Thursday, November 27, 2008

Towards a relational concept of uncertainty

As the Newater project is approaching its completion, results and products are appearing at increasing speed. One of these is a paper on uncertainty authored by Marcela Brugnach and Claudia Pahl-Wostl (University of Osnabruck), Tharsi Taillieu (University of Leuven) and myself. This paper on 'knowing too little', 'knowing too differently' and 'accepting not to know' was recently published in Ecology and Society.


Uncertainty of late has become an increasingly important and controversial topic in water resource management, and natural resources management in general. Diverse managing goals, changing environmental conditions, conflicting interests, and lack of predictability are some of the characteristics that decision makers have to face. This has resulted in the application and development of strategies such as adaptive management, which proposes flexibility and capability to adapt to unknown conditions as a way of dealing with uncertainties. However, this shift in ideas about managing has not always been accompanied by a general shift in the way uncertainties are understood and handled. To improve this situation, we believe it is necessary to recontextualize uncertainty in a broader way—relative to its role, meaning, and relationship with participants in decision making—because it is from this understanding that problems and solutions emerge. Under this view, solutions do not exclusively consist of eliminating or reducing uncertainty, but of reframing the problems as such so that they convey a different meaning. To this end, we propose a relational approach to uncertainty analysis. Here, we elaborate on this new conceptualization of uncertainty, and indicate some implications of this view for strategies for dealing with uncertainty in water management. We present an example as an illustration of these concepts.


Brugnach, M., A. Dewulf, C. Pahl-Wostl, and T. Taillieu. 2008. Toward a relational concept of uncertainty: about knowing too little, knowing too differently, and accepting not to know. Ecology and Society 13(2): 30. [online] URL: (open access!)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Disentangling approaches to framing

Good new from Human Relations! The paper where Barbara Gray, Roy Lewicki, Linda Putnam, Noelle Aarts, René Bouwen, Cees van Woerkum and myself have tried to disentangle the multiple strands of framing research has been accepted for publication. The accepted version of the manuscript can be downloaded at the bottom of this blog.

Disentangling approaches to framing in conflict and negotiation research: a meta-paradigmatic perspective

Divergent theoretical approaches to the construct of framing have resulted in conceptual confusion in conflict research. We disentangle these approaches by analyzing their assumptions about (1) the nature of frames—i.e., cognitive representations or interactional co-constructions, and (2) what is getting framed—i.e., issues, identities and relationships, or interaction process. Using a meta-paradigmatic perspective, we delineate the ontological, theoretical and methodological assumptions among six approaches to framing to reduce conceptual confusion and identify research opportunities within and across these approaches.

Dewulf, A., Gray., B., Lewicki, R., Putnam, L., Aarts, N., Bouwen, R., & van Woerkum, C. (accepted). Disentangling approaches to framing in conflict and negotiation research: a meta-paradigmatic perspective. To appear in Human Relations.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kofi Anan at Wageningen University

During the opening ceremony of the academic year at Wageningen University, on September 1st 15h30, former UN Secretary -General Kofi Anan will talk about the global issues concerning food security and food prices. The general theme of the event is 'Feeding the World'.
Access to this event is restricted, but the opening ceremony can be watched live (and probably also afterwards) on the internet through WUR TV:

The live broadcast starts at 15:30 on

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Final NeWater conference in Sevilla

Registration is open for the Final NeWater Conference 2008

"Adaptive Integrated Water Resources Management under Uncertainty "
November 17th - 19th 2008, Seville

The conference is intended for water policy makers/advisors and water managers working at the EU, national and basin levels, as well as researchers. The NeWater project has further developed the concept of Adaptive Integrated Water Resources Management (AIWM). The concept is based on the notion that the best way to manage water resources is to increase our capacity to learn from experience and adapt to change and uncertainty.

More information about the conference on

The announcement can also be downloaded as pdf

Monday, July 14, 2008

The art of survey research ...

... with some nice examples of the art of framing

(from the British series "Yes, Minister")

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations

Recently published: the Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations

Oxford University Press describes the book as follows:

"Inter-organizational relations (IOR), the study of Strategic Alliances, Joint Ventures, Partnerships, Networks and other forms of relationship between organizations, is a field of study that has burgeoned over the last four decades, but is fragmented, drawing contributions from a wide variety of disciplines, theoretical bases, and sectoral interests. The Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations provides a structured overview of the field. With contributions from leading international experts on their particular areas of expertise, it is an authoritative introduction to its research findings.

