chapter  37
17 Pages

‘Clumsy solutions’ and ‘elegant failures’: lessons on climate change adaptation from the settlement of the North Atlantic islands


The ways that we currently approach and solve problems have profound implications for the future, and the current search for elegant solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss, financial crises, and other social-ecological problems may in fact lead to counterintuitive outcomes. Alternatively, we may also embrace “clumsy solutions” which are those that include many different viewpoints when making a decision or establishing policy (Shapiro, 1988). These may be viewed as “fudges” that muddle along through a series of compromises and the uneasy co-existence of incompatible (or inconsistent) goals (Verweij et al., 2006). Clumsy approaches are the antithesis of focused or “elegant” solutions that are based on a single vision of both the problem and the best way to tackle it. Despite their limitations, clumsy approaches can provide enduring solutions for complex problems (Verweij et al., 2006). Perhaps of most importance, however, is the knowledge of how to avoid “elegant failure,” because although the enhancement of human security is a key goal, an overriding need is to avoid making profound mistakes that threaten long-term security.