Collaborative Adaptive Management: Challenges and Opportunities

Take-away message. Natural resource management decisions involve difficult questions such as how much water should flow across hundreds of thousands of acres to restore the Everglades “River of Grass.” Should dams be constructed or removed in the northwest? How can people access traditional and renewable energy on land and offshore while sustaining wildlife and their habitats? These issues provoke different perspectives about how to juggle sometimes competing goals about use and protection of natural resources. Scientific and technical information can help people understand how different actions will affect water quality and availability, health of wildlife populations, or other outcomes, but such information can be complex. Sometimes there are uncertainties. Often, the setting is dynamic, with evolving land uses and changing conditions. These features—complexity, uncertainty, and change—point to potential benefits of natural resource managers working collaboratively with scientists, stakeholders, and other decision makers to discuss the issues, identify possible management options, and monitor conditions over time to see how well actions are achieving hoped-for results. These collaborative processes can help clarify possible trade-offs; they can help participants avoid some unintended consequences of decisions by helping them better understand ecosystems and build a bigger picture perspective of how choices affect outcomes; and they can help participants adjust their actions over time in response to new information and conditions. But linking scientists, decision makers, and stakeholders through collaborative dialogue and information sharing does not transcend the realities of social conflict, competing priorities, and differing political preferences. Moreover, many considerations associated with linking science with decision making through collaborative and adaptive processes involve subtle values questions and policy dimensions. These include, for example, such matters as deciding on the boundaries within which to manage resources, which indicators to use in monitoring those resources, or how much information is adequate to make decisions.

Follow-up discussion question. Effective linkage of scientists, stakeholders, and decision makers may require early and significant engagement of participants, yet it is also important to sustain the independence of scientists so that they are not perceived to be deploying science for their own policy preferences. How can early and ongoing engagement occur while separating scientists from actual policy decisions?

Read and comment on the complete article.

The link above will take you to the Ecology and Society website. To comment on this article, select the link to “Discussion” on the right hand side of the website.