Tally Palmer

Tally Palmer

Tally Palmer is the Director of the Institute for Water Research, at Rhodes university, South Africa. She has a research trajectory from aquatic ecology through environmental water quality, water law and policy development, to a commitment to the transformative power of engaged, transdisciplinary action research. Her understanding of Adaptive Integrated River Basin Management includes the recognition that participatory governance – people at the interface of knowledge production, advocacy and politics – creates a sustainability platform and pathway to river basin resilience .

Adaptive River Basin Management: A Capability Pathway Catalyses Rural Participatory Governance

Interventions that promote movement towards integrated river basin management for resilience, sustainable development, and/or climate change adaptation, have a history of ambiguous outcomes and outright failures. How can interventions, and especially those that involve government, research and stakeholders, including local residents, result in sustainable outcomes that persist beyond the intervention? How do interventions encourage learning and behavior-change in the practice of all participants? Four South African case studies are presented to probe the challenging question of whether painstaking on-the-ground trust–building; activating participatory governance processes; and engaging in reflexive praxis, can catalyze change towards integrated river basin management for resilience. The underpinning methodology presented is transdisciplinary. Critical Realism provides a theoretical foundation for discerning causal mechanisms in complex systems using the full range of disciplinary inquiry. The concept of Complex Social-Ecological Systems (CSES) provides a lens to forefront the role adaptation and feed-back, and river basins and sub-basins are viewed as CSES’s. Expansive learning elucidates the mechanisms that guide processes of co-learning and the co-development of knowledge. Strategic Adaptive Management provides practical on-the-ground steps for stakeholders to participate, through governance, in an integrated river basin management process. The formal governance system, linked to a participatory governance system, in each particular river basin (or sub-basin), provides the contextual possibility for civil society agency to persist. We suggest that participatory governance brings the vitality and relevance of civil society to bear on the possibility of real benefits to the participating stakeholders. The selected approach is slow, with many pitfalls. There are not many examples of unequivocal success. However, in the case studies presented, we demonstrate learning, begin to understand failures more deeply, and most importantly share “narratives of hope”. These “narratives of hope” are landmarks to encourage perseverance in developing effective adaptive participatory governance, as a pathway towards resilience.

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