APPENDIX 1. Different ways of framing “adaptive management”: quotes from the interviews

     

In this appendix we present quotes from the interviews on adaptive management (AM) to illustrate and support the four dimensions of frame difference we discussed in the main text. We use I1 to I8 to refer to the eight interviewees.

When we asked interviewees which scientific discipline they belong to most interviewees were not able or didn’t like to label themselves in terms of one specific discipline (I1, I2, I3, I5, I6). They described different disciplines they had been working in over the course of their career or they mentioned a field that is interdisciplinary in itself (e.g. integrated assessment, management sciences, integrated water management). Some of them (I2, I6) framed their background as consisting of an initial field of education and several fields of interests. Although most interviewees had a background characterized by multiple disciplines they can hardly be considered generalists. There still was a clear difference in background and in the focus of their research.

Text analysis of the interviews led us to the identification of four dimensions of difference in the way the interviewees frame AM. These dimensions are presented with illustrative quotes in the following table and then discussed one by one.

Learning and experimentation Uncertainty Adaptive capacity Who adapts to what? Disciplinary background
I1
“AM is learning to manage by managing to learn”
“manage complex systems in an uncertain world by simply being able to adapt to new insights”
-
“a system” / “people”
<adapt>
“management decisions”
<in response to>
“new insights” / “changing management objectives”
Chemistry; Molecular biology; Environmental Physics; Integrated assessment; Social sciences
           
I2
“AM to me is, has a lot to do with learning, because it was developed in response to failure to learn”
“And we then try to make everybody ... part of an experiment”
“the policy now is the test of your best hypothesis”
-
-
“academics” / “policy makers” / “people in business” / “people without any training”
<learn>
“together”
<in response to>
“failure to learn” / ”catastrophes”
Systems Ecology;
Cognitive Psychology
           
I3
“I deeply believe that, the social change dimension of AM ... can be reached only through experimentation”
uncertainty with respect to (1) “where we are” (2) “where we want to go”, (3) “which path to follow” and (4) “monitoring”
-
“social system”
<adapts>
(unspecified)
<in response to>
“change”
Computer Science; Management Sciences
           
I4
-
“In relation to uncertainty you have an adaptive capacity which is able to accommodate surprises”
“adaptive capacity ... is actually the most important goal, the most important thing you should look at”
“stakeholders organized as a coordinated group” / “the system”
<adapt>
(unspecified)
<in response to>
“a structural change in external conditions” / “changing of the preferences of your people”
Agricultural Engineering; Hydrology
           
I5
“definitely learning and learning together”
“the learning aspect, where you explicitly try to engage in experiments and learn from that”
“you want to deal with uncertainty ... you want to prepare yourself for different futures”
“you want to strengthen the adaptive capacity of the system”
“both ecosystems and actors or people” / “scientists together with stakeholders”
<adapt>
“water management strategies” / “river flow”
<in response to>
“enlarged scope of situations that might happen to you” / “change”
Water Resources Engineering and Management; Environmental Sciences; Experimental Physics
           
I6
“It is a process of exercising, and act then learn, then learn some more, then act again”
-
“we need to do that by increasing the ability to adapt, so adaptive capacity comes into the language quite quickly”
“a hundred people together across two dozen stakeholders”
<change>
the system
<in response to>
“unfolding risks as they occur”
Political ecology; Social geography
           
I7
“It basically adds a sort of a learning aspect, a learning component to IWRM”
“create some sort of responsiveness within your system to react in a better way to things that might happen in the future”

“the stakeholders”
<adapt>
“strategies or actions”
<in response to>
“scenario’s” / “things that might happen” / “issues challenging our management”
Management Sciences
           
I8
-
“The events they, you can’t predict them. And you also don’t know how the frequency and the magnitude of this event are developing. And so you have to create a management system that is able to react to these events”
-
“management system”
<adapts>
(unspecified)
<in response to>
“events and change in these events” / “difficult situations”
Political sciences;
Social sciences


Learning and experimentation

Learning is a recurring aspect in the interviewee's statements about adaptive management (AM). For one interviewee (I7) the learning cycle is what sets AM apart from IWRM, and thus a key aspect in defining AM. Four others (I1, I2, I5, I6) also mention learning as a key element of AM: "AM is learning to manage by managing to learn" (I1); "AM to me has a lot to do with learning, because it was developed in response to failure to learn" (I2); "definitely learning and learning together" (I5); "It is a process of exercising, and act then learn, then learn some more, then act again" (I6). Three interviewees do not refer to learning in their statements about AM.

