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A decade of adaptive governance scholarship: synthesis and future directions

Brian C. Chaffin, Geography Program, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University
Hannah Gosnell, Geography Program, College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University
Barbara A. Cosens, College of Law and Waters of the West Program, University of Idaho

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06824-190356

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Abstract

Adaptive governance is an emergent form of environmental governance that is increasingly called upon by scholars and practitioners to coordinate resource management regimes in the face of the complexity and uncertainty associated with rapid environmental change. Although the term “adaptive governance” is not exclusively applied to the governance of social-ecological systems, related research represents a significant outgrowth of literature on resilience, social-ecological systems, and environmental governance. We present a chronology of major scholarship on adaptive governance, synthesizing efforts to define the concept and identifying the array of governance concepts associated with transformation toward adaptive governance. Based on this synthesis, we define adaptive governance as a range of interactions between actors, networks, organizations, and institutions emerging in pursuit of a desired state for social-ecological systems. In addition, we identify and discuss ambiguities in adaptive governance scholarship such as the roles of adaptive management, crisis, and a desired state for governance of social-ecological systems. Finally, we outline a research agenda to examine whether an adaptive governance approach can become institutionalized under current legal frameworks and political contexts. We suggest a further investigation of the relationship between adaptive governance and the principles of good governance; the roles of power and politics in the emergence of adaptive governance; and potential interventions such as legal reform that may catalyze or enhance governance adaptations or transformation toward adaptive governance.

Key words

adaptive governance; environmental governance; literature review; resilience

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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087