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Integrative learning for practicing adaptive resource management

Craig A. McLoughlin, Riverine Landscapes Research Laboratory, Geography and Planning, University of New England, Australia
Martin C. Thoms, Riverine Landscapes Research Laboratory, Geography and Planning, University of New England, Australia


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Adaptive resource management is a learning-by-doing approach to natural resource management. Its effective practice involves the activation, completion, and regeneration of the “adaptive management cycle” while working toward achieving a flexible set of collaboratively identified objectives. This iterative process requires application of single-, double-, and triple-loop learning, to strategically modify inputs, outputs, assumptions, and hypotheses linked to improving policies, management strategies, and actions, along with transforming governance. Obtaining an appropriate balance between these three modes of learning has been difficult to achieve in practice and building capacity in this area can be achieved through an emphasis on reflexive learning, by employing adaptive feedback systems. A heuristic reflexive learning framework for adaptive resource management is presented in this manuscript. It is built on the conceptual pillars of the following: stakeholder driven adaptive feedback systems; strategic adaptive management (SAM); and hierarchy theory. The SAM Reflexive Learning Framework (SRLF) emphasizes the types, roles, and transfer of information within a reflexive learning context. Its adaptive feedback systems enhance the facilitation of single-, double-, and triple-loop learning. Focus on the reflexive learning process is further fostered by streamlining objectives within and across all governance levels; incorporating multiple interlinked adaptive management cycles; having learning as an ongoing, nested process; recognizing when and where to employ the three-modes of learning; distinguishing initiating conditions for this learning; and contemplating practitioner mandates for this learning across governance levels. The SRLF is a key enabler for implementing the “adaptive management cycle,” and thereby translating the theory of adaptive resource management into practice. It promotes the heuristics of adaptive management within a cohesive framework and its deployment guides adaptive resource management within and beyond typical single-loop learning, across all governance levels.

Key words

Adaptive feedbacks, assessment, reflection; adaptive management cycle; objectives, targets, thresholds of potential concern; reflexive, single-, double-, triple-loop learning

Copyright © 2015 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