Urban water governance regimes around the world have traditionally planned large-scale, centralized infrastructure systems that aim to control variables and reduce uncertainties. There is growing sectoral awareness that a transition toward sustainable alternatives is necessary if systems are to meet society’s future water needs in the context of drivers such as climate change and variability, demographic changes, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. However, there is minimal understanding of how the urban water sector should operationalize its strategic planning for such change to facilitate the transition to a sustainable water future. We have integrated concepts from transitions, resilience, and institutional theory to develop a diagnostic procedure for revealing insights into which types of strategic action are most likely to influence the direction and pace of change in the overall system toward a desired trajectory. The procedure used the multipattern approach, from transition theory, to identify the system conditions and type of changes necessary for enabling system transformation. It incorporated the adaptive cycle, from resilience theory, to identify the current phase of change for different parts of the system. Finally, it drew on the concepts of institutional pillars and institutional work to identify mechanisms that are likely to be most effective in influencing the transformative dynamics of the system toward a desired trajectory. We have demonstrated application of the proposed diagnostic procedure on a case study of recent transformative change in the urban water system of Melbourne, Australia. We have proposed that an operational diagnostic procedure provides a useful platform from which planners, policy analysts, and decision makers could follow a process of deduction that identifies which types of strategic action best fit the current system conditions.
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