources and capabilities (some internal, others external)

  9. Adaptation as learning • Organisations act by enacting ‘routines’ appropriate to recognised situation/stimuli they face • Routines include: rules, procedures, strategies, technologies, conventions, cultures and beliefs • Routines are selected because they confer advantages on the organisation

  10. Modifying routines I • Routines are modified in two ways: • Learning-by-doing: improvement through repetition • Organisational search: recognition of a novel situation for which a standard response is inappropriate (and which is likely to recur, imposes avoidable costs or represents an opportunity)

  11. The learning cycle External signal Options generation Evaluation and internal selection Feedback and external selection Articulation and codification

  12. Empirical findings: Cases Water services and house-building sectors: 9 companies • Both climate-sensitive • Both highly regulated (water companies also economically regulated) • One concentrated (water), one fragmented (housing) • Different time horizons (though both developing long-lived assets)

  13. Empirical findings I • Signal recognition: • Both direct (flooding) and indirect (water resource plans). Climate information plays a relatively minor role • Monitoring of climate impacts both routine (water resource levels) and ad hoc (heave damage) • Few signals from the market (consumers, shareholders or creditors) • Main expected signals to adapt from government via regulation • Mitigation signals stronger

  14. Empirical findings II • Options generation: • Confidence in availability of adaptation options – mostly incremental shifts, with ‘no regrets’ • Different modes of adaptation – technological, commercial, financial • Many options required external resources or suitable external conditions – regulatory approval, market demand, skills and expertise, competent supply chains

  15. Adaptation options

  16. Empirical findings III • Wide option set, wide range of possible behaviours, wide range of expressed behaviours • Options rarely independent, but complex decision sequences • Interaction between agents and their context is critical • Capacity to adapt is highly specific to context: locational, sectoral, market, regulatory…

  17. Empirical findings IV • Articulation and codification: • Very early days (UKCIP manual, Yorkshire regional study) • Lessons – awareness-raising still key, simple tools, highlight no regrets, provide support, encourage integration • Feedback and retention: • No evidence so far

  18. Learning to adapt: summary • Weak or ambiguous signals: role of expert advice and shared expectations • Ambiguity of link between adaptation and performance: necessary for justifying and implementing change • Poor or inconsistent feedback: difficult to validate adaptations

  19. Policy conclusions I • Signalling: • Much work to be done (info, scenarios, ‘making it real’) • Need for sectoral sensitivity/vulnerability appraisals • Pressure through regulation very effective • Need to encourage more market awareness

  20. Policy conclusions II • Options generation: • Research, development and demonstration • Best practice guidance • Options monitoring and appraisal tools • Adaptation-friendly policies encouraging link to mitigation efforts

  21. Policy conclusions III • Encouraging diverse adaptation strategies: • Diversity of adaptation options and strategies builds resilience at sectoral level • Monitor adaptation strategies • Seek to manage ‘portfolio’ of strategies in climate-sensitive sectors