In different parts of the world, neo-liberal politics is shifting responsibilities from the nation state to other governmental and non-governmental actors. This is also evident in the governance of adaptation to the impacts of climate change, where the responsibility of the individual is increasingly stressed. This paper focuses on institutions for local water management in the Netherlands and aims to explain how the institutional shift to individual responsibility affects the adaptive capacity of society to deal with the impacts of climate change. The paper uses a case study approach in which stakeholders are interviewed; the analysis is then structured along an 'Adaptive Capacity Wheel'. It concludes that the recent institutional shift creates different challenges for increasing the adaptive capacity, amongst others: a lack of clearly defined responsibilities and accountability procedures, scattered and not easily accessible information to individuals, an overlap in municipal and individual responsibility, and differences in social context that call for context-specific management approaches pose challenges to increasing the adaptive capacity. The paper also draws conclusions on the methodology used. © 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V.