Adaptive management – “learning by doing”

Many contemporary research efforts are concentrating on creating new approaches to more closely link science, management and policy at an ecosystem level. At base, these efforts represent a search for a research and development model and practice which combine the features of:

  • management-based experimentation and innovation
  • natural resource system management on scales larger than individual enterprises and communities
  • methods for bringing about capacity for action among multiple agencies and actors (with typically divergent, not to say antagonistic points of view and interests)
  • facilitation of the social processes and organisational capacity to accomplish these.

One promising initiative in this area can be seen in the area of adaptive management (or adaptive environmental assessment and management), the emerging directions of which can be seen to be developing through the integration of ecological and participatory research approaches.

Adaptive management thus focuses on learning and adapting, through partnerships of managers, scientists, and other stakeholders who learn together how to create and maintain sustainable ecosystems. It helps managers maintain flexibility in their decisions, knowing that uncertainties exist and so provides the latitude to adjust direction to improve progress towards desired outcomes. More information on the wider decision-making environment within which such approaches can flourish are provided from the adaptation  and governance  pages in this section, and the social learning section.

Learning about the social elements of adaptive management. This 2009 chapter from Will Allen and Chris Jacobson use a case study set in the South Island high country of New Zealand to reflect on some of the social elements required to support ongoing collaborative monitoring and adaptive management. We begin by siting the case study within its wider policy context to show how this influences the choice of scientific inquiry. The next section concentrates particularly on the processes by which information and knowledge are shared across the different stakeholder groups involved. Finally, we expand on some specific lessons that emerge as important for sharing information and knowledge in adaptive management, including tools to support dialogue and improved tools for evaluation.

Adaptive Learning in Natural Resource Management: Three Approaches to Research” This paper by Stephen Tyler explores different approaches to applied research in natural resource management that focus on adaptive learning as an element of the resource management challenge of continuous sustainable production. The research frameworks suggested by Adaptive Management (AM), social learning, and complex adaptive systems (resilience thinking) are considered. The emerging framework of adaptive co-management is suggested as a promising approach to capturing relevant features of the other three.

Adaptive Management of Natural Resources: Theory, Concepts, and Management Institutions This 2005 report from George Stankey and associates reviews the extensive and growing literature on the concept and application of adaptive management. Literature from a diverse range of fields including social learning, risk and uncertainty, and institutional analysis was reviewed, particularly as it related to application in an adaptive
management context. The review identifies opportunities as well as barriers that adaptive management faces. It concludes by describing steps that must be taken to implement adaptive management.

www_iconDoes adaptive management of natural resources enhance resilience to climate change? This paper by Emma Tompkins and Neil Adgar reviews perspectives on collective action for natural resource management to inform understanding of climate response capacity. We demonstrate the importance of social learning, specifically in relation to the acceptance of strategies that build social and ecological resilience. Societies and communities dependent on natural resources need to enhance their capacity to adapt to the impacts of future climate change, particularly when such impacts could lie outside their experienced coping range. This argument is illustrated by an example of present-day collective action for community-based coastal management in Trinidad and Tobago. The case demonstrates that community-based management enhances adaptive capacity in two ways: by building networks that are important for coping with extreme events and by retaining the resilience of the underpinning resources and ecological systems.

www_iconAdaptive management: a science-based approach to managing ecosystems in the face of uncertainty PDF icon This conference paper by Carol Murray and David Marmorek describes adaptive management as a six-stage process: problem assessment, experimental design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and management adjustment. For each stage they provide some examples for protected areas management, and outline some of the real world constraints which must be considered. However, the authors point out that adaptive management is more than just a procedure; it also requires curiosity, innovation, courage to admit uncertainty, and a commitment to learning. The implications of these attributes is discussed.

www_iconMonitoring and adaptive management: addressing social and organisational issues to improve information sharing This paper by Will Allen and colleagues points to the organisational and social issues that need to be resolved if adaptive management is to be used successfully. A case study in the South Island high country of New Zealand is used to review what is needed to support an ongoing community-based monitoring and adaptive management programme. First, the case study is described, paying attention to the social context of the resource management problem. The results of a workshop which explored this problem are then outlined, along with a proposed information flow suggested by participants. Requirements for future steps to resolve these problems (such as information protocols and a multi-stakeholder information system) are discussed. Finally, some broad lessons are drawn from this exercise that could help others developing similar approaches.

Getting technical environmental information into watershed decision making” This paper from Will Allen and Margaret Kilvington introduces a collaborative adaptive management approach to improve the use of information within environmental research initiatives. It illustrates this approach as a knowledge management cycle that helps different stakeholders access and integrate information more effectively, and ultimately changes how they see a situation and consequently go about managing it. Focus is given to improving learning, particularly in getting people to challenge their underlying assumptions. To achieve this it is suggested that interdisciplinary science teams need to broaden their membership to include specialists with integrative social skills.

One of the most successful applications of adaptive management have been in the area of waterfowl harvest management in North America, and there have been a corresponding number of papers that look at the issue. Johnson, F.A.; and Williams, B.K. (1999). Protocol and practice in the adaptive management of waterfowl harvests. www_icon Conservation Ecology 3(8); Nichols, J. D., F. A. Johnson, B. K. Williams. 1995. Managing North American waterfowl in the face of uncertaintywww_icon  Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 26:177-199; Johnson, F. A., W. L. Kendall, and J. A. Dubovsky. 2002.Conditions and limitations on learning in the adaptive management of mallard harvestswww_icon Wildl. Soc. Bull. 30:176-185; Johnson, F. A. 2001.Adaptive regulation of waterfowl hunting in the United States. www_icon Pages 113-131 in R. G. Stahl, Jr., R. A. Bachman, A. L. Barton, J. R. Clark, P. L. deFur, S. J. Ellis, C. A. Pittinger, M. W. Slimak, and R. S. Wentsel, eds. Risk management: ecological risk-based decision-making. SETAC Press, Pensacola, FL.