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Research article2010Peer reviewed

Exploring adaptability through learning layers and learning loops

Lof, Annette


Adaptability in social-ecological systems results from individual and collective action, and multi-level interactions. It can be understood in a dual sense as a system's ability to adapt to disturbance and change, and to navigate system transformation. Inherent in this conception, as found in resilience thinking, are the concepts of learning and governance. Without learning, or unlearning, neither adaptation nor transformation is possible, and without governance we neither collectively act on nor institutionally embed learning experiences. This paper provides an attempt at synthesising and structuring this conceptual mapping and understanding of adaptability by adding insights from governance theory and using learning layers and learning loops as bridging concepts. As the overview demonstrates, the resilience-learning-governance interface provides some fruitful insights for the conceptual and theoretical understanding of adaptability, adaptation and transformation in resilience theory. Whereas resilience answers to why the adaptation-transformation distinction is important in the first place, learning provides the necessary link between the individual and system level, while governance brings further insights into the different potential mechanisms available for institutionally implementing adaptation and transformation. This exploration points to the need to develop a framework for understanding adaptability that: (1) identifies social-ecological systems in terms of structure, process and outcome, and particularly self-reinforcing feedbacks; (2) adds an institutional framework including formal and informal decision-making arenas; (3) explicitly addresses norms, values and ideas; (4) emphasises power, negotiation and facilitation; and (5) emphasises the importance of deliberate learning and transformation strategies.


adaptability; adaptation; transformation; governance; multi-level learning; multiple-loop learning; resilience; environmental education

Published in

Environmental Education Research
2010, Volume: 16, number: 5-6, pages: 529-543

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

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