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Linking Climate Change and Adaptive Capacity: The Role of Values and Institutions. Ralph Matthews, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, The University of British Columbia. OUTLINE. Focus on ‘what one should consider’ when examining the social aspects of climate change

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linking climate change and adaptive capacity the role of values and institutions

Linking Climate Change and Adaptive Capacity: The Role of Values and Institutions

Ralph Matthews, Ph.D.,

Professor of Sociology,

The University of British Columbia

  • Focus on ‘what one should consider’ when examining the social aspects of climate change
  • II. Individual Level Analysis
    • The ‘Values and Culture Approach : Cultural and Mental Models
    • The C-Five Study – Is the Coast Clear
  • III. Societal Level Analysis : The Institutional Approach
    • New Institutional Analysis .
  • IV. An Integrated Approach: Linking the Ecological, Cultural and Institutional Perspectives


i climate change is a social process
I. Climate Change is a Social Process!
  • The causes of climate change are social:
    • As a result of human behaviour and/or a failure of human agencies and governance processes.
  • The impacts of climate change are social.
    • Those in resource occupations; without power.
  • The responses to climate change are social i.e. require behaviour / organization changes. Includes both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

SUM: All aspects of climate change require social, and more specifically, sociological analysis.

ii individual level approaches focusing on values and the patterns of culture
II. Individual level Approaches : Focusing on Values and the ‘Patterns’ of Culture

Much of the existing sociological research


  • Examines how climate change is regarded within cultural ‘mental models’ or values of the affected people.


  • Examines networks and/or social capital resources respondents use

for obtaining knowledge or to seek assistance.

These are ‘individual level’ studies, rather than societal level studies.

Example: Is the Coast Clear? (The C-5 Study)

  • Study I directed of how three First Nation and three settler communities sharing the same ‘space’ understand local climate changes .
ii individual level values and culture the c 5 project
II. Individual Level: Values and Culture: The C-5 Project
  • Co-Management of Climate Change in Coastal British Columbia (C-5 Project)
    • Funded by NRCan
    • Focused on residents of First Nation and Settler Communities understood both the environment and the impacts of climate change
        • Lax – Kw’Alaams and Prince Rupert
        • Nuxalk Nation and Bella Coola
        • Port Alberni and Tseshaht FN
c five project continued
C-Five Project (Continued)
  • Sample consisted of Leaders and resource managers
    • Chief and Council – Mayor and Council
    • Resource Staff (Foresters)
    • Elders and Long Time Residents
  • Key focus was on the Cultural / Mental models / Mazeways
    • Patterned way of thinking about the environment held by particular cultures or communities.
    • Value differences between FN and non-FN communities
    • Differences in which climate change was understood in the context of broader cultural models
c 5 project continued
C-5 Project (Continued)
  • Demonstrated that there were notable value differences in the way in which FN and Settler Communities ‘understood’ environmental change
    • holistic versus instrumental;
    • Negative or positive
  • Though respondents were asked about whether community had the “capacity” to deal with environmental change – that remained a matter of opinion.
iii the institutional approach assessing social capacity
III. The Institutional Approach – Assessing Social Capacity

Need to assess the ‘ADAPTIVE CAPACITY’ of communities, organizations, or governments to PREPARE FOR AND RESPOND effectively to climate change.


  • Whether the organizational processes and structures are adequate to the challenge.
  • Whether there are social impediments or facilitators that influence the capacity to respond.


  • What are the governance processes that affect the capacity to respond to climate change.
    • i.e. the ‘capacity issue’ is particularly a governance issue.
institutional analysis key to understanding capacity and governance
Institutional Analysis – Key to Understanding Capacity and Governance

We argue that ‘institutional processes are critical to determining both the ‘capacity’ of any social unit, AND whether its regulatory processes operate effectively.

Many others have made similar arguments, for example:

Bruntland Report, “Our Common Future” makes a similar point:

  • “This real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must” (Bruntland, 1987:9).

However, little has been done to ‘operationalize’ how institutional PROCESSES work in this context.

  • We are attempting to do just that…..
institutions are not organizations
Institutions are Not Organizations!
  • Institutions are rules, regulations and decision-making procedures that give rise to social practices.
  • Organizations are the entities that are governed by institutionalized practices,and embody them.

