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Enacting resilience for adaptive water governance: a case study of irrigation modernization in an Australian catchment

Margaret L. Ayre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne
Ruth A. Nettle, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne


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Adaptive governance relies on the collaboration of a diverse set of stakeholders in multiple institutions and organizations at different times and places. In the context of unprecedented water policy and management reform in Australia over the past decade, we add to insights from resilience scholarship, which identifies adaptive governance as critical to improving complex social-ecological systems, such as water management. We present empirical research with agricultural industry stakeholders who are responding to a major change initiative to renew or modernize the largest irrigation system in Australia’s Murray Darling Basin and who ask: “What can a resilience assessment intervention contribute to adaptive water governance in this context?” Using resilience approaches and connecting these with insights from science and technology studies (STS), we found that a particular resilience assessment intervention supported dairy industry stakeholders to manage the complexity, uncertainty, and diversity of an irrigation modernization governance challenge. It did so by explicitly accounting for, representing, and aligning different water governing practices through the use of resilience concepts, a particular resilience assessment tool, and a participatory process for engaging social actors. Possibilities for adaptive governance emerged from the intervention in the form of new joint strategic actions and new understandings, alliances, and roles between people and institutions for addressing irrigation modernization.

Key words

adaptive governance; collective action; irrigation modernization; resilience assessment

Copyright © 2017 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