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Drought is an inescapable reality in many regions, including much of the western United States. With climate change, droughts are predicted to intensify and occur more frequently, making the imperative for drought management even greater. Many diverse actors – including private landowners, business owners, scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and managers and policymakers within tribal, local, state, and federal government agencies – play multiple, often overlapping roles in preparing for and responding to drought. Managing water is, of course, one of the most important roles that humans play in both mitigating and responding to droughts; but, focusing only on “water managers” or “water management” fails to capture key elements related to the broader category of drought management. The respective roles played by those managing drought (as distinct from water managers), the interactions among them, and the consequences in particular contexts, are not well understood. Our team synthesized insights from 10 in-depth case studies to understand key facets of decision making about drought preparedness and response. We present a typology with four elements that collectively describe how decisions about drought preparedness and response are made (context and objective for a decision; actors responsible; choice being made or action taken; and how decisions interact with and influence other decisions). The typology provides a framework for system-level understanding of how and by whom complex decisions about drought management are made. Greater system-level understanding helps decision makers, program and research funders, and scientists to identify constraints to and opportunities for action, to learn from the past, and to integrate ecological impacts, thereby facilitating social learning among diverse participants in drought preparedness and response.