Adaptive Co-management

Adaptive co-management is an emerging approach for governance of social-ecological systems. Novelty of adaptive co-management comes from combining the iterative learning dimension of adaptive management and the linkage dimension of collaborative management in which rights and responsibilities are jointly shared. Complementarities among concepts of collaboration and adaptive management encourage an approach to governance that encompasses complexity and cross-scale linkages, and the process of dynamic learning. Adaptive co-management thus offers considerable appeal in light of the complex systems view. In this regard, adaptive co-management has been described as an emergent and self-organizing process facilitated by rules and incentives of higher levels, with the potential to foster more robust social-ecological systems. Key features of adaptive co-management include:

  • A focus on learning-by-doing
  • Synthesis of different knowledge systems
  • Collaboration and power-sharing among community, regional and national levels
  • Management flexibility


  • These features can promote an evolving, place-specific governance approach in which strategies are sensitive to feedback (both social and ecological) and oriented towards system resilience and sustainability. Such strategies include dialogue among interested groups and actors (local-national), the development of complex, redundant and layered institutions, and a combination of institutional types, designs and strategies that facilitate experimentation and learning through change. Other important themes in adaptive co-management include improving evaluation of process and outcomes, additional emphasis on power, the role of social capital, and meaningful interactions and trust building as the basis for governance in social-ecological systems.

    Selected References:

  • Dietz, T., Ostrom, E. and P. Stern. 2003. The Struggle to Govern the Commons. Science. 302(5652): 1907-1912.
  • Folke, C., Hahn, T., Olsson, P., & Norberg, J. 2005. Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. The Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 30:8.1-8.33.
  • Olsson, P., Folke, C. and F. Berkes. 2004. Adaptive co-management for building resilience in socio-ecological systems. Environmental Management. 34: 75-90.
  • Plummer, R. and D. Armitage. 2006. A resilience-based framework for evaluating adaptive co-management: Linking ecology, economy and society. Ecological Economics. Online: www.elsevier.com/locate/ecolecon.
  • Ruitenbeek, J. and C. Cartier. 2001. The Invisible Wand: Adaptive Co-Management as an Emergent Strategy in Complex Bio-economic Systems. Occasional Paper No. 34. Centre for International Forestry Research, Bogor, Indonesia.
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