Applying resilience analysis to a transboundary river system: Developing surrogates for institutions and governance

Water Economics, Policy and Governance Network (WEPGN)

Applying resilience analysis to a transboundary river system: Developing surrogates for institutions and governance

Project Description:

Social-ecological resilience is conceptually concerned with the amount of change a system can withstand, the degree of self-organization possible, and the ability to learn and adapt. Application of resilience and its analytical processes have primarily been developed for ecosystems. Application of resilience to the social world is unique and requires additional considerations. An opportunity thus exists to focus on aspects of governance and to build upon initial works addressing resilience of river systems.  

This research aims to: 1) conceptually explore resilience in relation to social aspects (governance of a river system), 2) conduct a resilience analysis on a transboundary river system with a specific focus on governance, and 3) identify resilience surrogates from the analysis with potential transferability to other transboundary river systems.

This research will take place in three stages. In stage one, social scientists with expertise in the area of water governance and resilience will be identified from a scan of the literature and invited to participate in an online Delphi study to understand surrogates for resilience with a focus on governance.

Stages two and three of the research involve an empirical case study in the Saint John River Basin of New Brunswick. In stage two a social-ecological inventory will be conducted, focused on perceptions of, and activities that influence, river health. In stage three a resilience analysis will be conducted in a particular sub-watershed. This analysis will provide an opportunity to explore resilience analysis (in a workshop format) in the context of a transboundary river system.

The researchers and their partners will then build upon the three stages of the project to consider how resilience concerning aquatic systems can be best mobilized in theory and practice.

The four main outcomes of this research project are:

  1. Conceptual advancement of governance attributes that confer and restrain resilience in relation to river systems.
  2. Knowledge generation of resilience surrogates for governance of aquatic systems.
  3. Insight and experience for applying resilience analysis in aquatic systems.
  4.  Methodological/analytical advancement within water resources management and resilience analyses/measurement.


Ryan Plummer


Canadian Rivers Institute; POLIS Project on Ecological Governance; Meduxnekeag River Association; Stockholm Environment Institute; Trout Unlimited Canada; WaterSmart Niagara; World Wildlife Fund Canada

Graduate Students:

Julia Baird (post-doc) & Katrina Krievins