Learning and Adaptive Management: Policy Choices Under Uncertainty

Robin Gregory

The concept of adaptive management was born out of the need to address the objective of learning about managed environmental systems over time. The central argument of adaptive management is that, because we often know little about the consequences of planned environmental management actions, it is important to set up a rigorous process for learning over time that is designed to reduce uncertainty and improve the ability of managers to respond to ecological, environmental, or social uncertainty. To operationalize this effort, adaptive management calls for the design and implementation of carefully planned and monitored policy “experiments,” with replication and comparison of management treatments at appropriate spatial and temporal scales.

Although adaptive management is a wonderful idea, rarely has it been successful in practice. Robin’s consulting and research has centered on addressing some of the reasons why the explicit consideration of uncertainty is often ignored by resource management agencies and why learning, as part of an adaptive management plan, is often thwarted by inflexible institutional responses.

For more, read:

Gregory, R., & Long, G. (2009). Using structured decision making to help implement a precautionary approach to endangered species management. Risk Analysis, 29,518–532.

Gregory, R., Ohlson, D., & Arvai, J. (2006). Deconstructing adaptive management: Criteria for applications to environmental management. Ecological Applications, 16(6), 2411–2425.

Gregory, R., & Failing, L. (2002). Using decision analysis to encourage sound deliberation: Water use planning in British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21, 492–499.