Adaptive capacity (AC) plays a prominent role in reducing community vulnerability, an
essential goal for achieving sustainability. The related concept, transformative capacity
(TC), describes a set of tools from the resilience paradigm for making more fundamental
system changes. While the literature appears to agree generally on the meaning of AC
and TC, operational definitions vary widely in empirical applications. We address
measurement of AC and TC in empirical studies of community vulnerability and
resilience, with special attention to the problems of arctic communities. We discuss how
some challenges follow from ambiguities in the broader vulnerability model within which
AC is embedded. Other issues are more technical, such as a confounding of stocks
(capacity) with flows (time-specific inputs or outcomes). We view AC and TC as forms
of capital, as distinct from flows (i.e., ecosystem services, well-being), and propose a set
of sequential steps for measuring the contribution of AC and TC assets to reducing
vulnerability. We demonstrate the conceptual application in a comparative analysis of AC
in two arctic Alaska communities responding to an increase in the price of fuel. The
comparative case study illustrates some key empirical challenges in measuring AC for
small arctic communities.
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