The material is organized in three main sections. The first relates to research that focuses on particular manifestations of IORs such as industry, supply, policy and project networks, public and voluntary sector partnerships, strategic alliances, and so on.
The second section relates to research that stems from distinct disciplinary or theoretical bases, including social networks, evolutionary theory, transaction cost economics, management process, psychology, critical theory political theory, economic geography, and the legal perspective.
The third section focuses on key topics in contemporary IOR topics - or those that will become so in the future. These include, trust, power, development interventions, social capital, learning and knowledge, dynamics and change, and evaluation."

More information can be found here:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

MOPAN 2008 Conference in Boston

MOPAN (or the 15th Annual Conference on Multi-Organizational Partnerships, Alliances and Networks) took place June 25 - 27 in Boston. After two smooth flights (with a change at Dublin) a cab brought me to the surprisingly quiet and beautiful center of Boston. The Suffolk university residence provided me with a decent student room sharing the bathroom with the room next door - probably a common feature in US dorm rooms, but which carries the risk, for those who are not familiar with it, to lock each other out of the bathroom - which actually happened to me thanks to a colleague from LSE ;-). Other highlights of the conference were: spectacular views over Boston from the welcome reception on the 12th floor (see picture above); the presence of the two 'mothers' of the conference (Chris Huxham & Barbara Gray) who managed to present a joint paper despite misbooked flights and hotels; an interesting track on Intersectoral Collaborative Arrangements by Pieter Glasbergen & Mariette van Huijstee, which I could only follow partly due the overloaded conference program on Friday; interesting conversations about framing, interaction and discursive repertoires with Anna Heydenreich; taking a water taxi to the dinner at the Hyatt, with a great sight on Boston from over the water (see picture below); bringing together my formers bosses at Leuven (René Bouwen & Tharsi Taillieu) with my new boss at Wageningen (Katrien Termeer); drinking coffee at Starbucks in order to obtain, after a complicated process involving a pre-paid Starbucks card and registration with AT&T, free wireless internet access; and, of course ;-), my own presentation on "Steering system innovations" in track 5 - here's an updated abstract of our paper which is more precise than the original abstract uploaded on the MOPAN website:

Steering system innovations – a theoretical exploration of transition management

Art Dewulf, Katrien Termeer, Renate Werkman and Gerard Breeman

Transition management, as a theory of directing structural societal changes towards sustainable system innovations, has become a major topic in scientific research over the last years. In the Netherlands, the concept of transitions was adopted by several governmental agencies as one of the leading principles for ‘steering’ sustainable development. In this paper we focus on the question how transitions can be influenced or managed, in particular by governmental actors. We will address these questions by theoretically comparing transition management theory to a number of related theories on change and intervention, such as organizational change management, multi-actor collaboration, network governance, policy agenda setting, social learning and adaptive management. From this selective comparison, we argue that (1) these related theories put the managerial assumptions of transition management into perspective, by adding other steering roles and leadership mechanisms to the picture; and (2) transition management tries to overarch a lot of diversities in one theory, while we suggest an approach of theoretical multiplicity for dealing with the enormous challenge of sustainability.

As anounced by Colette Dumas, who organized the conference together with Robert DeFilippi, the full papers of the conference would be uploaded to the website as an on-line proceedings.

Next years MOPAN conference will take place in Dublin. As a thought-provoking contribution to Brendan Bartley's invitation to think about next year's conference format, here's a paper in FQS on the "Unconferencing Approach" and the "un-bla" method ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Methods for Adaptive Water Management

The special feature on New Methods for Adaptive Water Management in Ecology and Society is still in-progress but the list of available articles is growing. You can find the list of articles below. The articles can be downloaded from
free of charge.

