Monash University
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Facilitating system transitions in urban water: development of the FaST framework

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posted on 2017-02-23, 03:54 authored by Ferguson, Briony Cathryn
Climate change, resource limitations, population dynamics, ageing infrastructure and evolving community values are putting pressure on urban water systems. There is growing international acceptance that conventional approaches for managing urban water services, characterised by large-scale, centralised and engineered solutions, are inadequate to deliver the outcomes desired by society. Urban water scholars and practitioners are therefore calling for an urgent shift to more water sensitive approaches. This shift is significant, requiring transformative change in how urban water systems are planned, designed, built, managed and valued. However, there is limited practical or theoretical understanding of how strategic planning and management in urban water sectors can deliberately facilitate this desired transition. Transition management was developed as a meta-governance approach to provide prescriptive guidance for stimulating innovation and achieving long-term goals through a reflexive, adaptive process. As the first framework of its type, it has made significant contributions to academic debate and policy practices around sustainability transitions; however, there are two critical limitations in its current form. First, transition management has no explicit mechanisms to conceptually link governance processes with diagnostic insights about the transformative capacity of a system in its local context, instead largely relying on the tacit knowledge of actors elicited through process instruments. Second, its approaches are directed at the early stages of a transition and therefore have limited capacity to guide actor strategies that support the mainstreaming of innovations during the later stages. To address these gaps, this thesis aims to develop a framework to guide the selection, design and coordination of strategic initiatives for enabling systemic socio-technical change from conventional water servicing to water sensitive alternatives. This aim was addressed through theoretical and empirical research in the context of Melbourne’s water system, which is undergoing significant transformative change. The first research phase involved development of a suite of tools, based on concepts from transitions, resilience and new institutional scholarship, that are conceptually linked in a procedural design to provide diagnostic insight into a system’s transformative capacity. The second and third phases involved qualitative embedded multiple-case studies that drew on perspectives of urban water scholars and practitioners in Melbourne to identify the critical strategic ingredients for supporting transition processes in recent historic and envisaged future urban water system changes. Three empirical cases of innovations that recently emerged were analysed and compared to reveal the scope of actor strategies for supporting trajectories of institutionalisation for innovations with different characteristics. Two illustrative cases, based on outcomes of participatory transition scenario workshops, were analysed to inform the scope, coordinating logic and design base for a strategic program for transitioning to a water sensitive city. The fourth phase embedded the research findings within a meta-governance framework, named FaST (Facilitating System Transitions). Upon trials, tests and validation, the FaST framework and associated toolkit could form the basis of operational guidance for strategic planners, policy analysts and decision-makers to identify the best opportunities for strategic interventions that will most effectively influence the speed and direction of transformative change in urban water servicing and other infrastructure systems.


Principal supervisor

Rebekah Brown

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Geography and Environmental Science


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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