Complex Sociotechnical Problems: Insights from the Investigation of the Maintenance of Stormwater Control Measures in Melbourne
AuthorThomas, Andrew, Oliver
AffiliationSchool of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Andrew, Oliver Thomas
The expansion of urban development across the globe has brought with it significant environmental impacts. Prominent amongst these impacts is the degradation of marine and freshwater environments caused by conventional approaches to stormwater management infrastructure that facilitate the rapid conveyance of untreated stormwater to waterways. Stormwater control measures (SCMs) are a sustainability innovation developed to redress these environmental impacts. However, there are growing concerns that SCMs are not receiving sufficient maintenance and that, consequently, their long-term performance may be compromised. By taking a mixed methods approach, this study sought to gauge the veracity of these concerns and ascertain the barriers and challenges to the maintenance of SCMs. Nine local councils in Melbourne, Australia were engaged to provide condition data for their SCMs and access to their professional staff to collect perspectives on the barriers and challenges to SCM maintenance. Condition data analysis triangulated against survey data and similar studies from other jurisdictions indicate that concerns about insufficient maintenance have merit. Grounded Theory informed analysis identified 55 inter-dependent barriers and challenges across nine sociotechnical categories, confirming SCM maintenance as a complex multi-causal sociotechnical problem, and one potentially symptomatic of a loss of momentum towards mainstream adoption. Termed Failure to Thrive, this loss of momentum is considered a function of three over-arching issues: An under-developed stormwater industry, government policy inertia and, importantly, the invisibility of SCMs in the community. Using sociotechnical systems thinking and theory, three ‘intervention pathways’ are postulated to redress shortcomings in the maintenance of SCMs by Victorian local government and, likewise, address the Failure to Thrive scenario. In doing so, this study provides an example of how explorative, inductive research and sociotechnical systems theory can be used to decipher complex sociotechnical problems. Based on the findings of this study, an alternative transition pathway for Sustainability Transitions is proposed that accounts for the complex path-dependencies involved in the transition of sustainable innovations like SCMs and the need for pro-active institutional work accordingly to minimise the risk of partial or total failed transitions.
KeywordsComplex sociotechnical problems; innovation transitions; sustainability transitions; Water Sensitive Urban Design; WSUD; Stormwater Control Measures; SCMs; Asset Management; SCM Maintenance; Stormwater Management; Local Government; Municipal Government; Public Infrastructure; Multi-level perspective
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