Adaptive Management Strategy

Mind your (learning) step!

When organisations need to ensure their preparedness for the unexpected change, then adaptive management applied to ecosystems makes sense when considering ever changing environmental conditions. The flexibility and constant learning of an adaptive management approach is a logical application for these organisations seeking sustainability methodologies.

However, in recent times, the term ¨adaptive management¨ has become a rather confusing catchphrase that means many things to many people —as Salafsky et al. (2001) quoted: “Adaptive management is merely an excuse to change your mind.”

In fact, there exist many “derivatives” of adaptive monitoring and cyclic management approaches that claim to hold an adaptive approach to resource management operations, intend to comprise a “learning by doing” element, or propose cyclic processes allowing some sort of adjusting.

In the context of guiding operational processes there are e.g., Decision Support System (Common in river basin management), Decision execution cycle (broad application organisational), Adaptive execution cycle (Broad application in resource management), Adaptive management cycle (see Work of Holling, 70’s), Adaptive Environmental monitoring and management planning (Bray, 2008; Doorn-Groen, 2007: CEDA, 2015) and the Adaptive Monitoring Cycle (UN/ECE, 1993; UNESCO, 2005, Verine, 2008).

Seemingly similar, they are easily separated into two types of approaches. The difference lies in the fact that most execution cycles, support systems and monitoring approaches primarily focus on target compliance, responsive management. They are based on fixed knowledge and to function they need a clear demand of thresholds. As such, they mainly include process control and adjustments. For these approaches, no cause-effect knowledge is needed here; it involves no new knowledge-gaining. The “learning” involves adjustment of behaviour (including hardware) based on previously developed knowledge.

On the other hand, Adaptive Monitoring and Management cycles are structured, iterative processes of optimal decision making in the face of uncertainty, with an aim to reducing uncertainty over time via system monitoring. The “learning” aspects here involve adjustment of behaviour based on creative problem-solving resulting in change in the previous knowledge: suited for closing the gap to what we know and what we should know. It aims at achieving information production for the integration of a growing number of different goals. The latter applies to the adaptive character of the FoR.

The purpose of applying adaptive monitoring and management feedbacks within the FoR is to establish a clear and common purpose, make use of system modelling, and develop a management plan that maximises results and learning. This enables the development of monitoring plans that tests pre-defined assumptions, focus the analyses and communication of the results, and finally better use the results to adapt and learn

By applying an adaptive management approach to marine construction, including dredging, it is expected to function as an integrated system, adjusting and learning from a multi-faceted network of influences. These influences are not just environmental but also, economic and social (Bray, 2008; CEDA, 2015). The goal of a sustainable organisation guided by adaptive management must be to engage in active learning. The learning aspects help to direct change in these complex settings towards true sustainability. This “learning to manage by managing to learn” must be at the core of a more sustainable business strategy (Bormann, 1999).

The FoR as presented here aims to:

  • make the links between the planning process, monitoring and evaluation activities, and adaptive management of low impact dredging in sensitive areas explicit
  • provide a structure to inform the development of clear evaluation questions in relation to the impact, appropriateness, effectiveness, efficiency of FoR policies, programs and initiatives
  • inform the development of logical programme execution strategies across scales and across timeframes, including setting achievable targets
  • improve capacity to report on FoR performance
  • provide tools for progressively developing a picture of progress towards longer-term FoR goals
  • improve analysis of the successes and shortcomings of strategies
  • improve the performance of programs, initiatives and projects and to enable development of better instruments and policies for sustainable resource.

Two Project pages give examples of practical application of Adaptive Management aspects: