Overcoming inertia to sustainable stormwater management practice

Sammanfattning: In Sweden, there is a growing receptivity for change to more sustainable stormwater practices using green infrastructure approaches. Unlike piped drainage systems they can have multiple benefits in use including flood control, pollutant removal and can add to the quality of urban space supporting green infrastructure through irrigation and providing cooling and an additional water source for supply. However, the change towards non-piped systems is facing many challenges: the tradition of using piped systems; a dominant environmental-technical discourse; lack of legislative, public, political and organisational support and lack of contextual conditions, all of which complicate and hinder the integration of sustainable stormwater management into planning and practice. These challenges, amongst others, are discussed in this thesis which is based on a practical approach and a change perspective. In Sweden as in many other countries, the so far only modest progress towards sustainable stormwater management requires understanding and an explanation as to how better to integrate and implement sustainable stormwater management goals into planning and practice, accelerating the change process. The main research question concerns the possibilities for influencing a shift from traditional management using pipes to one which adopts a more sustainable approach to stormwater management. The study has investigated Swedish municipal officials’ experiences in stormwater planning and practice; focusing on pathways to overcome inertia to the uptake of more sustainable practices. The empirical material is based on two studies: an in-depth interview supplemented with an online questionnaire responded to by 227 from the 290 municipalities in Sweden. Increased knowledge about how to overcome change inertia has been developed by exploring aspects of urban stormwater management: the historical construction of the piped system; the urban stormwater planning process; the concept of sustainable development; a transition approach; receptivity and receptive contexts for action. These linked studies and analyses are presented in five papers. A combination of key theoretical perspectives and methods, combined with relevant stormwater management literature has been used in the interpretation of the empirical findings.The study has identified visions and supportive processes as key change conditions in the contextual situation in which the professionals have to work. Linked to these findings, a comprehensive framework with two complementary receptivity theories focusing collectively on individual or organisational receptivity and receptive contexts for change (action) is proposed. The results from this research show that the sustainable stormwater development process in Sweden continues to emerge slowly and its’ continuing development lies somewhere between increased receptivity and increased innovation in practice. This study has shown that there is no ideal pathway towards change or any particularly strong signs of mainstreaming of sustainable stormwater practice in Sweden. Rather, a variety of alternatives are practiced in various municipalities where the change agenda is neither fixed nor clearly defined. Such flexibility may be useful in order to avoid ‘lock-in’ to fixed paradigms of practice as has happened in the past when urban water systems were originally designed and constructed. A key result from this research is that change implies a constant balancing and rebalancing between committed professional perspectives and an ability to innovate to attain a goal that is expected to be more sustainable. For a continuation of the change processes towards more sustainable stormwater management systems, at a national and international scale, the contextual conditions from where a change has the potential to emerge have to be acknowledged and realized. The best strategy to overcome inertia and support the professionals’ openness and action for change is to identify and create receptive contexts that give possibilities from which sustainable stormwater management practices can emerge.