AEAM workshops

Adaptive management workshops, at first known as AEAM (Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management) were first developed by Holling, Walters, Hilborn et. al. at the Institute for Resource Ecology, U.B.C. in the early 1970's.   The notions needed for computer simulation modelling and accessibility to necessary hardware and software had just reached a level that made it feasible to use models for resource management.  Simulation models were the conceptual core of these workshops.

From the beginning it was understood that models were not intended as predictions of what would happen, but rather as explorations of feasible alternate futures.  Specifically, models encouraged an understanding of the implications of different management and policy alternatives applied to complex systems.  Prior to the emergence of modelling little methodology existed to help with the integration of management between domains and over scales of space and time.

The early workshops consisted of a one week meeting of managers, stakeholders, researchers and policymakers focused on a particular resource management issue.  During the week their combined understanding was encoded in a working computer model by a team of modeller/facilitators, after which the participants developed and applied alternative scenarios.  Later, as models became more sophisticated, it was no longer possible to accomplish the coding during the workshop and so called "split" workshops became more common.  Participants would meet during two shorter sessions separated by several weeks; the first session focused on model design and the second on policy and management exploration using the completed model.

Both week-long and split workshops followed a general procedure that evoked a collaborative dynamic and resulted in a model which all the participants could understand and consider as valid.  Within the context of a particular resource issue, the first workshop task was to identify the possible Actions that might comprise management, and to specify  what Indicators would be used to determine whether the consequences of  the actions were desirable.   Next the system was bounded with respect to spatial extent and time horizon, while at the same time determining the necessary degree of spatial resolution and the length of a simulation time step.   After this four to six subsystems were proposed and subgroups constituted to develop the dynamic rules by which each would be simulated. 

In order that the subsystems could be properly integrated as a complete system, a significant first task was the articulation of a "looking outward matrix".   In this step each subgroup specified what information it would need from every other subgroup in order to simulate the actions and indicators appropriate to their submodel.  Asking the question of what they needed from others rather than setting each group to generate those outputs they thought might be relevant resulted in both parsimony and clarity. 

Subgroups each worked with a modeller-facilitator to describe the dynamics of the system in a manner that could be coded.  Many uncertainties were encountered in this process; and often only the general form of a relationship could be specified.  Some attention was given to the degree of sensitivity to unknowns, and those that mattered usually became research priorities.    While the modellers worked, often late into the night or even all night to complete the coding, workshop participants continued to develop policies for alternative futures.  These were often grouped into scenarios - a base case, plus several alternatives to represent various ideas or ideals.

The last phase of the workshop involved running the model, questioning the validity of its output, making amendments in assumptions, correcting coding errors, and then discussing the implications of the various scenarios.  Undoubtedly many amusing episodes arose - from fish being misallocated to spatial areas coded as forest and hence not thriving, to inventing believable explanations for dynamics based on a premise which, when recognized, was considered invalid.

Perhaps the major value in the early Adaptive Management Workshops was the generation of a collaborative space for discussions leading to the dissolution of problems as well as the introduction of a deeper understanding of resource issues through systems thinking. 

Later workshops evolved along different streams.  Some became more focussed on particular hypotheses within a management context; so called Impact Hypotheses consisted of a logical articulation of the webwork of relationships between a particular management action and one or more indicators (at this point renamed Valued Ecosystem Components). Others focussed on the continued refinement of specific management tools, such as forest pest management models. Yet others focussed on public participation and the visualization of alternative futures.  Yet the core of Adaptive Enviromental Workshops remains an understanding and explication of human participation with a dynamic system which includes ecological, social, and economic considerations.


Holling CS. editor. 1978. Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management. Wiley, London. (Reprinted 2005 by Blackburn Press).

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