Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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15.3.2 Planning and Design

When the available data and information point towards a potential problem justifying action, the next stage is to decide which action to take and where and when to take it. The answers to these questions depend on prevailing criteria that guide local, national or regional policy preparation, as well as on existing coastal-development and management plans that form the broader context for any adaptation initiative. Important policy criteria that could influence adaptation decisions include cost-effectiveness, environmental sustainability, cultural compatibility and social acceptability. In addition, countries may choose to take a precautionary approach when postponing action would involve substantial risks, even though uncertainty may still be considerable (CEC, 1999).

Coastal planners will always face a certain degree of uncertainty, not only because the future is by definition uncertain, but also because knowledge of natural and socio-economic coastal processes is and always will remain incomplete. Limits to predictability require planners to assess the environmental and societal risks of climate change with and without adaptation (Carter et al., 1994). The information thus obtained can help to determine the optimal adaptation strategy (which action?) and timing of implementation (when?) (e.g., Chao and Hobbs, 1997; Yohe and Neumann, 1997). There are a number of decision tools available to assist in this process. Examples of these tools include cost-benefit analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, risk-effectiveness analysis and multicriteria analysis (Turner and Adger, 1996). The latter technique is particularly relevant when great significance is attached to values that cannot be easily expressed in monetary terms.

Geographical information systems (GIS) are an important technology for spatial planning (where?), while they can also contribute to the other adaptation steps described in this Section and indeed to all aspects of coastal management (Box 15.1).

Box 15.1 The role of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in coastal adaptation and management

GIS combines computer mapping and visualisation techniques with spatial databases and statistical, modelling and analytical tools. It offers powerful methods to collect, manage, retrieve, integrate, manipulate, combine, visualise and analyse spatial data and to derive information from these data (Burrough and McDonnell, 1998; Longley et al., 1999; Wright and Bartlett, 1999). One simple, first-order application of GIS in coastal adaptation would be overlaying scenarios of sea-level rise with elevation and coastal-development data to define impact zones. More sophisticated applications may include morphodynamic modelling (e.g., Capobianco et al., 1999). GIS technology is evolving rapidly and is increasingly used for sophisticated modelling. Hence, GIS can provide excellent support to coastal managers for making decisions about adaptation.

GIS can contribute to each of the four adaptation steps. Collected data can be stored in a GIS, combined to develop new insights and information, and visualised for interpretation and educational purposes. In combination with scenarios of relevant developments and models to assess and evaluate changes in important natural and socio-economic variables, GIS can assist planners to identify appropriate adaptation technologies as well as their optimal locations for implementation. It allows for the non-invasive, reversible and refinable testing of specific adaptation technologies before these are implemented in the real world. After implementation, newly acquired data can be analysed to evaluate technology performance. Once created, a GIS database will have further utility in other aspects of coastal management (Jones, 1995; O'Regan, 1996).

In spite of its clear utility, GIS cannot substitute for fieldwork or common sense (Crawford, 1993). It will never eclipse the importance of economic, institutional, legal and socio-cultural factors in coastal management. In addition, true three-dimensional modelling in GIS (e.g., for sediment budgets) remains problematic. Finally, some commentators have questioned whether GIS can always be used effectively in developing countries. Specific issues in this regard include:

  • the costs of computer hardware and most GIS software;
  • the lack of raw data to input to the system;
  • the lack of consistency between data sets;
  • restrictions on free access to information for strategic, political, economic or other reasons;
  • limited salaries and career opportunities for GIS-literate operators compared to the industrialised world;
  • the prevailing Western conceptual model of geographical space, which may be different from local ways of perceiving and interpreting spatial relationships;
  • the fear that the introduction of GIS could lead to or facilitate oppressive government, misuse of power, civil unrest or other non-democratic activities.

The rapid ongoing developments of all aspects of GIS may remove some of these concerns. There is no doubt that GIS presents great potential for societies wishing to anticipate and understand the consequences of climate change and develop adaptation strategies to cope with the potential impacts.

The modelling of potential futures based on plausible scenarios is particularly pertinent for the planning and design of adaptation technologies when relevant impacts are quantified, alternative adaptation options are evaluated and one course of action is selected. Modelling capabilities are increasing rapidly, leading, for example, to better morphodynamic models (De Vriend et al., 1993; Stive and De Vriend, 1995), dynamic biogeophysical models (e.g., Capobianco et al., 1999) and integrated models (e.g., Engelen et al., 1993). The rapid developments in information technology are facilitating the transfer of these tools. However, the limitations inherent in all models (i.e., they are representations of a part of reality for a specific purpose) must not be overlooked. Human expertise remains essential for the intelligent use of models.

The quality and effectiveness of the planning and design process is affected by the context in which the decision is made. Coastal management in many countries used to be top-down by nature, but as public interest and involvement in coastal issues has grown, so has resistance to top-down decision-making (e.g., Taiepa et al., 1997). The successful implementation of many coastal policies, including adaptation to climate change, is now increasingly dependent on public acceptance at the community level (King, 1999). Hence, in addition to informing the public to raise their awareness of the issues at stake (Section 15.3.1), it is also important to involve them throughout the planning process to inform decision makers (CEC, 1999). Gaining public acceptance, for example by two-way interaction and partnerships, is an important prerequisite for finding and transferring appropriate adaptation technologies. Furthermore, local expertise will be required for technology implementation, application, maintenance and enforcement.

In some settings, however, public involvement can be difficult to accomplish. In situations where there is little truly private land, coastal inhabitants may have little long-term stake and therefore interest in the land they occupy (e.g., in parts of Tonga; Nunn and Waddell, 1992). Moreover, governments may have neither the resources to address country-wide coastal management (particularly in archipelagic nations) nor, compared to long-resident inhabitants, the local knowledge or experience that are essential for effective management (e.g., in parts of Fiji; Nunn et al., 1994a).

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