Adaptive governance in fire management: exploring the role of bureaucrats in reflexive learning

Bosomworth, K 2011, Adaptive governance in fire management: exploring the role of bureaucrats in reflexive learning, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Mathematics and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Adaptive governance in fire management: exploring the role of bureaucrats in reflexive learning
Author(s) Bosomworth, K
Year 2011
Abstract If public policy sectors like fire management are to support the adaptive capacity and adaptation of our social-economic-ecological systems, they themselves require a considerable adaptive capacity. Yet when arguing for adaptive approaches to policies and governance, literature concerned with climate change adaptation (CCA) often treat public administration as something of a mysterious ‘black box’ where ideal policies and implementation are a ‘natural’ results of research and community inputs. Mainstreaming adaptation into a policy sector cannot ignore the structuring influence of a sector’s current policy frames and informal institutions. Even less acknowledged is the role of a sector’s bureaucrats in the adaptive capacity of public policy sectors. To consider these issues, this thesis sought to address the central research question: what capacity for reflexive learning exists within the administration of the fire management sector of Victoria, Australia?

The literature review directed attention to several key factors in reflexive learning in public sectors and provided the thesis its theoretical basis, which stems from the following: Policy frames, informal institutions and networks are key influences in a sector’s capacity for reflexive learning. Adaptation in public policy requires a capacity for deliberate reflection upon the policy frames and informal institutions that underlie and structure a sector’s practices, policy options and governance arrangements. It also requires exploration of multiple, alternate frames of the sector’s fundamental issues to increase the adaptability of a sector’s policy repertoire. To enable its adaptive capacity, a public policy sector needs to adopt an explicitly reflexive learning approach.

The study combined frame, institutional and network analyses to explore these factors, and provide a more nuanced appreciation of the capacity for reflexive learning than may have been gleaned from a singular perspective. A key methodological contribution of this study was the application of this triangulated analytical framework to a public policy sector and using the perspectives of the sector’s bureaucrats. The policy sector of landscape fire management in the state of Victoria, Australia was chosen for the case study because of its complex formal institutional structure and because its two objectives – disaster risk reduction and ecological management – are often argued to be key CCA strategies.

The research identified two dominant master-frames: emergency management and sustainability. While the majority of participants drew on a sustainability frame, the institutional analysis indicated that an emergency management frame is highly institutionalised within the sector. The findings suggest that it may be challenging to introduce perspectives that counter or do not ‘fit’ with the sector’s current policy frames and institutional landscape. The network analysis indicated a complex role for social networks in reflexive learning within the sector, a role that can both close down and open up the sector to new frames or ideas. Overall, this research aims to support fire management in its approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and CCA, and to inform the often called for interchange between DRR and CCA.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Mathematics and Geospatial Sciences
Keyword(s) climate change adaptation
adaptation in public administration
fire management
reflexive learning
frame analysis
institutional analysis
disaster risk reduction
public policy
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