Institutional Change through Social Learning: Climate Change Policy Gaming in Kenya

Abby Onencan

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Complex and uncertain societal problems cannot be addressed by technical solutions that rely solely on predictions. Institutions that entirely rely on predictions, repeat the same actions (routine), with little reflection on the impact of these technological solutions upon the socio-technical system. Though routine is beneficial for stability and continuity of any institution, it may stifle reflection and make it harder for change. When an institution does not change, it cannot innovate nor adapt to changing circumstances.

Social learning (SL) has been proposed to facilitate institutional change. SL is a change in societal understanding, achieved through social interactions, which eventually gets situated within broader social networks. In principle, SL holds a promise in addressing the problem of routinised, non-adaptive institutions. Nevertheless, there is limited evidence on whether SL does indeed lead to institutional change.

This PhD research uses policy gaming to assess whether SL can lead to institutional change in the Nzoia River Basin. The results indicate that SL has the potential to change routine-based institutions and generate adaptive capacity. The outcomes also indicate the need for the following profound institutional changes in Nzoia River Basin:

Artefacts: Replace current WRM structures with configurations that respect the river, and support the sustainable management of the drainage basin, as a whole.

Values: Value water more than spatial, agricultural and energy-production plans and make water the structuring element within the Nzoia River Basin. This means that any proposed laws, regulations, practices and norms that intend to utilise the scarce water resources unsustainably should not be supported.

Underlying Assumptions: Question underlying assumptions, and make transformations to existing laws, regulations, values, norms and actor-networks to build adaptive capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • van de Walle, Bartel, Supervisor
  • Enserink, Bert, Supervisor
  • Kortmann, L.J., Advisor
Award date26 Jun 2019
Print ISBNs978-94-6366-178-2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Water Governance
  • Social learning
  • Institutional change
  • Team interdependence
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Policy Gaming
  • Situation awareness
  • Diversity
  • Cooperation
  • Trust
  • Cognitive learning
  • Relational learning
  • Epistemic learning
  • Nzoia River Basin
  • Water resources management


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