Participatory scenario planning for developing innovation in community adaptation responses: three contrasting examples from Latin America

Iain Brown (Lead / Corresponding author), Julia Martin-Ortega, Kerry Waylen, Kirsty Blackstock

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)


    Environmental change requires adaptive responses that are innovative, forward-looking and anticipatory, in order to meet goals for sustainability in socio-ecological systems. This implies transformative shifts in understanding as conceptualised by the idea of ‘double’- or ‘triple-loop learning’. Achieving this can be difficult as communities often rely on shorter-term coping mechanisms that purport to maintain the status quo. The use of participatory scenario planning to stimulate forward-looking social learning for adaptation was investigated through three contrasting community case studies on natural resource management in Latin America (in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia). Exploratory scenario narratives that synthesised local knowledge and future perceptions were used iteratively to define response options considered robust across multiple futures. Despite its intensive format, participants in each case agreed that scenario planning enabled a more systematic appraisal of the future. Scenarios facilitated innovation by providing scope to propose new types of responses and associated actions. Differences in local context meant that learning about future change developed in diverse ways, showing a need for a reflexive process. Reframing of key issues characteristic of double-loop learning did occur, albeit through different forms of interaction in each location. However, a shift towards transformative actions characteristic of triple-loop learning was less evident. Achieving this would appear to require ongoing use of scenarios to challenge social norms in light of changing drivers. Use of learning loops as a diagnostic to evaluate adaptive responses provided a useful reference framework although in practice both innovation and consolidative approaches can develop concurrently for responses to different issues.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1685-1700
    Number of pages16
    JournalRegional Environmental Change
    Issue number6
    Early online date2 Jan 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


    • Community-based adaptation
    • Latin America
    • Scenarios
    • Social learning
    • Socio-ecological systems
    • Triple-loop learning

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Global and Planetary Change


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