Coping with uncertainty in water management: Qualitative system analysis as a vehicle to visualize the plurality of practitioners' uncertainty handling routines

J Environ Manage. 2019 Apr 1:235:213-223. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.01.034. Epub 2019 Jan 23.


Accelerated environmental and societal change and its dynamic present a challenge for water management, making it increasingly relevant to integrate uncertainties into the decision-making process. The challenge to science informing practice is how to provide scientific uncertainty information in a way that this information becomes usable for practitioners. We know that practitioners have developed routines in order to cope with uncertainties, but in order to facilitate the transfer of uncertainty information, this study analyses by whom, when and where in the decision-making process uncertainty routines are used. This research contributes to the plurality of practitioners' perspectives on decision-making under uncertainty in water management. Based on expert elicitation we show that, depending on the business unit and on the time horizon of the management object, practitioners are using different uncertainty routines and hence are in need of more tailor-made uncertainty information to inform their decision-making. Our qualitative systems modeling approach highlighting a reservoir management example serves as a boundary object visualizing the intersection of uncertainty routines and fostering cross-communication and acknowledgement of different perspectives among practitioners. It thus provides a platform for learning. Moreover, it provides a clear understanding of the uncertainty information needs which scientists may cover and increases the usability of their research findings, closing the science-practice gap in adaptive management and transformation processes.

Keywords: Decision-making; Expert elicitation; Qualitative system analysis; Science-practice gap; Uncertainty handling; Water management.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Uncertainty
  • Water Quality*