University of Tasmania
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The complexity of decision-making under social and environmental change: a resilience-based governance framework for Tasmanian coastal areas

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:02 authored by Jozaei, J
Due to the increasing impacts of environmental and anthropogenic drivers, coastal Social-Ecological Systems (SESs) are deteriorating. Scholars argue that the conventional environmental governance and management approaches have not been successful in reversing or slowing down this deterioration. Despite calls for more collaborative and democratic approaches, governance is often hierarchical, inflexible and fails to consider social factors in decision-making processes appropriately. Research suggests that resilience thinking could provide a powerful framework for analysing problems in SESs and guiding the design of reform options. This research aimed to examine the utility of a resilience thinking framework to analyse and improve environmental governance, using Tasmanian coastal areas as a case study. The objectives of the analysis were to: (i) establish requirements for effective coastal governance, as informed by resilience thinking and governance theory; (ii) identify influential organisations, taking into account interactions across scales; (iii) identify the attributes of resilience capacity (both adaptational and transformational); (iv) evaluate Tasmanian coastal governance against these attributes and identify potentially useful reform options; (v) reflect on the power and the utility of resilience thinking for informing the design of effective and responsive coastal governance; and (vi) draw out implications for the design of resilience coastal governance regimes beyond the case study area. This thesis adopted a mixed method approach involving literature review, case study, an online survey and semi-structured interviews with key case study stakeholders. Triangulation of evidence from these multiple sources generated robust findings in relation to each of the objectives. Resilience thinking (and the embedded SES concept) was identified as a potentially suitable framework to address the complexity of coastal SES under conditions of uncertainty. In addition, governance was recognised as providing an essential means of identifying and negotiating diverse values and interests, including ecological, social, economic and political considerations. Sixteen key attributes that constitute resilience capacity were identified from an analysis of the literature. These attributes encompassed the fundamental features of resilience thinking and good governance including panarchy, adaptive cycle, stakeholder engagement, flexibility, polycentricity and leadership. From the online survey, stakeholders considered all sixteen attributes to be important in developing resilience-based governance for the case study area. However, survey and interviews identified a low level of resilience capacity across the entire governance system. At the national level, only knowledge management processes, diversity of expertise and knowledge sharing mechanisms were contributing to resilience capacity, with the rest of the attributes insufficiently developed to support any level of resilience. The performance was similarly poor at the Tasmanian State level, with leadership, adaptive planning, institutional flexibility and a supportive legislation framework at critically low capacity. Inter-organisational attributes such as organisational coordination also required significant improvement. In contrast, a regional natural resource management body and two coastal local governments were supporting an adequate resilience capacity, particularly with respect to leadership, transparent decision-making, stakeholder engagement, organisational learning, knowledge sharing mechanisms and flexibility. Barriers to establishing resilience-based Tasmanian coastal governance included lack of supportive political leadership, poorly developed and fragmented policy and planning frameworks, and inadequate inter-sectoral and cross-scale communication and collaboration. Reform options were proposed to improve resilience-based Tasmanian coastal governance, structured under interrelated themes including panarchy and adaptive cycle; leadership; knowledge systems and adaptive learning; and public awareness and engagement. The findings confirmed the power and utility of resilience thinking and the sixteen attributes of resilience capacity as an overarching framework for analysing complex coastal SESs. A comparison between the Tasmanian coastal SES and issues facing coastal areas in the US and Europe showed that it is likely that many of the reform options proposed in this research could address governance problems in other developed country contexts.


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