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Truths and governance for adaptive management

M. Kent Loftin, SynInt Inc.; CAMNet


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Managing large-scale water resources and ecosystem projects is a never ending job, and success should be measured in terms of achieving desired project performance and not just meeting prescriptive requirements of planning and constructing a project simply on time and within budget. Success is more than studying, planning, designing, or operating projects. It is developing the right plan, getting it implemented, and seeing that it is operated and performs properly. Success requires all of these, and failing any of these results in wasted resources and potential for doing great harm.

Adaptive management can help make success possible by providing a means for solving the most complex problems, answering unanswered questions, and, in general, reducing uncertainty. Uncertainties are the greatest threats to project success. Stakeholder support and political will are ultimately essential in achieving project success. Project success is often impossible to achieve if uncertainties persist. Resolving uncertainties quickly and efficiently facilitates the greatest forward progress in the shortest possible time.

Uncertainties must be reduced or resolved to a sufficient level, not over-resolved or under-resolved. Over-resolving presents a value trade-off between additional knowledge and the cost of getting it. Under-resolving trades greater risks of failure for cost savings. Resolutional sufficiency varies from uncertainty to uncertainty, and applying risk-based logic is helpful in determining what is sufficient.

Adaptive management can bring great efficiency and produce high returns on investment. Project-stopping uncertainties get resolved, and resources are spent wisely. Organizational governance must understand adaptive management and value it. Adequate time and money must be provided. Adaptive management must be integrated into other organizational processes such as project management and project delivery. Integrating adaptive management requires a new mind-set, individually and organizationally. The resources provided must be scaled, oriented, and tuned to meet the challenges being addressed.

Key words

adaptive management; ecosystem restoration; governance; implementation; integrating risk and uncertainty; performance; project management; resolutional sufficiency; resolving uncertainties; risk management; stakeholders; success; uncertainty

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087