Complexity of challenges associated with water resources management is increasing due to factors such as climate variability and uncertainty, increased regulatory requirements, changes in planning horizons, and trans-boundary considerations. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and Adaptive Management (AM) are widely publicized approaches developed and proposed to deal with this complexity. Both concepts have a history reaching back decades, but have been facing difficulties in their transfer from theory into practice. There is a clear need to look in more detail at the process of transforming IWRM and AM theory into practice and this research investigates this process and the factors that mediate it. A conceptual framework was developed - characterizing the process for transfer of theory into practice - that formed the basis for development of the research questions. The research approach focused on analyzing the implementation pathways of IWRM and AM in four case studies, whose selection was informed by the need to explore a context with extensive history of IWRM and AM practice. Data collection took place through semi-structured interviews aiming to uncover how those involved in planning and implementation of IWRM and AM experienced these processes. Besides aiming to understand the ‘lived experiences’, a more abstract framework of the process, factors and dynamics was derived, grounded in the views of the respondents. The findings indicate different types of factors that influence the theory to practice process for IWRM and AM, relating to: (a) theory and its use in practice; (b) the environment that can complicate or facilitate the implementation process; (c) the way cooperation and decision-making processes are organized; and (d) individual attributes of those involved. Incorporating lessons from past into current initiatives are vital to more effective implementation of IWRM and AM. This research gives greater insight into the mediating factors and dynamics, providing this through empirical evidence into design of IWRM and AM planning and implementation. It also provides a thorough discussion on what IWRM and AM exactly mean, proposing a new definition for both concepts
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