Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dan Shrubsole


Adaptive Capacity in Response to Revolutionary Change: The Case of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities

The purpose of this research is to develop a framework of adaptive capacity based on underlying elements, as identified in the established literature, and to apply that framework to describe and explain how organizations have experienced and survived revolutionary changes. Vision, capacity building, flexibility, and monitoring and learning as a proxy indicator of resilience are determined representative of adaptive capacity and this thesis applies the resulting framework to the experiences of the Grand River and Ganaraska Region Conservation Authorities. During the 1990s, conservation authorities in Ontario experienced revolutionary changes. While adaptive capacity has been regarded as an appropriate concept to respond to revolutionary changes - changes that occur at a fast rate and high magnitude - there is an absence of effective conceptual frameworks and empirical research. This research responds to this need.

This research applies the framework of adaptive capacity to a document review, using NVivo qualitative-analysis software. An interview-based review confirmed findings. A methodological map guided research and facilitated discussion of which elements of adaptive capacity were applied in response to revolutionary change. Principal sources for the document review included meeting minutes and financial statements from 1988 to 2004. Meeting minutes represent an amalgamation of information created by or presented to each conservation authority’s board of directors. NVivo enabled the coding and chronological graphical representation of the occurrences of elements of adaptive capacity that were applied in relation to management functions and/orchanginginstitutionalarrangements. Interviewswithappropriaterespondents


provided context and confirmed the elements of adaptive capacity identified in the document review.

This thesis provides lessons on how to investigate and implement adaptive capacity. More specifically, a review of the GRCA and GaRCA has added to the literature of adaptive capacity and to the interrelationships of its constituent parts. Conclusions of the research not only provide lessons of how adaptive capacity can be implemented, but also provides empirical examples of how those elements have been utilized by organizations that have experienced and survived revolutionary change. It is hoped that this framework and subsequent research aid organizations in the application of adaptive capacity



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