The application of social and political theories will be important in understanding adaptation processes in complex socio-ecological systems. There have been some promising approaches such as place-based research, social learning, adaptive co-management, vulnerability assessment, adaptive capacity, and resilience. However, these all fall short because they are often too abstract, prematurely inform research inquiries and cannot adequately address the root causes of complex problems. From the policy sciences, policy capacity, however, is a multi-dimensional meso-level perspective that can assist researchers in understanding individual, organizational and systemic-level dynamics inherent in many emerging social theories. Specifically, the more granular policy capacity lens is offered as approach to unpacking the popular notion of adaptive capacity. A content analysis using NVivo qualitative software is employed to assess the nascent role of policy capacity concept in 152 Canadian and United States environmental-based vulnerability assessments and adaptation frameworks.
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