Interviewees differ in the extent to which they conceive this learning process as consisting mainly of hypothesis testing through policy experiments. Five interviewees mention experimentation, and for two of them, learning pretty much means experimentation: "the learning aspect, where you explicitly try to engage in experiments and learn from that" (I5); "it is a cycle of learning, assessing a problem, then posing hypotheses ... the policy now is the test of your best hypotheses" (I2). The other two (I1, I7) mention experimentation as an additional possibility but a very crucial or viable way of learning in AM. Interestingly, one interviewee (I6) mentions learning but not experimentation, and another (I3) mentions experimentation without learning, indicating again that learning and experimentation are not used as synonyms among the interviewed researchers.

Interviewees differ also in whether they specify the actors of the learning process, or who should be involved in the learning process: e.g. mainly the responsible water managers; or the whole group of scientists, policy makers and stakeholders; or scientists and stakeholders.

Uncertainty

Two of the eight interviewees do not refer to uncertainty when asked about their definition of AM. Of these six, one mentions uncertainty only as a marginal aspect (I7), and the rest do include uncertainty as an important aspect of what AM means. However, they do not necessarily mention it in a uniform way.

The interviewees mentioning uncertainty as an important aspect of what AM means, mention it in different ways. The following interviewees stress the unpredictability of the system as follows:

  • I1 links uncertainty to the complexity of the systems and the limits to predictability.
  • I4 links uncertainty to stochastic drivers of the system, which generate surprises.
  • I8 links uncertainty to the unpredictability of events, their frequency and magnitude.
  • I5 links uncertainty to different possible futures.

In addition I3 identifies uncertainty with respect to (1) where we are, (2) where we want to go, (3) which path to follow, (4) monitoring. He focuses on uncertainty as a consequence of different views between scientists and/or stakeholders about some key parameters of a change trajectory.

Adaptive management regime versus adaptive capacity

Although the expression used in the interview questions was "adaptive management", three interviewees (I4, I5, I6) draw strongly on the concept of 'adaptive capacity' for explaining their views. Only one interviewee spontaneously uses the term regime while explaining adaptive management.

Two interviewees (I4, I6) claim the term adaptive capacity to be better suited for the project. I4 calls it "the most important goal, the most important thing that you should look at". I6 stresses adaptive capacity as "the ability to adapt" and contrasts this with the notion of a 'regime', because "that seems to imply ... all sorts of assumptions about institutions and so". He argues, for example, that "you can have very effective adaptive management regimes that are completely hierarchical or oligarchical".

Who adapts to what?

When interviewees use the terms ‘adapting’, ‘changing’ or ‘learning’, they often specify additional aspects: (1) who or what is adapting, changing or learning?; (2) what is it that they adapt, change or learn; and (3) in response to what do they adapt, change or learn? The interviewees specify these aspects in different ways. In the above table, we represented these three elements per interviewee, and combined them with the specific terms that the interviewee uses as operators (between < >).

(1) Often the first question is left unanswered in how they talk about adapting, but when specified, the following kinds of things are said to be adapting, changing or learning: 'the system', 'the people', 'the ecosystem', 'the stakeholders', 'scientists and stakeholders' or 'the management system'.

(2) The second question is also left unanswered in many cases, but 'management strategies', ‘management decisions’, 'river flow' and 'the system' are mentioned as things that are adapted or changed.

(3) With respect to the third aspect, the following things were mentioned in response to which adaptation, change or learning occurs: 'change', 'changing management objectives', 'new insights', 'structural change in external conditions', 'new external situation', 'external change', 'changing preferences of the people', and 'flood disasters'.

Interestingly, with regard to all three aspects both biophysical ánd social system elements are mentioned – the general 'system' mostly stands for both. Starting from the following questions: (1) who or what is adapting, changing or learning?; (2) what is it that they adapt, change or learn; and (3) in response to what do they adapt, change or learn?; we can try to identify the possibilities by structuring the three aspects into either biophysical or social system elements. Thereby we get the following eight combinations:

  1. the biophysical system adapts the biophysical system in response to biophysical changes (e.g. complex adaptive ecosystems under climate change)
  2. the biophysical systems adapts the biophysical system in response to social changes (e.g. complex adaptive ecosystems under human-induced stress)
  3. the social system adapts the social system in response to biophysical changes (e.g. learning to live with water)
  4. the social system adapts the social system in response to social changes (e.g. the government starts subsidizing drinking water service for single parent families)
  5. the social system adapts the biophysical systems in response biophysical changes (e.g. creating floodplains in response to extreme events)
  6. the social system adapts the biophysical system in response social changes (e.g. making polders in response to need for arable land)
  7. the biophysical system adapts the social system in response to biophysical changes (e.g. replacement of species due to climate change which may result in long-term trends in water availability)
  8. the biophysical system adapts the social system in response to social changes (this seems logically impossible)

This list serves as a thought experiment about possible meanings of adaptation. The broad range of possibilities does not even take into account that parts of a subsystem can change other parts of the same subsystem (e.g. one part of the social system can change another part of the social system). This illustrates how adaptation can be understood in very diverging ways.