Climatic Change

, Volume 152, Issue 3–4, pp 307–326 | Cite as

Climate change adaptation, social capital, and the performance of polycentric governance institutions

  • Matthew L. HamiltonEmail author
  • Mark Lubell


How do patterns of interactions among policy actors shape their ability to contribute to climate change adaptation decision-making processes in fragmented regional governance settings? We address this question through statistical models of adaptation policy actors’ assessments of access to scientific/technical information as well as their perceptions of cooperation and procedural fairness across numerous adaptation decision-making processes operating in the Lake Victoria region, East Africa. We measured actors’ collaborative interactions as well as their participation in task forces, steering committees, and other policy forums that have emerged in response to the challenges of building adaptive capacity to the effects of climate change in the region. Because information access, cooperation, and procedural fairness are shaped by social processes, we tested how the performance of policy forums varied according to different measures of social capital. Specifically, we distinguished between bridging social capital (the value of relationships that span or broker between distinct subgroups) and bonding social capital (which results from frequent interaction or from clustered relationships within subgroups). We found that measures of bridging social capital had a positive effect on actors’ assessments of their access to information in policy forums, but a negative effect on their perceptions of cooperation and procedural fairness in forums. In contrast, measures of bonding social capital had a positive effect on cooperation and procedural fairness, but no effect on information access. Taken together, our results suggest that different forms of social capital have separate—and potentially opposing—effects on distinct measures of the performance of adaptation policy forums. The relative importance of each performance measure, which may vary from one policy forum to another, should guide efforts to encourage different forms of social capital across the numerous decision-making processes that comprise regional climate change adaptation governance systems.



We thank E. Namaganda, S. Lwasa, P. Onyango, and C. Mundia for valuable recommendations and logistical assistance preceding and during fieldwork. We thank G. Arnold and M. Springborn for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

Funding information

This research was partially supported by NSF Division of Graduate Education (DGE) #0801430, the Responding to Rapid Environmental Change (REACH) IGERT awarded to UC Davis, and a Jastro-Shields grant from UC Davis.

Supplementary material

10584_2019_2380_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment and Natural ResourcesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of California–DavisDavisUSA

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