By switching to dark mode you can reduce the energy consumption of our digital service.

Understanding the socio-institutional context to support adaptation for future water security in forest landscapes

This paper aimed to identify conditions that can facilitate local adaptation planning for future water security, accounting for the socio-institutional context.
Multiple Authors


This study focused on three forest landscapes in Latin America where water stress was identified as a current concern potentially leading to future social conflict if not addressed.

It attempts to address this gap between emerging policies and local lived realities by examining the local socio-institutional dynamics that ultimately shape, facilitate, or hinder the implementation of adaptation policies and strategies relevant to water security.

This article is a summary of the research paper. For much more information please download the pdf from the right-hand column.


The collaborative research was conducted in the Jujuy Model Forest (JMF) in Argentina, the Chiquitano Model Forest (CMF) in Bolivia, and the Araucarias del Alto Malleco Model Forest (AAMMF) in Chile.

The collaborative research was conducted in three contrasting Latin American model forests, namely the Jujuy Model Forest(JMF) in Argentina, the Chiquitano Model Forest (CMF) inBolivia, and the Araucarias del Alto Malleco Model Forest(AAMMF) in Chile (Fig. 1). Globally, model forests are modelsof governance based on an approach that combines the social,cultural, and economic interests of local people with the long-term sustainability and conservation of large forest landscapes with clearly defined boundaries (IMFN 2011).

To achieve the research objective, two methodological approaches were combined in an innovative way. First, the diagnostic framework developed by Moser and Ekstrom (2010) was adapted to conduct a systematic analysis of the socio-institutional barriers and opportunities influencing the adaptation decision making for water security. Second, the framework was applied through a participatory approach, engaging civil society organizations to frame the research questions and conduct the analysis.

This novel application enabled science-society engagement in which civil society organizations were coleading the research. The field methods used involved participatory social network mapping, semistructured interviews, and validation workshops.


Barriers in the diagnosis phase:

  • The limited notion of a water basin – misunderstandings about the spatial dimension and the biophysical characteristics that define a basin.
  • In different parts of the water basin the perceived water issues were very distinct.
  • Limited information and understanding about the specific mechanisms underpinning the existing interactions between forests, water, and land use.
  • Another common barrier was the uncertainty around the water stress signal.

Barriers in the planning phase:

  • A common barrier hindering the adaptation planning phase was the perceived absence of a shared vision for future water security.
  • Adaptation planning for water resources was also hindered by insufficient capacity, even when local participation was encouraged.

Barriers in the management phase:

  • A principal common factor was the weak interinstitutional collaboration in the model forests.
  • Interviewees attributed weak collaboration to redundant or at times contradictory mandates in public institutions, little environmental awareness, and a passive attitude toward risk.

Lessons Learnt

From the beginning, this research was conducted through constant exchange between the team of scientists, the model forest CSOs, and a range of local actors in the sites, including farmers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers.

The process of coconstruction proved positive in many different ways, but particularly because it helped:

  1. to generate interest about water and climate change among the general public,
  2. to coproduce information that is more relevant and ready to use in planning decisions,
  3. to facilitate legitimacy and appropriation of the outputs,
  4. to empower the participants to become potential agents of change in their localities (Prins et al. 2015).

This joint work at the science-society interface also allowed the integration of different forms of knowledge. In the study different forms of knowledge were recognized, and the focus was on finding ways to integrate them. The work across knowledge domains helped move toward more transdisciplinary research and hence helped generate a more comprehensive understanding of the problems around water resources in the sites.


This study demonstrates that coordinated effort among different actor types working in multidomain groups has the potential to enhance local adaptive capacity and create genuine interest in further knowledge coproduction at the science-society interface.

The findings also show that studying social and institutional factors that affect water governance and adaptation decision making is an appropriate way to find concrete interventions that can generate a more comprehensive understanding of the problem and improve anticipation and adaptation planning for future water security.

Finally, considerably more effort is needed to strengthen the engagement that brings together the scientific community and the civil society using an action-research framework.

Suggested citation

Devisscher, T., R. Vignola, M. Coll Besa, R. Cronenbold, N. Pacheco, R. Schillinger, V. Canedi, C. Sandoval, D. Gonzalez, and G.Leclerc. 2016. Understanding the socio-institutional context to support adaptation for future water security in forest landscapes.Ecology and Society 21(4):48.

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.