Institutions traditionally seen as the culture of organizational life - a ‘social glue’.

  • IN CONTRAST, using NEW INSTITUTIONAL ANALYSIS, I see them as ‘frameworks’ than direct bevaviour within organizations. i.e. Institutions shape organizational capacity. They ‘frame’ behaviour.
our approach new institutional analysis
Our Approach: ‘New’ Institutional Analysis
  • Central to NIA perspective is the view that there are societal patterns of operation that channel human action.
  • Focus is on how human behaviouris channeled and constructed by the institutional context of organizations
    • I.E. Unit of analysis is the individual ‘actor’ in an institutional and organizational context.
  • NIA focuses on the dynamic processes of social behaviour that go on within institutional contexts and how these create or inhibit adaptive capacity.
  • This is the perspective underlying our Whitehorse study
    • We examine whether actors, operating within institutional framework, have the flexibility to create new roles with faced with changing / unique situations.
whitehorse project study of institutional capacity to respond to climate change
Whitehorse Project: Study of Institutional Capacity to Respond to Climate Change
  • Funded through International Polar Year (IPY)
  • Interviews with Elected and Administrative Leaders (City; YG; FNs; Boards; Federal Departments and Agencies)
  • Examines:
    • Whether ‘actors’ operate in institutionalized ways that facilitate or impede the capacity to deal with climate change.
    • The potential to respond creatively within the organization and to make links to other governance units.
    • The ‘interplay’ between levels of governance (City; YTG; FNs; Federal)
whitehorse research focus
Whitehorse: Research Focus



  • Exposure
  • Vulnerability
  • Hazards/
  • Risks


  • Resiliency
  • Coping
  • Adapting




  • Events
    • Unique
    • Routine
  • Practices
    • Actions
  • Networks
  • Decision Making
  • Communication
  • Fit
    • Ecol % Social
  • Interplay
    • Levels of gov’t
  • Scale
    • Time / Space
  • Diagnostic Method 4 Ps
  • Problem;
  • policies,
  • Policies,
  • practices
linking the ecological cultural values and institutional the ffesc skeena project
Linking the Ecological, Cultural Values and Institutional: The FFESC Skeena Project
  • Ecological Base – The Cut Block Holdings of Coast Tsimshian Resources (CTR) and managed by Brinkman Forest Resources
  • Community Base – Lax Kw’Alaams &, P. Rupert; Terrace and Kitsumkalum
  • Goals:
  • 1. To link the ecological, cultural / values, and institutional capacity of communities
  • 2. To develop forest and riparian management strategies in line with community values
  • 3. To assess community adaptive capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change in ways consistent with 1 and 2
stages of the social research
Stages of the Social Research
  • Community Interviews to Identify Institutional Adaptive Capacity on Dimensions Identified Earlier
  • Each Interview Develops Matrices of What is Valued and What will Change with Respect to:
    • Relative value of Community Resources
    • Relative value of Environmental Resources
    • What will Influence Change in the Region
  • These Community Values with underlie the Development of Proposed Ecological Strategies for the Region
climate change projects using this framework
Climate Change Projects Using This Framework


Co-Management of Climate Change in Coastal BC (The C5 Project)

Funded by Natural Resources Canada

CAVIAR – Community Adaptation and Vulnerability in Arctic Regions

  • Funded by: International Polar Year (Research Initiative), Government of Canada

An Assessment of Climate Change and Adaptive Capacity in Aboriginal Communities South of Sixty

Funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada $482,000 (First two years)

(Sustainability and Indigenous Communities)

Managing Adaptation to Coastal Environmental Change – Canada and the Caribbean (Trinidad; Guyana; Belize; Grenadines)

    • Funded by SSHRC-IDRC – International CURA; (Dan Lane ( PI). Funded: $2,000,000

(Sustainability in International Context)

FFESC: Climate Change Action Plan for NW Skeena Communities. Dirk Brinkman (PI) for Coast Tsimshian Resources, WWF, Lax Kw’Alaams Funded by the Future Forest Ecosystem Science Council of BC (FFESC –BC)

websites and e mail
Websites and E-mail:

Ralph Matthews:

[email protected]