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Defining “water resilience”: Debates, concepts, approaches, and gaps

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Resilience is increasingly applied the context of water systems, and water governance more broadly, in response to climate change impacts, hydrologic variability and uncertainty associated with various dimensions of global environmental change. However, the meanings, applications and implications of resilience as it relates to water governance are still poorly understood. Drawing on a systematic scoping review of the peer‐reviewed academic literature, this paper addresses the questions: how is resilience framed in relation to water systems and water governance, how are diverse resilience framings (re)shaping ideas and trends in water management, and what are the associated implications? The analysis found that the resilience‐informed water governance literature remains fragmented and predominantly centered on conventional approaches and framings of water planning, with a predominant focus on engineering resilience in water supply infrastructure. A recently emerging engagement with resilience in the water governance literature, however, draws on more diverse framings and theories and calls for a shift towards more integrative and ecologically‐centered thinking in water governance. Despite this, significant empirical and conceptual gaps remain, particularly around the integration of the various subsectors of water governance and, more importantly, around the institutional and governance dimensions of building water resilience. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance
Cumulative graph of all papers. This graph shows the papers that matched the search criteria (see Appendix S1). N = 149, no papers matching the search criteria were found before 1982. Data for 2017 are partial, as the bibliometric data was acquired in July 2017
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Responsibility for resilience building. This cumulative graph shows how the main actors that the papers mention or assume as responsible for building water resilience, shown in order of frequency from highest to lowest. The most common actors are water managers, governments/institutions, and multiple stakeholders (often not specified which ones)
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Resilience definitions. This is a cumulative graph of the different types of definitions of resilience identified in the sample since 2006. The majority of papers draw on engineering notions of resilience (see Appendix S1 for data before 2007). This graph shows that while engineering notions of resilience are predominant in the sample, there are growing trends in other framings of resilience. Notable is also a growing number of papers that do not define resilience (i.e., unspecified)
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Co‐citation network. This graph shows the 40 most frequently cited publications in all of the search results (n = 352). Each circle represents a publication, the label shows the last name of the first author, with cited publications located above the citing one: That is, the earliest papers appear at the top, starting at 1973 with Holling's work, and the latest at the bottom. The colors represent three clusters of publications that are closely related to each other in the citation network. The green cluster represents papers mostly drawing on engineering notions of resilience (see below for definitions and examples), the blue mostly ecological or socio‐ecological work focusing on water resource management, and the purple cluster is predominantly focused on hybrid urban water systems, including integrative frameworks such was Water Sensitive Urban Design. Overall, this diagram serves to show that clusters of papers cite each other, forming co‐citations subgroups (e.g., the green group at the bottom left), showing a degree of fragmentation in the sample. In other words, the field of scholars who use resilience terms in the context of water systems, or water governance, is not a coherent field, but rather fragmented
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Human Water > Water Governance
Engineering Water > Planning Water

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