Truths and governance for adaptive management

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Ferdi, Iris, Koen, Olivier, Tomas Bijkerk

Authors: M.K. Loftin

Publication Year: 2014


Journal: Ecology and Society

Volume: 19

Issue: 2

Categories: Information Management, Adaptive Management


Managing large-scale water resources and ecosystem projects is a never ending job, and success should be measured in terms of achieving desired project performance and not just meeting prescriptive requirements of planning and constructing a project simply on time and within budget. Success is more than studying, planning, designing, or operating projects. It is developing the righ plan, getting it implemented, and seeing that it is operated and performs properly. Success requires all of these, and failing any of these results in wasted resources and potential for doing great harm. Adaptive management can help make success possible by providing a means for solving the most complex problems, answering unanswered questions, and, in general, reducing uncertainty. Uncertainties are the greatest threats to project success. Stakeholder support and political will are ultimately essential in achieving project success. Project success is often impossible to achieve if uncertaintiespersist. Resolving uncertainties quickly and efficiently facilitates the greatest forward progress in the shortest possible time. Uncertainties must be reduced or resolved to a sufficient level, not over-resolved or under-resolved. Over-resolving presents a value trade-off between additional knowledge and the cost of getting it. Under-resolving trades greater risks of failure for cost savings. Resolutional sufficiency varies from uncertainty to uncertainty, and applying risk-based logic is helpful in determining what is sufficient.Adaptive management can bring great efficiency and produce high returns on investment. Project-stopping uncertainties get resolved,and resources are spent wisely. Organizational governance must understand adaptive management and value it. Adequate time and money must be provided. Adaptive management must be integrated into other organizational processes such as project management and project delivery. Integrating adaptive management requires a new mind-set, individually and organizationally. The resources provided must be scaled, oriented, and tuned to meet the challenges being addressed.

Critical Reflection

In this article, Loftin advocates for a complete commitment of organizations, that run projects in large-scale water resources and ecosystem projects, to the use of adaptive management for their projects. In adaptive management terms, solving problems means answering unanswered questions and reducing uncertainty such that planning, engineering, design, and operations of projects can proceed in an orderly fashion that ensures that goals and objectives are met and unintended negative impacts are avoided. A standard view on what is success for project managers is that success is measured in time, cost and project effects. Loftin argues that this view should be abandoned and success should be measured in terms of achieving desired project performance and not just meeting prescriptive requirements of planning and constructing a project simply on time and within budget. His advocacy for the integration of adaptive management in organizations is all about resolving uncertainties. Uncertainties are unanswered questions, that do not have an acceptable answer yet and are in Loftin's view the greatest threats to project success: "If a project is to be successfully implemented, all important uncertainties must be resolved". Governing the application of adaptive management in relation to risk management, project management and the project life cycle is discussed in such manner that it is argued that uncertainties in projects are discovered, assessed and mitigated by adaptive management in early stages after the emergence of uncertainties. It is mostly the view of adaptive management on how to measure success and the hands-on approach to dealing with problems, or in Loftin's words uncertainties, in all layers of projects and processes of organizations that is relevant to the topics that are studied in the course of (Virtual) Organizations in a Dynamic Context. The arguments of Loftin that projects are not a success only when a project is implemented in time and within the budget, but that should be looked at the project performance over time. Discovering problems and uncertainties quickly and efficiently and addressing and resolving them will provide the greatest progress in the shortest possible time so that the time value of success is maximized and the negative time value of failure is minimized. Concluding, Loftin advocates for adaptive management in organizations and their projects where their projects have not definitive end but are an open end where success is measured by performance.


Ferdi, Iris, Koen, Olivier, Tomas Bijkerk