Private provisioning of public adaptation: Integration of cognitive-behavioral, adaptive capacity, and institutional approaches

Hallie Eakin, Nadine Methner, Gina Ziervogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a growing need to create conditions for private actors to engage in provisioning of public adaptation in urban systems. Urban administrators have limited control over the urban dynamics necessary to achieve their climate adaptation policy goals. The actions of private actors – residents, businesses, civil society organizations – have significant influence over urban development trajectories. City administrators thus must engage with private actors to mobilize their responses, particularly for extreme climate threats that require everyone to “do their part” to achieve an aggregate state of improved adaptedness for the urban system as a whole. We combine insights from cognitive and behavioral theory, institutional analysis, adaptive capacity, and research on urban adaptation governance to create a conceptual framework to advance theoretical understanding of the potential for private provisioning for public adaptation. We apply these insights to the case of urban actors’ responses to the drought of 2017–19 in the City of Cape Town, South Africa. The case illustrates how social norms and identities interact with socioeconomic status, distinct histories with public institutions and authorities, and relative “stocks” of specific and generic capacities to shape private actors’ willingness to engage in self-transcendent, public-oriented adaptation. The complexity of these interactions challenge efforts of urban administrators to design effective interventions. Policy to foster private provisioning will need to address the difficult questions of how the urban public is defined, who is included, who is excluded, and how individual adaptations can augment or undermine public adaptation goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102771
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation governance
  • Adaptive capacity
  • Altruism
  • Cape Town
  • Collective adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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