Pathology and failure in the design and implementation of adaptive management

Craig R. Allen, Lance H. Gunderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

230 Scopus citations

Abstract

The conceptual underpinnings for adaptive management are simple; there will always be inherent uncertainty and unpredictability in the dynamics and behavior of complex ecological systems as a result non-linear interactions among components and emergence, yet management decisions must still be made. The strength of adaptive management is in the recognition and confrontation of such uncertainty. Rather than ignore uncertainty, or use it to preclude management actions, adaptive management can foster resilience and flexibility to cope with an uncertain future, and develop safe to fail management approaches that acknowledge inevitable changes and surprises. Since its initial introduction, adaptive management has been hailed as a solution to endless trial and error approaches to complex natural resource management challenges. However, its implementation has failed more often than not. It does not produce easy answers, and it is appropriate in only a subset of natural resource management problems. Clearly adaptive management has great potential when applied appropriately. Just as clearly adaptive management has seemingly failed to live up to its high expectations. Why? We outline nine pathologies and challenges that can lead to failure in adaptive management programs. We focus on general sources of failures in adaptive management, so that others can avoid these pitfalls in the future. Adaptive management can be a powerful and beneficial tool when applied correctly to appropriate management problems; the challenge is to keep the concept of adaptive management from being hijacked for inappropriate use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1379-1384
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume92
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Inference
  • Management
  • Resilience
  • Resource management
  • Risk
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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