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Towards Adaptive Management: Examining the Strategies of Policy Entrepreneurs in Dutch Water Management

Stijn Brouwer, VU University Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)
Frank Biermann, VU University Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)


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The growing awareness of the complexities and uncertainties in water management has put into question the existing paradigms in this field. Increasingly more flexible, integrated, and adaptive policies are promoted. In this context, the understanding of how to effect policy change is becoming more important. This article analyzes policy making at the micro level, focusing on the behavior of policy entrepreneurs, which we understand here as risk-taking bureaucrats who seek to change policy and are involved throughout the policy-change process. Policy entrepreneurs have received a certain level of attention in the adaptive co-management literature and the policy sciences in past decades. Yet, the understanding of the actions they can take to facilitate policy change remains limited. This study addresses this gap in focusing on the strategies that policy entrepreneurs employ in their efforts to effect policy change. The article draws on both theoretical exploration and in-depth field research on water management in the Netherlands, which included a series of semi-structured interviews and a focus group with policy entrepreneurs. We conclude that policy entrepreneurs employ four types of strategies: (1) attention and support-seeking strategies, to demonstrate the significance of a problem and to convince a wide range of participants about their preferred policy; (2) linking strategies, to link with other parties, projects, ideas, and policy games; (3) relational management strategies, to manage the relational factor in policy-change trajectories; and finally, (4) arena strategies, to influence the time and place wherein decisions are made. Our study suggests that by employing these strategies when the “time is right,” the development of policy streams and consequently their coupling can, to some extent, be influenced and steered. In other words, policy entrepreneurs can, to a degree, prepare for a window of opportunity and hence direct policy change.

Key words

adaptive management; policy change; policy entrepreneurs; strategies; water management; windows of opportunity

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087