Defining Collaborative Adaptive Management

Adaptive management is a systematic management paradigm that assumes natural resource management policies and actions are not static, but are adjusted based on the combination of new scientific and socio-economic information. Management is improved through learning from actions taken on the ecosystems being affected. A collaborative adaptive management approach incorporates and links knowledge and credible science with the experience and values of stakeholders and managers for more effective management decision-making. Public participation in reviewing a program drafted by others is not collaborative adaptive management.

Image of DECOMP Field VisitGiven the inherent ecological and social uncertainty in complex resource management decision-making, adaptive management recognizes that it is not always possible, a priori, to identify the "best" management alternative. Therefore, an experimental approach is warranted, and learning about the system becomes a deliberate goal similar to traditional ecological, economic, or social goals. Goal and objective setting, modeling, identifying alternative management actions, a rigorous experimental design, effectiveness monitoring, and identification of key decision points are integral parts of adaptive management.

Since adaptive management is often implemented in complex ecological and social settings, a collaborative process - in which multiple stakeholders participate in learning and developing a shared understanding about establishing goals, objectives, and management decisions - is an essential element of success. Stakeholder collaboration helps inform decision-making, build support for effective implementation, address disputes and enhances the likelihood of sustainable solutions.

CAMNet experience suggests that collaborative adaptive management is best suited for situations where there are questions about the best management approach; opportunities to test lower-level risk, reversible management options, and reasonable decision space. Facilitating appropriate use of collaborative adaptive management also means recognizing when its use is not the right approach. Adaptive management is not feasible where alternative outcomes cannot be identified or are not possible. A collaborative approach is not necessary when only one landowner is involved, and may not be necessary if there is agreement about the management action to be taken.