Climate Adaptation Policy Lock-Ins: a 3x3 Approach

Project team

Dr. Torsten Grothmann

Dr. rer. pol. Nicolas Jager

Julie King


Management Chair

Prof. Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner


Birgit Schelenz

+49 441 798-4384  

Climate Adaptation Policy Lock-Ins: a 3x3 Approach

Project Description

Object of Research

One of the greatest current global challenges is an adaptation to the intensifying impacts of climate change. Yet, despite increasing calls for action, certain policy sectors (or sub-systems) remain slow or even resistant to change, and limited action on the part of public authorities prevails. Efforts to embed climate change adaptation into sectoral policy-making face strong counteracting forces of path-dependency and system rigidity, through established institutional norms, infrastructures, values, practices, and power dynamics. However, existing research is mostly limited to describe barriers to change. It requires the uncovering of the dynamic causing and keeping up the so-called 'lock-ins'. The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to explain variation in the level of climate change adaptation action and identify the extent to which inaction or selective action is determined by lock-in dynamics.

With an empirical approach that reflects theoretical foundations, we are analysing three areas of policy and regulation relevant for climate change adaptation in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom: water management, health care as well as nature management.

Method / Approach

This project takes an approach with mixed measures to understand, why lock-ins occur and persist in selected case studies. Interviews, document analyses, and group interviews will be used for data collection. In a later step, a qualitative, comparative analysis will be conducted to improve the understanding of the dynamics of lock-ins and their effect on climate change adaptation. The project will confront the observed variation of (in)activity with different approaches for explaining advance empirical findings of the emergence and persistence of lock-ins. In the final step, the findings will be used to give recommendations on the design of more effective policies.

Project Duration

June 2019 - May 2022


The project “Climate adaptation policy lock-ins: A 3x3 approach” is funded with 1.5 million euros from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk (NWO).


  • University of Oldenburg (Germany): Focus on conceptualising and analysing infrastructural-technological lock-ins
  • Open University (Netherlands): Focus on conceptualising and analysing behavioural lock-ins
    Prof. Dr. Dave Huitema - 
    Dr. Lisanne Groen -
    Dr. Jean Hugé -
  • University of East Anglia (UK): Focus on conceptualising and analysing institutional lock-ins
    Dr. John Turnpenny -  
    Dr. Tim Rayner - 
    Dr. Meghan Alexander
    - (now University of Nottingham)

Official Website

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(Changed: 29 Sep 2022)