The interplay between social learning and adaptive capacity in climate change adaptation: A systematic review

Thi Hong Phuong Le*, Robbert Biesbroek, Arjen E.J. Wals

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Successful implementation climate change adaptation depends to a large extent on the capabilities of individuals, organizations, and communities to create and mobilize the adaptive capacity (AC) of their socio-ecological system. Creating and mobilizing AC is a continuous process that requires social learning (SL). Although rich with empirical cases, the literature theorizing and empirically investigating the relationship between AC and SL is highly fragmented. This paper aims to critically examine the peer-reviewed literature that focusses on SL and AC in the context of climate change adaptation (CCA). Special attention is paid to the interplay between the two. Understanding this interplay can help improve our understanding of how CCA takes place in practice and advances theoretical debates on CCA. Systematic review methods are used to analyse 43 papers (1997-2016). Our findings reveal three perspectives that each play an important role in different contexts: an AC-focused perspective, a SL-focused perspective, and a hybrid perspective. These differences in conceptualizations of the relationship between SL and AC may seem trivial at first, but they have consequences for the design of learning-based interventions aimed at helping communities respond to climate change. It appears that such interventions need to be preceded by an analysis of the climate change context in order to decide whether to emphasize AC, SL or both simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalNJAS Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Interplay
  • Social learning
  • Systematic review


Dive into the research topics of 'The interplay between social learning and adaptive capacity in climate change adaptation: A systematic review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this