Bonding and bridging in capacity development networks to address wicked water challenges

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Abstract

Capacity development has become an increasingly hot topic in the water sector. The development of individual, organisational, institutional and even societal capacities is argued to be required to be able to addressing the present-day water challenges. From a natural resources management context, much literature is available on WHAT is required for capacity development: social learning in social networks, by means of which an integrated view of the challenges under consideration could be established, effective participation is enabled, and a resilient adaptive water system should be developed. However, HOW to achieve this is a much less considered topic in water related contexts and forms the main topic of this thesis, which centres on the following central research question: Which social network characteristics, with a focus on bonding and bridging mechanisms, facilitate social learning in capacity development networks that aim to address wicked water challenges? Combing insights from the Science Communications field and other related fields of study regarding knowledge management, social network analysis and social capital provided a framework on the important roles of bonding and bridging mechanisms in social networks and their benefits for social learning for capacity development. Bonding mechanisms are closely related to similarities between network members (also called relational proximity), while bridging mechanisms are on the contrary characterised by diversity on the relational level. Paradoxically both mechanisms, and both proximity and diversity, turn out to have important benefits for capacity development to address water challenges, which are often considered to be ‘wicked’ due to the involvement of great systems complexity, stakeholders diversity and uncertainty. Bonding mechanisms in social networks benefit the knowledge sharing efficiency, quality and frequency, resulting in a high potential for effective stakeholder participation. Cross-boundary bridges within such capacity development networks facilitate social learning by introducing novel and nonredundant knowledge into the network, enabling the establishment of in integrated multidisciplinary view on the water system and an adaptive water management approach. This thesis concludes that a careful balance is required between bonding and bridging on the network level, proximity and diversity on the relational level, and the ‘right’ personal characteristics on the individual level. It provides a scientific basis for practical insights and recommendation for capacity developers on how to design their capacity development projects.