Insight into Enabling Adaptive Management

Take-away message. Our survey of the literature, review of several adaptive management (AM) projects and discussions with people leading or experienced with AM projects identified ten factors that can serve to enable or to inhibit successful AM. Further discussion with experienced AM practitioners revealed that these ten factors should be viewed in a hierarchy, wherein the Context for the initiative as reflected in the Driving Problem (forcing factor) is the key factor that serves as the impetus for an AM approach. Other important aspects of the context are the existing relationships between stakeholders, the degree of risk aversion reflected in regulations, and the corporate culture.

Next in the hierarchy comes four factors that are critical to enabling AM to proceed: Leadership, Executive Direction, Problem Definition and Communication / Organizational Structure. Without leadership, the support that comes from executive direction (commitment), clear communication of the rationale and approach, and the organizational structure in place to support an AM initiative, AM is likely to fail. Enabling AM is about working with people to appreciate their concerns, developing a common understanding, and producing an environment of trust that will allow AM to proceed. Establishing a clear and durable focus (Problem Definition) that is relevant to making management decisions is a key requirement for AM success. A properly specified focus can help to prevent an organization from slipping into crisis management mode, where it constantly shifts focus to newly emerging symptoms of a larger underlying problem.

The remaining factors Community Involvement, Planning, Funding, Staff training, and How AM science is conducted, while important, with due attention should fall into place provided that the other factors are enabling.

Follow-up discussion question. Do you agree with the hierarchy of factors that enable AM in Figure 1 of our paper? Is it consistent with your experience? Do you have counterexamples? How do you measure AM success?”

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