Adaptive Management of Natural Resources

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Authors: C. Allan

Publication Year: 2007


Categories: Innovation, Adaptability, Qualitative


The concept of adaptive management has been embraced by natural resource managers worldwide, and in Australia the promise to manage adaptively underpins most government water related programs and projects. Adaptive management is learning from doing; learning comes through the implementation of policies and strategies, so adaptive management complements research-based learning. Passive adaptive management learns from the implementation of an historically informed ‘best’ practice, followed by review of that implementation. Active adaptive management involves a range of practices designed to achieve strategic goals (treatments) to test the hypothesis that ‘best’ practice is just that. Adaptive Management is not sycophantic flexibility, nor is it simply muddling through. In particular, adaptive management is not business as usual. For adaptive management to achieve its promise it must be recognised as a radical departure from established ways of managing natural resources; it requires new ways of thinking about management, new organisational structures and new implementation processes and tools. Planners and managers require educational, administrative, and political support as they seek to understand and implement adaptive management.

Critical Reflection

As the article by Rochet et al, the content is understandable and easy to grasp. However, the writing is in general very verbose. Furthermore, Allan uses a lot of narrative sentences like "You may be asking ..." and subjective descriptions like "... is well entrenched" and "relatively easy". Such verbose and subjective formulations carry the risk of weakening scientific facts. Strictly speaking, furthermore, the article is not a description of a certain scientific research project and its results. As Allan also mentions in the introduction, the article served as an introduction to other presentation at the conference and meant to set the general context for those other presentations. Although published along with other articles of the conference, this paper thus does not contain any description of the scientific method being used. Is is merely a summary of and opinion on previously conducted research. Allan places her research in the field of earlier research by Holling on adaptive management C.S. Holling et al. Adaptive environmental assessment and management. Adaptive environmental assessment and management., 1978. In his research, Holling describes adaptive management as a tool for change and also monitoring. In this sense, it provides a basis for the arguments of Allan. Furthermore, Allan mentions the four phases of adaptive management: plan, implement, monitor and learn. Based on a grouping of these into adaptive governance (learn and plan) and adaptive experiments (implement and monitor), other research evolved, as for example described by Gunderson and Light L. Gunderson and S.S. Light. Adaptive management and adaptive governance in the everglades ecosystem. Policy Sciences, 39(4):323–334, 2006.Review (Irshad Rampersad) If we look at the adaptive cycle, it contains the processes of equilibrium, crisis, new combinations and entrepreneurship. The crisis phase is our starting position. In this phase the organization learns that it is not on the current way and that there is are problems that must be solved: it must adapt to maintain (new) successes and eliminate those problems. The organization will come up with new solutions, witch falls in the new combinations phase. Based on earlier experience, new solutions are developed and some will be planned to be implemented. In the entrepreneurship phase the new solutions are implemented within the organization. And in the last phase, the organization monitors if the new solutions are matching the expectations. We can say that the adaptive management methodology is a way to apply and justify the adaptive cycle: On the other hand you have the path that the organization is going through. On the other hand you have the methodology to control each adaptive cycle item, a kind of guide on the path of the adaptive cycle. Implementation, planning and monitoring are important, but most of all: organizations learn of their decisions and experiences in the past. In my opinion organizations can apply both three approaches of adaptive management. But they must apply it properly. For instance, applying the evolutionary adaptive management can only be done if the consequences are minim (rigorous ideas that has no goal must be avoided). In both cases it can be possible to have both approaches applied. By setting the focus on implementation and learning (passive and active adaptive management) the organization will have more insights in how to improve their goals and mission. The whole cycle is roughly a hard path to walk. Sound leadership is an issue that is important. Motivate people and take decisions that are in line with the goals that the organization want to achieve. By working in multi disciplinary teams, knowledge from different fields are merged. This can be benefit full for the organization: it can come with different ideas of different disciplines. In fact we can say that the whole cycle is just about learning, modify the organization its goals, implement new solutions, monitor these and learn again to improve or solve a crisis within an organization. By focussing on the context of this paper, the natural process can be considered as a natural organization that is adapting to the environment (whether or not with the help of humans). I partly agree with that statement: natural organizations cannot think what is the best for them. They only adapt to their environment. The cognitive part does not exist. The adaptive cycle has similarities with natural organizatons, although the resources may not be as natural as you might expect