Legal Design Principles of Government-Supported Adaptation: Designing Effective Decentralization Programs in Cities and Vital Water Social-Ecological Systems

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Award Year: 
Principal Investigator: 
Daniel A. DeCaro, University of Louisville
Edella Schlager, The University of Arizona, Tucson
Associated Program: 


Adaptation helps societies cope with stressors, innovate, and survive and thrive in complex, dynamic systems. Governments can encourage, or discourage, beneficial adaptation, depending on how their laws, programs, and governance processes facilitate or constrain the cooperation, responsibility, authority, tangible resources, and decision-making autonomy and flexibility of key actors, like government agencies, communities, and NGOs. Decentralization, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and self-governance (e.g., community-based management) are important strategies to promote adaptation. For example, governments may delegate water governance to new government agencies, enter novel water-sharing agreements (e.g., interstate compacts), or transfer responsibility to community groups. These kinds of arrangements can be beneficial, but only if they are well-designed.

This Pursuit convenes a team of legal scholars, social and environmental scientists, government officials, and NGOs to examine when, why, and how government-supported adaptation succeeds or fails. We address two important socio-environmental issues: governance of vital water resource systems (e.g., river basins) and city resources (e.g., community greenspaces, vacant lots). Prominent cases of adaptive success, failure, and change will be examined in terms of recently proposed design principles for effective government support: legal authority, responsibility, financial/technical support, reflexivity (e.g., policy sunsets). Gaps in design (e.g., insufficient authority), and governance network structure (e.g., fragmentation, poor coordination), will be identified and related to indicators of social-ecological integrity, then used to design more effective public policy.

Lessons learned from this project will be used to develop guidelines for effective government-supported decentralization, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and self-governance. Findings will be shared with the scientific community, government agencies, and the public.



Saba Siddiki, Syracuse University
Elizabeth Baldwin, The University of Arizona
William (Bill) Blomquist. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
Evan Dennis, Indiana University - Bloomington
Sheila Foster, Georgetown University
Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, University at Buffalo
Jorge Garcia, Universidad de Los Andes
Ahjond Garmestani, EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Blake Hudson, University of Houston
Adena Rissman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Murray Scown, Lund University
Ben Helphand, NeighborSpace
Bethany Pratt, University of Kentucky
Laura Stevens, Common Earth Gardens, Archdiocese of Louisville
Maria Koetter, Louisville Metro, Office of Sustainability
Paula Segal, Urban Justice Center
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