Mechanisms of Resilience in Common-pool Resource Management Systems: an Agent-based Model of Water Use in a River Basin
by Maja Schlüter and Claudia Pahl-Wostl

A Framing Approach to Cross-disciplinary Research Collaboration: Experiences from a Large-scale Research Project on Adaptive Water Management
by Art Dewulf, Greet François, Claudia Pahl-Wostl, and Tharsi Taillieu

Managing Change toward Adaptive Water Management through Social Learning
by Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Jan Sendzimir, Paul Jeffrey, Jeroen Aerts, Ger Berkamp, and Katharine Cross

Facing the Adaptive Management Challenge: Insights from Transition Management
Rutger van der Brugge and Roel van Raak

Assessing the Resilience of a River Management Regime: Informal Learning in a Shadow Network in the Tisza River Basin
Jan Sendzimir, Piotr Magnuszewski, Zsuzsanna Flachner, Peter Balogh, Geza Molnar, Attila Sarvari, and Zsuzsanna Nagy

Assessing Management Regimes in Transboundary River Basins: Do They Support Adaptive Management?
G.T. (Tom) Raadgever, Erik Mostert, Nicole Kranz, Eduard Interwies, and Jos G. Timmerman

Monday, March 10, 2008

Deadline extension Transitions Conference

The deadline for abstracts for the Transitions conference has been extended until April 30th 2008. The conference takes place in Wageningen, 26-29 Oct. 2008.
For more information see

Train-the-trainer Workshop Cairo

The NeWater project and the Nile Basin Initiative together organized a workshop about adaptive management for people involved in the management of the Nile river basin. A very diverse African group of participants, from Egypt to Rwanda and Burundi, took part in the workshop, together with NeWater people from Belgium, Netherlands and Uzbekistan.

Thanks to the preparations of Fons Jaspers, the fluent Arabic of Koen Roest and the many helpful staff members of the training centre of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (including visa and passport helpers, drivers, sheet-turners, engineers and furniture carriers) the training went very well. It was an interesting occasion with the necessary enthusiasm and critical questions, turning it into a learning event for both trainers and participants.

We used the Podocarpus National Park simulation as a tool to learn about dealing with multiple actors and diverging frames, which led to lively negotiations and discussion about the feasibility of such an appraoch in a number of African cases.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Publication "Identification of major sources of uncertainty in current IWRM practice"

The following paper, which is the result of joint work in the NeWater project, has been published in Water Resources Management:

Identification of major sources of uncertainty in current IWRM practice. Illustrated for the Rhine basin.

P. van der Keur, H.J. Henriksen, J-C. Refsgaard, M. Brugnach, C. Pahl-Wostl, A. Dewulf and H. Buiteveld

Here's the abstract:

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) can be viewed as a complex process in which the effect of adopted water management measures must be monitored and adjusted in an iterative way as new information and technology gradually become available under changing and uncertain external impacts, such as climate change. This paper identifies and characterises uncertainty as it occurs in the different stages of the IWRM process with respect to sources, nature and type of uncertainty. The present study develops a common terminology that honour the most important aspects from natural and social sciences and its application to the entire IWRM process. The proposed framework is useful by acknowledging a broad range of uncertainties regarding data, models, multiple frames and context.,Relating this framework to the different steps of the IWRM cycle is helpful to determine the strategies to better handle and manage uncertainties. Finally, this general framework is illustrated for a case study in the transboundary Rhine river basin.

The paper can be downloaded here or from the journal's website

Monday, January 14, 2008

Transitions Conference Wageningen

In October Wageningen University organises the scientific conference "'Transitions towards sustainable agriculture, food chains and peri-urban areas". The conference will take place from 26 till 29 October.

The program committee is chaired by my colleague Prof. Dr. Ir. Katrien Termeer, head of our Public Administration and Policy Group.

From the conference folder (download as pdf):
"The structural changes in the scarcity of products, energy, space and nature lead to fundamental changes in the views on the role of agriculture in urban areas. This implies longterm societal change. In such transitions stakeholders such as consumers, citizens, policy makers and farmers change their views on their own role and contribution to the problems and the solutions. ... Such transitions challenge scientists to make the changes in policy, institutions and behaviour visible, understandable and - if possible - also applicable in developing creative ideas for system innovations in products, production processes and collaborations."

The deadline for submission of extended abstracts for Contributed Papers and Posters is 29 February 2008. An extended 3-page abstract will be anonymously refereed. Authors will be informed about the disposition of their submissions by 1 June 2008.

Programme Committee
Katrien Termeer (Wageningen University, Netherlands, chair)
John Grin (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Arie Rip (University of Twente, Netherlands)
Cornelia Butler Flora (Iowa State University, USA)
Terry Marsden (Cardiff University, United Kingdom)
Jill L. Findeis (PennState University, USA)
Frank Nevens (ILVO, Merelbeke, Belgium)
Konrad Hagedorn (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)