The dominant approach to mainstreaming climate adaptation into sectoral policies relies on an ‘upscaling’ model in which it is envisaged to extract lessons from local change processes to inspire generic sub-national and national policies.

One of the central methodological questions, which remain unanswered in climate change adaptation research, is exactly how public policy can learn from highly contextual experiences of community-based adaptation and what role should be played by case study research. This paper compares three large research projects in Sweden, Canada and Indonesia, which aim to study and/or foster local adaptation in selected case studies through a process of social learning.

The authors present a novel framework based on mapping of ‘sense-making perspectives’, which enables analysis of the multiple ways case study research can support local climate adaptation and link such efforts to higher level public policy. The analysis demonstrates how methodological choices shape how case study research works at the interface between planned (steered/regulatory policy) and self-organised adaptation of stakeholders (non-coercive policy).

In this regard, there is a need for a high degree of transparency from the research community to enable local professionals to decide on their stakes and interests when inviting researchers into their grounded activities. The authors conclude that case study research can achieve new significance if viewed as a platform to leverage stakeholder competencies when informing existing social structures and enable the implementation of political objectives, but equally driving the very reinvention and improvement of these institutions.

The authors acknowledge the financial support of the Swedish Foundation for Environmental Research (Mistra) through the Swedish Research Programme on Climate, Impacts and Adaptation (Mistra-SWECIA) Programme.

Read the article (external link to journal)