Institutional networks and adaptive water governance in the Klamath River Basin, USA

B. C. Chaffin, A. S. Garmestani, H. Gosnell, R. K. Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Polycentric networks of formal organizations and informal stakeholder groups, as opposed to centralized institutional hierarchies, can be critically important for strengthening the capacity of governance systems to adapt to unexpected social and biophysical change. Adaptive governance is one type of environmental governance characterized by the emergence of networks that stimulate adaptive capacity through increases in social-learning, communication, trust, public participation and adaptive management. However, detecting and analyzing adaptive governance networks remains elusive, especially given contexts of highly contested resource governance such as large-scale negotiations over water use. Research methods such as social network analysis (SNA) are often infeasible as they necessitate collecting in-depth and politically sensitive personal data from a near-complete set of actors or organizations in a network. Here we present a method for resolving this problem by describing the results of an institutional SNA aimed at characterizing the changing governance network in the Klamath River Basin, USA during a period of contested negotiations over water. Through this research, we forward a method of institutional SNA useful when an individual or egocentric approach to SNA is problematic for political, logistical or financial reasons. We focus our analysis on publically available data signaling changes in formal relationships (statutory, regulatory, contractual) between organizations and stakeholder groups. We find that employing this type of SNA is useful for describing potential and actual transitions in governance that yield increases in adaptive capacity to respond to social and biophysical surprises such as increasing water scarcity and changes in water distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-121
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Adaptive governance
  • Institutional analysis
  • Klamath River Basin
  • Social network analysis (SNA)
  • Water governance


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