Adaptive  Management 

Adaptive  Management  has  referred  to  implementing  policies  as  experiments. Adaptive management can more generally be defined as a systematic process for continually  improving  management  policies  and  practices  by  learning  from  the outcomes of implemented management strategies. As Bormann et (1994) defined it  “Adaptive  management  is  learning  to  manage  by  managing  to  learn”.  (In  its most  effective  form  it  employs  management  programs  that  are  designed  to experimentally  compare  selected  policies  or  practices,  by  evaluating  alternative hypotheses  about  the  system  being  managed.  The  goal  of  adaptive  water management  is  to  increase  the  adaptive  capacity  of  the  water  system  in  a  river  basin based on a sound understanding of what determines a basin’s resilience and vulnerability.  


Vulnerability  can  be  defined  as:  “the  degree  to  which  an  exposure  unit  is susceptible to harm due to exposure to a perturbation or stress, and the ability (or lack  thereof)  of  the  exposure  unit  to  cope,  recover,  or  fundamentally  adapt” (Kasperson  et  al.  2000).    Vulnerability  is  the  underlying  exposure  to  damaging shocks, perturbations or stresses, rather than the probability or projected incidence of   those   shocks   themselves.   

Adaptive Capacity

This   working   definition   of   vulnerability encompasses Adaptive Capacity: the potential or capability of a system to adjust, via changes in its characteristics or behaviour, so as to cope better with existing and future stresses.  More specifically, adaptive capacity refers to “the ability of a socio-ecological  system  to  cope  with  novelty  without  losing  options  for  the future” (Folke et al. 2002) and “that reflects learning, flexibility to experiment and adopt novel solutions, and development of generalized responses to broad classes of challenges” (Walker et al. 2002).  Clearly, the focus of adaptive capacity is on the   management   of   coupled   socio-ecological   systems,   while   vulnerability primarily refers to exposure to adverse impacts.


One  feature  of  vulnerability  and  adaptive  capacity  is  Resilience:  the  amount  of change a system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure,  the  degree  to  which  a  system  is  capable  of  self-organization  and  the ability  to  build  and  increase  the  capacity  for  learning  and  adaptation  (Holling 1973).


To choose between different management regimes requires the construction and analysis of Scenarios: plausible descriptions of how the future may develop based on  a  coherent  and  internally  consistent  set  of  assumptions  about  driving  forces and key relationships. Scenarios may be derived from projections, but are often based on additional information from other sources, sometimes combined with a narrative storyline (McCarthy et al. 2001).


A  key  element  of  adaptive  management  and  the  transition  to  more  adaptive management regimes is the participation of Stakeholders: It is important to point out  that  stakeholders  should  not  be  confused  with  the  public  at  large.  A stakeholder is only defined in reference to a particular issue. “A stakeholder is an individual  or  group  influenced  by  –  and  with  an  ability  to  significantly  impact (either directly or indirectly) – the topical area of interest.”  The more tangible a problem  and  the  more  long-lasting  an  issue  is  on  the  public  agenda,  the  better defined and organized are stakeholder groups.  “Public” is defined here as all the members of the communities or citizens, interested in the local water issues and groups of water consumers. “Stakeholders” are defined here as representatives of organisations such as water providers, firms, NGOs and official representatives of water users, who have an interest in the water issues in their case study. The split between Public Participation and Stakeholder Participation is deliberately made, since  methods  for  encouraging  their  participation  and  the  level  at  which  these different groups can participate and their role in the process are different (Pahl-
Wostl, 2002b).


The  role  of  participatory  processes  is  an  important  characteristic  of  the Governance  system.  Water  governance  refers  to  the  range  of political,  social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to regulate the development and management of water resources and provisions of water services at different levels of society.


One important aspect of governance is the role of Institutions, defined  as  the  formal  and  informal  rules  governing  the  behaviour  of  human beings.  Formal  institutions  include  laws  and  regulations  (such  as  the  European Water   Framework   Directive),   formal   organizational   structures   and   formal procedures.  Informal  institutions  refer  to  the  rules  and  norms  that  are  followed and developed in practice.

Further related Glossaries


Last modified: Friday, 13 March 2009, 02:41 PM

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